The Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (1976-2002): 26 years of distinguished service
By Tota C. Mangar

Stabroek News
January 31, 2002

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Part I

This month of January, 2002 marks the 26th 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 Co-ordinator.

Extra-Mural Studies refer to programmes of study organised for persons outside the walls of the University. As a matter of fact, 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, and 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 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 Co-ordinator 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 goals and aspirations.

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

(iii) To increase the awareness of the interaction between formal and non-formal education and to provide facilities 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, 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 education needs and later to organise or conduct academic or technical courses and for 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 (APP) Committee and subsequently the Academic Board of the University of Guyana.

All these developments have served to expand and enhance the work of the Institute and enable it to render even more valuable service to the nation than envisaged in 1976.