Open Distance Learning (ODL) : a "Shock" to learners in South Africa

15 Oct 2019

The aim of this paper is to analyse challenges encountered by registered students at an open distance learning (ODL) institution in South Africa. Before 1994 racial segregation posed obstructions in terms of equitable access and success in higher education (HE). Learners from deprived homes, especially those resided in townships or rural areas were denied access to high-quality school education. Interestingly, there was a shocking growth in enrolments in HE post 1994. However, it seems the higher education institutions (HEI) have been largely unprepared for this astonishing growth. As a matter of fact, a lack of capacity in the HE system has been a perennial problem in South Africa. Research indicates that approximately 18% –19% of new matriculants can be accommodated by HEIs. Moreover, different HE institutions receive thousands of applications of qualifying students who cannot be all accommodated, especially for first year study. The problem of capacity at HE was worsened by the introduction of fee-free HE in 2017. Subsequent to this, the National Financial Aid (NFSAS) was placed under administration in 2018, which resulted in more students' application attention and funding was ultimately allocated in 2019 academic year. This paper argues that South Africa is faced with a dilemma of insufficient capacity at HEIs to accommodate matriculants since the pronouncement of fee-free education. Moreover, prospective learners have only one alternative left, thus, an enrolment at Open Distance Learning Institution (ODL). Since most matriculants have been exposed to only face-to-face teaching for twelve years of schooling, this ODL mode of learning comes as a shock to these prospective leaners. Research indicates that this shock could be attributed to lack of prior preparation at basic education phase. Eventually, these prospective learners are bound to struggle and drop out. In light of these problems, this paper recommends an intervention through an introduction of ODL pilot initiative at school level. This initiative should encourage scholars to communicate via online with their teachers and submit their assessments online.