The Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (1976-2001): 25 years of distinguished service By Tota C. Mangar
Stabroek News
January 18, 2001

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This month of January, 2001 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, formerly the Department of Extra Mural Studies within the Faculty of Education and later a separate entity, the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, at the University of Guyana.

The University of Guyana Extra Mural activity was launched on January 2, 1976 with the opening of the Department of Extra Mural Studies in the Faculty of Education thirteen years after the establishment of the university. Distinguished longstanding educationist Mr Samuel A. Small was appointed its Coordinator.

Extra Mural Studies refer to programmes of study organised for persons outside the walls of the University and indeed the original objective of the Extra Mural Studies Department was to provide "an effective organised educational service for adults and out-of-school youths not engaged in university courses so as to equip and assist them to make a continuing and increased contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of the Guyanese society." The mandate was to take the university to the broad mass of people.

From its very inception the Department of Extra Mural Studies sought to devise outreach programmes that specifically targeted the felt needs of the majority of the population. Taking the view that one could not properly identify the needs of the community itself, the department first conducted surveys among various agencies and community groups. The needs of these respective agencies and groups having been determined, the department then set about developing programmes based on those needs and identifying materials and human resources in the community and the university to help in their implementation.

The guiding philosophy of the department's activities was: "People improving themselves through their own resources." Moreover, its role was to bring to bear the expertise of the university, including its own specialised skills in the teaching of adults, and to provide organisational and management techniques.

The range of programmes of the Department of Extra Mural Studies has been regarded by qualified professional observers as remarkable both for the diversity of content as well as the audiences to whom they have been directed. The end result was a core of academic and professional courses in a multiplicity of areas, including English, Mathematics, Science, Foreign Languages at the beginners', intermediate and advanced levels. Social Development, Industrial Relations, Home Management, Guidance and Counselling, Child Care and Development, Care of the Elderly and Family Life Education. Also courses were structured in Administration and Management for Health and Education Administrators, Local Government Administrators, Trade Unionists, Day Care Assistants and Supervisors, Senior and Junior Police Officers, Public Servants, Insurance Personnel, Officers of the Guyana National Service, Guyana Prison Service and the Guyana Defence Force as well as specific courses in the Teaching of Adults and the Training of Trainers.

Over the years an extra-mural course in Occupational Health and Safety was expanded into an intra-mural diploma in Occupational Health and Safety and a part-time course in Workplace Health and Safety. Courses in the teaching of English as a second language also came on stream and they attracted non-English speaking persons from the foreign embassies in Guyana.

In December, 1983 the Academic Board of the University of Guyana approved the upgrading and expansion of the Department of Extra Mural Studies into a separate entity, the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, under the Vice-Chancellor, but bearing a

special relationship with all the Faculties of the University. This development was in response to the changing needs of the Guyanese society in ways that were both meaningful and creative. At the same time the Coordinator of the Extra Mural Studies Department was appointed the first Director of the Institute and was accorded the status of Dean in January, 1984.

From the beginning the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education identified specific objectives. These were:-

(i) To enhance the potential of the University of Guyana in creating and influencing change within the context of national aspirations.

(ii) To provide learning opportunities which would help the capacity of the adult individual to participate more effectively in the process of change.

(iii) To increase the awareness of the interaction between formal and non-formal education and to provide faculties for the continuum of education integration and interaction.

(iv) To identify areas of research for which there is need and to ensure that the results are made available to the community at large.

(v) To provide training courses for trainers engaged in continuing education.

In order to achieve these objectives the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education was organised initially into:

(a) Three divisions, namely:

(i) The Programme and Conference Division

(ii) The Distance Teaching Division

(iii) The Teaching of English as a Foreign Language Division

(b) The Continuing Education Centres.

In order to ensure the beneficiaries of the programme are not urban-based, Continuing Education Centres were established away from Georgetown. In addition to the Georgetown Centre, which is part of the headquarters, the New Amsterdam Centre (Region 6) was established in 1981 and this was followed by the Linden Centre (Region 10) in 1984 and the Anna Regina Centre (Region 2) in 1987.

A number of sub-centres also emerged, including West Demerara, West Berbice, Rose Hall, Corriverton and interior and riverain areas such as Kwakwani, Mabaruma, Lethem, Mahdia, Paramakatoi and Bartica.

At each of the full-time centres is a resident tutor who is a full-time university staff member and he or she is assisted by a small support staff. His or her mandate is to work co-operatively with the people and their organisations and communities in providing relevant university educational services and helping to reinforce the links between the university and the community at large. At the same time resource persons in the community are identified and invited to collaborate in the survey of educational needs and later to organise or conduct academic or technical courses and/or community education programmes.

The Divisions are manned by full-time staff located at the headquarters at 5 Queen's College Compound. The transition from a Department within a Faculty to a separate body - an institute - proved quite a challenging venture. The Director himself undertook in earnest, on-the-job re-orientation of staff. Two staff members initially underwent regional training programmes for teachers of adults. Out of necessity staff members had to develop community - oriented approaches to meet the demands of change and experimentation.

By the mid 1980s it became evident that the rate at which the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education had its services expanded to meet the needs of people in remote areas, was constrained by high per capita costs of equipping and manning centres as well as conducting programmes requiring traditional educational strategies.

A study visit by the Director to the Extension Division of the Memorial University of Newfoundland led to the realisation that distance education was a viable alternative strategy. The Institute's Distance Teaching Division became involved in the weekly radio programme `University on the Air'. This programme formed the nucleus of an audio-based distance education project through which it was envisaged that "the university would enter the homes of Guyanese and share with the listening audience highlights of university activity, the results of research and learning experiences similar to those enjoyed by students at the Turkeyen Campus".

In 1985 through the auspices of the Public Service Ministry and the Australian Development Assistance Bureau, the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education was able to send a staff member on a ten-week intensive distance education training course in Australia. In the very year an investigative study of the national facilities for the delivery and receipt of audio programmes conducted by visiting consultant, Mr Ed Hattar, suggested that there was need to find an alternative medium for the delivering of core materials.

Surveys and other forms of investigation yielded information which suggested that a convenient delivery mode would be print, supplemented by audio materials and some face-to-face tutorials.

In 1988 a proposal for the establishment of a Distance Education Unit was prepared by the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education. This proposal was approved by the Academic Policy and Planning Committee and the Academic Board of the University of Guyana.

In 1998 a proposal for the establishment of a Distance Education Unit was prepared by the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education. This proposal was approved by both the Academic Policy and Planning Committee and the Academic Board of the University of Guyana.

After acquiring the information needed to determine scope, structure and content of the programme of the Distance Education Unit, the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education undertook the task of training writers and other resource persons drawn from its own staff as well as staff of the wider university community and the Ministry of Education. This was in keeping with the instructional policy of involving relevant groups in all facets of the programme in an attempt to ascertain congruence between the educational strategies and the socio-economic content.

The initial training was conducted in workshops hosted by the Institute's Distance Education Personnel and resource persons within the Ministry of Education. Later, as the programme began to attract funding from international agencies, a number of workshops were conducted by foreign consultants and opportunities were provided for all Distance Education staffers to receive training at reputable institutions overseas.

From the inception the training activities targeted all categories of resource persons required for distance education programmes namely, writers, potential presenters of audio-visual materials, tutor/markers, administrators and clerical staff. All local training made full use of participatory methods, engaging trainees in the production of, or interaction with, actual course materials.

Four international bodies made valuable contributions to the work and development of the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education. These were the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

In the case of the Commonwealth of Learning, it facilitated the visit of Professor John Turner of Manchester University to undertake a Project Identification Consultancy on Distance Education in Guyana. Turner's 1989 Report recommended to the Commonwealth of Learning that despite many identifiable problems, "distance education may be the only way of extending opportunities to those who are currently deprived of them".

In April, 1990 Dr. Dennis Irvine, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Guyana, along with Mr. Quigley were delegated by the then President of the Commonwealth of Learning, Mr. James Maraj, to explore a preliminary request from the University of Guyana for assistance from the Commonwealth of Learning aimed at developing distance education in Guyana. These officials subsequently submitted a proposal for the establishment of a Guyana Distance Education Communication Network with the following objectives:

1. To further extend beyond Georgetown to the population at large in Guyana, access to the educational facilities of the University of Guyana through the University's Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

2. To develop and deliver distance education, as a priority, a prerequisite entrance course aimed at ensuring that the new entrants have the necessary background for success, particularly during the first few years of University study.

3. To develop and deliver by distance education, a programme to upgrade the skills of teachers, and

4. To allow the population at large to benefit more directly from the valuable resource, that is, the University of Guyana, through improved access to those more general educational and information programmes that would have the effect of assisting human resource development on a countrywide scale.

Under the terms of the University of Guyana - Commonwealth of Learning agreement, the Institute acquired three micro-computers equipped with word processing and desk-top publishing capabilities to facilitate in-house production of printed materials, an audio-tape reproduction unit to enable rapid preparation of multiple copies of supplementary audio-materials, and teleconferencing facilities comprising five teleconferencing sets and a teleconferencing bridge to make it possible for students located in outlying areas to participate in supplementary review sessions with their course writers.

The Institute of Adult and Continuing Education launched its first Distance Education programme in Region 10, Linden, on November 7, 1992, the second in Region 6 at the J.C. Chandisingh School on June 4, 1993, and the third in Region 2 at the Anna Regina Secondary School on Saturday, December 4, 1993. It took the form of a pre-University English Course.

In 1996 alone the enrolment in the Distance Education Programme was 605, with occupations and qualifications of course participants varying widely. Among them were policemen, nurses, tradesmen, housewives, the unemployed and even individuals who held degrees but wished to improve their language proficiency.

The Institute has always been conscious of the importance of distance education since:

1. Distance Education allows the University to maximise the influence of the knowledge and skills of that small group of professionals in meeting some of the educational needs of the population scattered across the coastland and riverain and interior areas.

2. Distance education relies on pre-packed materials prepared by teams of highly trained professionals. It can provide standardized and high-quality education to persons scattered throughout the country.

3. It helps the Institute and University to reach those shift workers, housewives, farmers, and others who may find it impossible to attend traditional classes. In addition, distance education has potential economies of scale.

A distance education course which reaches large numbers of persons can do so at lower costs than courses conducted by the traditional face-to-face methods.

The printed material is self-instructional, interactive, relevant and interesting. The student sends completed assignments to a specially trained tutor/marker who corrects mistakes, assists students to develop appropriate skills and provides motivation by praising and encouraging the students.

Face-to-face tutorials are held monthly to support the students, reduce the feeling of isolation and help them develop a more active role in the learning process. Tutor/markers also encourage students to participate in discussions.

Another component, teleconferencing, facilitates discussion and other forms of two-way communication between the Course Writer who may be at the Georgetown Centre and students in the outlying centres. The Commonwealth of Learning donated a bridge, which links the centre and enables the Course Writer to discuss problems with students at these centres simultaneously.

Moreover, distance education students are encouraged to form their own study groups where possible. This technique is to provide learning through discussion among themselves and is also a form of peer tutoring.

Another name change and expansion of focus occurred in August 1996 when the Academic Board of the University of Guyana accepted a recommendation of the 1994 Menon Report that the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (lACE) should be expanded and reconstituted as well as renamed the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) - the current name.

It is now mandated to assist the University in becoming a dual/mixed mode institution by performing the following functions as contained in the Menon Report:

1. Provide help to the academics in deciding the media mix for programmes.

2. Provide support in the development of course material.

3. Develop manpower resources within and outside the University in various aspects of distance education.

4. Conduct surveys to identify the educational needs of various sections of the community.

5. Conduct research in generating new knowledge in instructional design and delivery.

6. Develop a repertoire of distance material for purposes of reference, adoption or adaptation by the faculties.

7. Provide required student support services for the academic programmes.

8. Administer and monitor the delivery of distance education programmes.

These additional functions expand the scope of the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education's programme for activities as it assumes a more pivotal role within the University. Allied to this role is that of change agent for distance education in Guyana.

A sub-committee of the Academic Board, chaired by the Deputy Director of the Institute, recently presented proposals for the transition of the University to a Dual/Mixed Mode Institution. These were accepted and the role of the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education was clearly spelt out. The Institute therefore stands on the threshold of a new era.

The Institute of Distance and Continuing Education continues to expand the scope of its programmes both face-to-face and by distance with the aim of equipping adults with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be able to set and achieve their personal goals, and the goals of national development.

Indeed, the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education has provided and continues to provide access to tertiary level education beyond the campus and moves to influence national development.

Happy Silver Jubilee celebrations to the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education as it gears itself to meet the challenges of the new millennium.