Management of Learner Support with Reference to BOCODOL
The Botswana College of Distance & Open Learning (BOCODOL) was born out of the Distance Education Division of the Department of Non Formal Education, in the Ministry of Education, through the recommendations of the National Education Commission of 1993. The Commission noted that distance education has great potential to contribute significantly to the national education system by
• meeting a much larger range of learners • offering opportunities for lifelong learning • extending learning opportunities
The DNFE had been providing this crucial service since the 1970s. But due to constraints in several areas, the impact was limited. The Commission hence noted that the provision of distance education under DNFE suffered from a lack of resources, severe shortage of staff and a lack of appropriate training. The Departmental budget covered the two DNFE programmes (Literacy & Distance Education), but there was no specific allocation for the distance education programme. As a result, the Distance Education programme was seriously hampered by the inability to respond to changing learner needs and a lack of institutional and professional status.
When the DNFE was set up, the target group was defined as young adults of 19 years and above; a more mature, self-disciplined and easy to manage group. However, as the years went by, the DNFE found itself faced with a younger clientele of from fourteen years, mostly standard seven and JC school leavers. This group lacked self-discipline, but more importantly study habits to work successfully on their own. It therefore meant that if DNFE was to continue with the distance education programme some significant changes were to be made. The Commission therefore came in just at the right time and recommended that a College of distance education with matching status, resources and skills be built to respond effectively to the changing educational needs of Botswana.
Establishment of BOCODOL
BOCODOL is a semi-autonomous parastatal institution established by an act of parliament (BOCODOL Act of December 1998). The institution is headed by a Director who reports to the Board of Directors, yet to be appointed by the Ministry of Education. In the meantime, an Interim Management Committee is providing guidance and support to the College. As stated, BOCODOL comes from DNFE, which means that there are students already in the College. By the end of 1998 there were 7 593 students and a core staff (at headquarters) of twenty nine and one Technical Advisor, who moved to temporary premises in which the College is currently housed.
The College took over the JC and GCE programmes, development and distribution of distance education materials, the existing learner support structures and administration. These two programmes have since 1996 undergone changes. For the JC, the National Commission on Education had recommended a return from nine to ten years of basic education, as well as an expanded curriculum. The JC programme offers six core subjects and two out of four options as follows:
Core subjects Optional subjects
English Bookkeeping Mathematics Commerce Setswana Office Procedures Agriculture Religious Education General Science Social Studies
At O’Level, the learners study the following eight subjects from the Cambridge GCE programme:
English Mathematics Setswana Commerce Principles of Accounts Geography History Human & Social Biology
However, the GCE programme is being phased out, to be replaced with the Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) programme.
Enrolment Figures by Subject
In addition to the JC and GCE programmes, BOCODOL plans to offer other courses. These would be vocational, management and professional courses aimed at the working force, e.g. customer care, public relations etc.
A Description of the Current Support System
The learner support services address learners who come from various backgrounds; those who left school after Primary School Leaving Certificate, JC and GCE up-graders and employed adults. The learners are supported at a distance and through face-to-face as follows:
At a distance Face-to-face
study materials study centres radio broadcasts weekend courses telephone visits difficulty sheets orientation workshops worksheets career fares letters from individuals pre-enrolment counselling letters from the institution
DNFE & BOCODOL Views on Learner Support
DNFE and indeed BOCODOL regard the provision of learner support as very crucial to the successful running of distance education and in particular, to the learners. The DNFE felt that in order for the programme to impact on the learners, services needed to be brought closer to the users. Hence the shift from the centralised learner support system to the decentralisation efforts of 1992. While enquirers and applicants could get application and registration forms at any DNFE office nearest to them, course fee payments, tutor marking and distribution of learning materials could take place at only the three designated areas strategically chosen (see map). There had always been one Student Advisor at DNFE until 1996, when four Assistant Student Advisors were appointed, one at each of the designated areas and the fourth at headquarters in Gaborone. These efforts were in recognition of the fact that in order to maintain momentum and motivation in a task, in this case learning, quick and effective feedback are necessary. BOCODOL shares this view and has taken it further. Plans are at an advanced stage for new learner support systems. The new system(s) would
• be needs based • allow increased access and support • provide improved quality of support • cater for new courses and new types of learners • be decentralised • emphasise the importance of communication and information management • make maximum use of information and communication technology where appropriate and feasible
BOCODOL believes that in order to adequately address the needs of the learners, the current learner support system needs major reconstruction. Already plans are unfolding into action. BOCODOL is in partnership with the U K University of Bath, under the Department for International Development (DFID). Through this partnership, there is an agreement for a consultancy to review learner support. The first part of this consultancy has already taken place. The report of the consultancy makes the following observations on the existing learner support system
There is need to
• develop a comprehensive learner support booklet providing a description of all elements of learner support • up-date existing handbooks • gather adequate information on tutors • separate duties and responsibilities along learner support functional lines • develop a composite training programme • computerise the records system • consolidate co-operation between BOCODOL and the examinations office • separate BOCODOL examination results from the rest of private candidates results
What Strategy is BOCODOL Employing for Provision of Learner Support to Make a Difference?