Quality Assurance Systems in Open and Distance Learning: A Search for Normative Judgement
This article seeks to explore the role and importance of quality assurance
systems in open and distance learning mode. The article begins with the
introduction of quality assurance and proceeds with the definition and meaning of quality which is very complex to define. The author further proceeds to trace the history and development of quality assurance from medieval Europe in the late 13th Century up to 19th Century during the industrial age to the present information age. The article has articulated as to why providers, consumers and accreditation agencies are at all levels interested in quality assurance. For the case of Tanzania the article clearly pointed out that quality assurance became important for ODL during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of its growing use by the public sector providers and also as a result of the growing emphasis on accountability in
education generally. The article has proceeded by tracing the history and development of open and distance learning mode of delivery in Tanzania up to and including the present moment. The main gist of this part among others is to reveal how open and distance learning mode of delivery was perceived in the beginning as being inferior and of no good quality.
The author points out some discourse and social dynamics of quality assurance in open and distance leaning by pointing out that open and distance leaning is an instrument of social and economic transformation. It is the most important source of transformation of educational delivery system all over the world. The article further explores the establishment of the quality assurance system in Tanzania and the role played by both the Tanzania Commission for Universities as well as the Inter-University Council for East Africa in strengthening the quality assurance systems at OUT. This article has revealed that only a tiny proportion of those who are eligible to join tertiary education participate in higher education. For instance the gross enrolment rate for 2000-1 was 0.7 per cent, with a very large gender imbalance - for males the rate was 1.2 per cent, for females 0.2 per cent. Private higher education came into 2 being during the 1990s with the liberalization of the economy. By December, 2012, there were 43 public and private universities and university colleges but yet the enrolment level is very low compared to other countries even within East Africa. The above situation indicates that open and distance learning stands a better
chance to increasing the enrolment rate at tertiary level. In the same vein quality education for open and distance education has to remain top in the agenda so as to balance both quantity and quality. Lastly the article highlights several challenges facing open and distance learning such as lack of National ODL policy, lack of home grown quality assurance framework, lack of proper and reliable ICT infrastructure to support the open and distance learning system and absence of adequate experts in open and distance learning.
Key words: quality assurance, search for normative judgment