The establishment of a higher education open and distance learning knowledge base for decision makers in kenya

The Aims and Objectives of OLDEA-EA

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The Aims and Objectives of OLDEA-EA

  • Promote professionalism in Open and Distance Education

  • Promote scholarship by way of organizing conferences, workshops, seminars etc.

  • Provide a platform for networking with other organizations in the world.

  • Facilitate development of Information communication Technology (ICT) policy within member countries.

  • Exchange information and materials on distance education.

  • To advance the educational course by supporting broad based levels of education from basic education to tertiary levels.

  • To promote research and evaluation of distance education and open learning in East Africa.

  • To promote and enhance quality Assurance in distance education.

  • To provide a platform for sharing of learning materials and expertise within the sub-region.

  • To encourage publication of distance and open learning journals, refreed journals and other scholarly materials within the region.

The association (OLDEA-EA) is governed by a constitution. The association was formed in 1998 September in Dar-es-Salaam by a team of distance education experts from the region. The National association selects representatives to the regional association. Executive leaders of the association are based on a two-year term. The first chairperson was a distance education expert from the Open University of Tanzania. The current one is from the Department of Distance Education, University of Makere. The association holds annual conferences once a year. Open Learning Association of Kenya (OPLAK)

The Open Learning Association of Kenya has been formed by experts of distance education in Kenya. The association has finalized its constitution, outlined its functions and applied for registration with the Kenya government authorities. Registration is expected next month. The author of this paper is one of the executive members of OPLAK and responsible for facilitating the registration of OPLAK.

The Aims of OPLAK are as follows:

  • To promote collaboration among distance education organizations in Kenya.

  • To sensitize policy decision makers and other stakeholders on the principles and application of distance education in Kenya.

  • To facilitate the development of ICT policy for the advancement of distance education in Kenya.

  • To promote research and evaluation of distance education and open learning in Kenya.

  • To enhance quality assurance in distance education.

OPLAK provides opportunities for membership from the following institutions:

  • Universities and Institutes, faculties of Distance Education and Open Learning

  • Colleges or training institutions which provide distance education.

  • Associations of individuals involved in distance education.

  • Government organizations.

  • Consortia of providers of distance education

  • Individuals.

There is a membership subscription fee. Once the registration has been secured by the Registrar of Societies and Associations in Kenya, then other formalities will be put in place.
Distance Education Associations are playing an important role in networking decision makers and stakeholders in distance education within the region. This has resulted in capacity building within the region, collaboration in external examining and supervision of dissertations, exchange of course materials, improvement in course design and development, and improved learner support systems.
University institutions in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa are overwhelmed with major tasks related to Access, finance, quality, internal and external efficiency and therefore are unable to meet the demand for education. In terms of government financial support to public universities it is estimated that since the late 1980’s throughout the 1990’s recurrent expenditures declined by around 45 percent, prompting increased commercialization of degree programmes in an attempt to offset the fall in government funding.
2.1 The Following major tasks face decision makers in Kenya

2.1.1 Increase Enrollment in Higher Education

A large pool of qualified tertiary age school graduates cannot enroll in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. The gross-enrollment ratio at the University level in Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world. The number of students enrolled in Universities (618,000) is only 4.7% of the total 13 million students enrolled in general secondary level education.

Policy makers, planners, stakeholders and all decision makers in Kenya are faced with a major task of large numbers of qualified students who cannot be admitted into public universities. In Kenya for example, both public and private Universities provide University opportunities for not more than five percent of the relevant age groups, namely 20-24 years old school leavers. For instance in 1999 out of the 36,666 candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE), and were qualified for admission into the public universities, only 8,892 or a mere 29.5 percent were admitted into the public universities in the year 2000. This is less 6 percent of the total number of students who registered for the examination or 1.3 percent of the total number of the secondary school enrolment. Furthermore enrolment in the public universities has stagnated below 40,000 students over the last two decades. The effect has been accumulation of a high number of working people qualified for university education who have failed to join because of limited facilities and thereafter settled to pursue middle level course programmes with a hope that doors would in due course open to enable them realize their dreams for higher education. The existence of numerous private universities has not tremendously altered the situation. Distance Education remains one of the best alternative channels for increasing enrollment in higher education.

      1. Increase Opportunities for Relevant Degree Courses

Many students who would like to pursue degrees in Computer Science and Computer Engineering do not get accepted in Kenyan Universities because of lack of resources and capacity. This situation is particularly alarming to decision makers given the importance of computer science and engineering in the new “knowledge economy”: Experience of East Asian countries and India provides evidence that a critical mass of professionals in these areas drives economic growth and creates employment opportunities. The recent economic success of India’s software industry can be traced to the nation’s ability to anticipate global trends and quickly build a critical mass of well-educated professionals.
As a result of these low enrollment levels, a large number of students – the wealthiest or those who are fortunate enough to get a scholarship – go aboard to study. In the first half of the 1990s, approximately 56,000 students from AVU’s current countries (15 African countries) of operation (192,600 total from Africa) were studying abroad mainly because similar educational opportunities were not available in their countries. Of the African students studying at the undergraduate level in the USA, 22% were enrolled in engineering, computer science or mathematics. This situation has led to a significant brain drain of talented Africans. A good example from Kenya:
Kenyan parents are forced to spend millions of shillings to educate their children abroad, particularly in computer science, computer engineering and Electrical Engineering. For example, parents spend about Kenya shillings 1.5 million (US$19,997) per year per student to study in America; Britain about 1.2 million (US$16,000) per year student. On the average, there are about 6000 Kenyans studying abroad with the majority in America and Britain and few in other countries (Nation Newspapers, 1998 12th July). This implies that the country is loosing a lot of money on foreign education and this does not augur well for sustainable development.
This situation in Africa is not likely to improve in the years to come if countries rely solely on conventional methods to provide universities education. In SSA countries, the average tertiary expenditure per student was already 422% GNP per capita in 1995 as opposed to 26% in high-income countries. As a solution to this problem, many countries are now charging tuition in public universities and encouraging private investment in higher education.
The modern distance education models like AVU will therefore, assist in tapping the potential offered by new technologies to overcome some of the financial, physical and information barriers that prevent increased access to high quality education in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.

      1. Increase Opportunities and Access to Continuing Distance Education

Distance education programme which provide degree courses in Sub-Saharan Africa (apart from South Africa) are very few and besides, many of them focus on art-based courses. Besides, employers from the private sector and from NGO’s are faced with a huge need to train their employees. Most companies usually call upon local providers of training, usually small firms of uneven quality. Evidence collected during a market survey conducted by AVU in Kenya in 1999, demonstrates that corporations are generally dissatisfied with local providers or training. Some foreign investors train their newly recruited staff overseas but this is very expensive. Every year, for example Citibank in Nairobi sends 5 employees overseas to enroll in an MBA program and a few of its employees to Citibank’s training center in Istanbul. Citibank is looking for more cost-effective ways to train its staff because the needs are huge and costs are high. Citibank is one of the 14 corporations to have expressed readiness to invest in setting up AVU learning centers at their premises to provide professional development education to their workers. Firms are particularly interested in computer training and management courses (MBA) through modern technology distance teaching so that employees do not take time off their jobs.
2.1.4 Provide Opportunity for Women Education in Science and Engineering: Distance education models like AVU is one of the major innovations which enhance female education in computer science and computer engineering through its Pre-University Programme. The AVU Pre-University programme offers opportunities for girls to enjoy learning through many facets of teaching/learning such as (live transmission; tapes, textbooks, tutorials etc.). It also enhances women’s ability by upgrading their skills in sciences so as to enroll for computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering which have traditionally been regarded men’s domain. AVU will save the plight of women’s education in Africa. For example, there is serious low enrolment of women in science-based courses in Kenya. A number of issues have been advanced to explain the low enrolment of women, first, low secondary school enrolment greatly reduces their scope for progress in higher education. Coupled with low enrolment are high drop out rates for girls. This low rate of participants results in only small pool of girls eligible for entry into higher education (Juma, 2000).

    1. Challenges Facing Distance Education Decision Makers in Kenya

The foregoing discussion on tasks facing decision makers in Kenyan education system brings out a number of features. First and Foremost, distance education in Kenya is not a major component of University education, although its importance has been acknowledged and recommendations for its expansion.

The following challenges face decision makers:

      1. Lack of Funds

The Ministry of Education spends more than 12 per cent of its annual budget on higher education. Consequently, the larger portion of allocation to public universities caters for salaries of university staff and very little money is left for teaching/learning materials and equipment. Since the Government does not have a distance education policy for Higher Education in place, there is no specific provision for distance education in the overall national budget. As a result, institutes/faculties of distance education in the university have to generate funds for running programmes, general planning, coordination, supervision and evaluation of the programme. In most cases, money generated from distance Education programmes subsidise other conventional programmes. Furthermore, innovations in distance education have heavily relied on unsustainable sources of funding, especially donor funding. As already discussed most of the Distance Education programmes have been launched on an ad hoc basis as means of generating income of the cash strapped public universities rather than designing them with the benefits of the learners in mind. The direct and indirect costs necessary to sustain the educational interventions have hardly been considered.

      1. Lack of a Clear Understanding of Distance Education

Some of the key players in distance education like Ministry of Education staff, Vice-Chancellors, Deans and Directors do not understand principles and application of open and distance education. This creates a serious gap in policy planning and implementation.

      1. Poor Teaching/Learning Practices

Distance Education (DE) is generally based on an indirect teaching relationship, using fundamentally self-teaching methods, with the tutor acting as a catalyst to activate the skills and situations needed for self-education. Most of the existing DE programmes especially for the School of continuing Education at Kenyatta University and the parallel programmes have adopted behaviour patterns on traditional education delivery, which is not appropriate for DE type of education. As already pointed out, the Kenyatta University programmes are of very mediocre quality and students in the institution-based mode of delivery are certainly not getting the value of their money they pay to that university.

      1. Outdated Facilities

Most of the programmes mainly use print as the medium of instruction. Supplementary materials such as audio-cassettes, video cassettes, slides and experimental kits which would reinforce each other in achieving the desired goals are generally not in use due to the poor designs of the course programmes as well as lack of funds.

      1. Inadequate Resources

(a) Many of the institutions lack study guides which would give a broad view within a context of the courses to be studied as well as information about examination schedules, contact programmes, students assignments and others

(b) Apart from the University of Nairobi, College of Adult and Distance Education, other universities lack study or resource centres, which constitute an important mode of transmitting content. They would provide facilities for learning for individual or group tutoring and academic guidance and counselling.

(c) Production of high quality distance materials for the Kenyan programmes appears far more expensive because the cost would include the design of the curriculum and courses authors’ fee remuneration of review and assessors and the tremendous effort devoted to the presentation of the final product use of graphics language, layout style etc. Besides faculty members are heavily burdened with many duties and at the same time do not have access to good libraries. In many programmes of distance teaching cost effectiveness is easily not met because of small numbers of students enrolled in the programmes.

2.2.6 Inadequate Library Resources

Decision makers are faced with serious lack of current journals and publications in distance education. Due to limited funds available in universities, libraries are unable to subscribe to publications.

      1. Slow Internet Connectivity:

Technology enhanced Distance Education like African Virtual University relies heavily on the Internet for the delivery of academic courses; digital library; the portal and many other products. Unfortunately, slow Internet connection and low bandwidth in Kenya mitigate the effectiveness of AVU courses. Increasingly the issue of high costs for large bandwidth (pipes) is also a problem.

      1. Scarcity of Computing Resources for Technology Enhanced Distance Education

Computing resources, both hardware and software are expensive for any university to afford in reasonable quantities and quality. Technology is very dynamic and some universities cannot cope with these changes in terms of cost and relevancy.

      1. Lack of Skills in Information Communication Technology (ICT)

Most university academics and students have very low skills in ICT to the extent that AVU’s digital library, E-learning platform and many other products are not fully utilized by faculty members.

2.2.10. Attitude towards Technology Enhanced Learning

Many academics from universities in Kenya do not believe that quality education can be delivered through information technology and some of them are very slow in changing attitude towards this kind of modern Distance Education. Indeed many scholars cannot easily adopt “a mind set” which appreciates that digital literacy is an important dimension of learning like “reading and writing”.

2.2.11 Communication Policy

Due to high international tariffs and lack of circuit capacity, obtaining sufficient international bandwidth for delivering web pages over the Internet is still a major problem in Kenya. The problem is enhanced by National Telecom sectors (JAMBONET) having monopoly for international bandwidth, hence Internet Service Providers (ISP) being dependent on it. This kind of scenario poses a major challenge to proper functioning and delivery of AVU products in Kenya. For instance, AVU hopes to install VSAT capabilities in some sites to deliver content from Africa to other AVU sites. Unfortunately, this might be hampered by communication regulations in Kenya, which do not allow Two-Way satellite based Internet services using very small aperture terminals (VSAT).

2.2.12 High Telecommunication Costs

Currently, the average total cost of using a local dialup Internet account for 20 hours a month in Kenya is about $68 a month (usage fees and local call telephone time included, but not telephone line rental). Internet Service Provider (ISP) subscription charges vary greatly – between $10 and $100 a month, largely reflecting the different levels of maturity of the markets, the varying tariff policies of the telecom operators, the different regulations on private wireless data services and on access to international telecommunications bandwidth.

It is a big challenge for decision makers to appreciate that effective distance education can be delivered via modern technologies. The Internet forms technological breakthrough in distance learning tools. Therefore, advances in the Internet concerning access and quality of information are fundamental for making distance education efficient and effective as an innovation in higher education in Kenya. For technology enhanced distance education to succeed in Kenya, Government, Universities, Industries and NGO’s all have a role to play as stakeholders.
On the basis of the foregoing analysis, it is apparent that there are a number of areas with considerable information issues needed by decision makers for future planning to promote the expansion of distance learning in higher education in Kenya. These among others include the following:

3.1 Distance Education Policy

From the analysis it is clear that there is a lack of coherent policy for distance education at the national level. Consequently distance education programmes in higher education are generally disjointed and run on ad hoc basis.

  • The government needs to develop and articulate national policies for the development of distance education.

  • The Commission for Higher Education (CHE) should establish a section that should specifically deal with distance education programmes in both public and private universities.

  • Commission for Higher Education (CHE) should put in place national and institutional policies and guidelines for the establishment of Distance Education programmes.

  • There is need to commission relevant policy research to provide baseline information on existing Distance Education programmes conducted by public and private universities.

  • There is an urgent need to carry out a nation wide survey to establish the demand for distance learning and modalities for establishing future DE programmes.

    1. Management and Financial Planning of Distance Education Programmes

The analysis revealed that there is an absence of coordinated management structures for DE programmes and most of them have been launched with the specific function of generating funds for cash strapped public universities. Consequently, some programmes seriously exploit the learners for a mediocre quality of education they provide. In some of the institutions the management of Distance Education programmes is an appendage of the regular university programmes. There is therefore the need to:

  • Establish structures for the management of the various distance education programmes showing distinctions for the different modes of provision.

  • Carry out cost-analysis of Distance Education programmes with a view to making them comparatively cheaper than traditional residential programmes.

  • Establishing institutional requirements for effective learner support.

  • Setting up structures for collaboration and partnerships for the key stakeholders in distance learning programmes.

  • Setting and maintaining standards for quality assurance in the various DE programmes.

3.3 Programme Design and Development of Materials

The analysis showed that in many of the Distance Education programmes in the country, only a few of them adopted Distance Education modes of delivery largely because there is a serious lack of professional staff development for distance learning. There is a need therefore for:

  • Institutional based staff development for distance learning programmes.

  • Staff development in research and evaluation.

  • Development of curricula especially suited for distance learning.

  • Developing interactive learning methods and materials.

  • Identifying cost-effective media and technologies for use in distance learning programmes.

  • Applying the most appropriate media and technologies to support learning outcomes.

  • Localizing course deliveries that are based outside the African continent particularly the AVU.

  • Establishing support services countrywide for distance learners, which include guidance and counseling.

3.4 Financial Planning and Management

From the analysis of distance education programmes in Kenya, it was clear that information is required on the following issues:

  • Existing distance education materials and ways to update them.

  • Existing kinds of media, and technologies.

    • Prices of different technologies.

    • Relevancy of media and technologies.

    • Operation of technologies.

    • Other factors influencing their choice.

  • Availability of interactive materials.

3.5 Learner Support System in distance Education Programmes

In distance learning environment, learners require effective counseling support system to reduce attrition rates. The information is therefore required in the following areas:

  • Policy analysis research to be undertaken by experts.

  • Relevant strategic planning in distance education.


Analysis of information needs and aspects of higher distance education in Kenya provide a basis for developing intervention strategies to build capacities for decision-makers and institutional capacities. There are various aspects of competencies required in distance education for different target groups.

4.1 Capacity at the Policy Level

At the highest level of decision-making within the general education framework, people have little understanding of the requirements of distance education. This is evidenced by lack of a national distance education policy framework. The Ministry of Education has limited structures to develop and implement effective supporting policies. However, it is evident that the current base of expertise in distance education is very thin and there are many people who do not understand principles and practice of distance education. Interestingly, Kenya was one of the pioneer countries to start higher distance education in Africa and up to now there is no Open and Distance Education University. Efforts by leading distance education experts in the country to influence decision makers to tackle a bill in Parliament on the Open and Distance Education University of Kenya has been thwarted for many years. However, there is need for distance education associations to lobby for improvement of telecommunications sector which is the pillar of Technology Enhanced Distance Education.

      1. Institutional Capacity Building

Institutions of higher learning in Kenya do not have strategic planning in distance education. Additionally institutions have very limited understanding of distance education systems and structures. The situation in exasperated by institutions which have centres or faculties of distance education and yet do not understand the principles, practices and implementation strategies. This scenario posses serious challenges to the quality and efficiency of distance education. Therefore, there is need to sensitize policy makers, decision makers, about distance education, its prospects and challenges. If distance education is to expand in Kenya, there is need to build capacity of employees in Universities and other relevant institutions such as Kenya Institute of Education, Commission for Higher Education and Ministry of Education and others.

      1. Individual Capacity Building

There are very few Kenyans with expertise in core areas of distance education such as; Needs Analysis, Curriculum Design and Development, Course Writing and Editing, Research Evaluation and Quality Assurance.

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