Investigating distance education systems in developing and developed countries to inform policies and practices for Bangladesh

2017-02-23T23:22:33Z (GMT) by Aktaruzzaman, Md
Offering education by distance provides an important sociological tool for equalising opportunities in developed nations, yet within developing nations, it has the potential to play a much larger role in providing educational opportunities and should be viewed as a necessity rather than an option. Bangladesh Open University (BOU), the sole distributor of Distance Education (DE) in the country, is regarded as one of the mega universities in the world. However, the institution faces numerous issues and challenges that revolve around its administrative and academic operations, as well as acknowledgement of its sociological value and concomitant recognition within the local community. The aim of this study was to examine the perceived challenges facing DE provision in Bangladesh from the point of view of the local Bangladeshi community as well as members of BOU. A second aim was to examine the operations of two major DE providers, namely the Open University UK (The OU UK) and Open Universities Australia (OUA) to determine whether their policies and practices could inform the development of an effective DE model that was transferable to BOU. Utilising a case study framework within a constructivist paradigm, qualitative data was collected through the use of semi-structured individual interviews, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and supplementary document collection. Interviews were conducted with 15 senior academics and directors from OUA, BOU and the OU UK, forming a Senior Reference Group (SRG). Four FGDs were also conducted with 20 participants from the Bangladeshi community associated with BOU, including students, teacher-tutors and informed members of the public. Data from the FGDs and individual interviews were analysed using the qualitative data analysis software package NVivo 10 and thematically presented in the form of rich narratives and logical arguments. Document analysis provided further evidence, particularly in relation to policies. Each of the emergent themes and subthemes were discussed in relation to the literature, research paradigm and theoretical framework of the study. Findings from the FGDs indicated concerns within the Bangladeshi community about the quality of offerings provided by BOU, with participants valuing a flexible DE system that can offer equal opportunities and appropriate social recognition and more importantly, facilitates easier transition from study to work. Interviews with BOU academics and management, in combination with related documentation, illustrated that while BOU has expanded significantly over the years in terms of size, there has not been any related substantive investment in improving its DE system, with the 2.5th generational DE model still used. Concerns were raised in relation to ineffectual management, lack of institutional DE expertise and outside political interference. Quality issues were raised regarding a lack of monitoring and evaluation, delays in course material delivery, inadequate support for research and development and the absence of tutor training programmes. Furthermore, inadequate human resources were perceived as hindering the development of ICT practices at BOU, conflated by the lack of an explicit vision, mission and executable policy framework to overcome future challenges. Through examining the policies and practices outlined by academics and management at OUA and the OU UK, the issues for BOU were compared and collated with the relevant policies and practices of those DE providers. Careful examination of the interview data from the three cases considered in this study, along with an interrogation of the relevant bodies of literature, indicated that inefficiencies within the DE system at BOU were associated with the non-existence of an executable framework of policies and practices. Particular concerns related to a lack of structure in relation to a distributive operational structure of academic programmes; quality assurance and accreditation; training and research; a support system for students, tutors and academics; and a decentralised administrative structure, among others. From this analysis, a framework of policies and practices for DE in Bangladesh was developed. An integral part of the study involved adapting Giddens’ (1984) Structuration Theory into the DE field, conceptualised as the ASTIDE (Adapting Structuration Theory In Distance Education) model, which structured and addressed the issues and challenges related to distance education. The study also presented evidence of the empirical validity of the ASTIDE model. Ultimately this research represents a major contribution, both empirically and theoretically, to the development of an innovative and viable education model for delivering DE in Bangladesh, which would be equally applicable for other similar DE contexts of developing and developed countries.