Distance education enables people who are working full-time to further their education.
However, it is important that distance-education students have sufficient support to enable them to study successfully.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Pietermaritzburg has developed a Bachelor of Education honours degree via distance learning, which offers students regular tutorial sessions on Saturdays. Tutors are trained by UKZN to facilitate their learning throughout the programme. They provide students with a platform to engage in discussions and they assist in explaining difficult concepts during contact sessions.
The university’s Professional Development Studies programme for teachers who wish to do a BEd (Hons) degree through distance learning was established to help students understand and critique education policies, and to help them reflect on their classroom practice using particular concepts and theories.
Initially, the university worked in association with the South African College of Teacher Education (Sacte) and the programme was offered at several learning centres in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
In August 2000 Sacte merged with Unisa and as a result the partnership with UKZN ended. Thus learning centres are now restricted to KwaZulu-Natal. Currently, 525 students are registered at regional learning centres in Durban, Empangeni, Kokstad, Newcastle, Lady-smith, Pietermaritzburg and Vryheid.
The National Qualifications Framework has made the programme accessible to all teachers with a four-year teaching diploma. Previously, only teachers with a degree could enrol for the BEd Honours degree.
Students are required to complete eight modules in a minimum of two years. Each module accounts for 16 credits, which add up to 128 credits for the entire programme. Modules cover areas such as Psychological Perspectives of Teaching and Learning, Assessment, Curriculum Studies, Leading and Managing a Learning Organisation, Classroom Studies, Environmental Education, and Reading and Writing Academic Texts.
‘This is a generic education degree that focuses on developing academic literacy, critical thinking skills and the ability to reflect on one’s practice. It also helps teachers to understand new education policies,” said the coordinator of the Professional Development Studies programme, Carol Bertram.
Students are required to work through self-instructional material and complete assignments at home.
‘The programme is more structured than a correspondence course as students attend tutorial sessions in order to discuss the material with others in the group.”
Tutors have a minimum of a BEd (Hons) degree or equivalent and field-specific experience — particularly those who wish to teach an Adult Basic Education module or Environmental Education.
Contact sessions allow students to interact with each other and forward any queries to tutors and discuss their understanding of concepts.
Assignments are submitted to tutors during contact sessions in order to assess student performance. Upon completion of assignments, students receive feedback from the marker and a letter from the module coordinator explaining common mistakes.
Summative examinations, which are externally examined, account for 65% of the students’ final module mark and test on all aspects of the module.
Examination scripts, as well as assignments, are marked by a panel of tutors from all over the province. Panel marking is considered the best way to ensure ‘fairness” and ‘reliability”, stated Bertram.
Tutors are moderated by module coordinators while marking scripts. Comments made by tutors on scripts are also monitored in order to ensure comments offer guidance to students.
Students who wish to contest their marks can submit a letter to the module coordinator. University rules, however, do not permit the re-marking of scripts, but students are allowed to see exam scripts in order to determine how they failed to meet criteria.