Distance Learning Access to Higher Education in Zambia

Cosmas Makunka, University of Zambia

The aim of this study is to undertake a broad review of the literature pertaining to the application and organisation of Distance Education at the University of Zambia, Directorate of Distance Education provision in Zambia. The study will describe and examine the context and identify the need to identify an appropriate philosophy and forms of provision of distance education in Zambia at the teritiary level.

The literature review will focus upon the philosophy and structure of the Distance Education at the University of Zambia conducted by the Directorate of Distance Education.

In the last section, recommendations on the forms of provision of Distance Education at the teriary level in Zambia will be entirely based upon a review of the relevant literature: texts and journals concerning Distance Education in higher education and materials in the African newspapers and magazines. Interviews will be conducted in the appropriate higher Institutions based in Zambia. The questionaire will be administered to graduates from the University of Zambia, Directorate of Distance Education.

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Some thought had been given in the early 1950s to the establishment of a University college in Lusaka, but such proposals as there may have been were abandoned in 1953 with the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the related political decision to establish a University college in Salisbury (now Harare). Almost ten years were to pass before the question of a University for the then Northern Rhodesia was formally re-opened. This was done by the government, which came into power in December 1962. In March 1963, this Government appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir John Lockwood, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, to advise on the development of a University. In its report, which was submitted in November 1963,the Lockwood Commission unanimously recommended the establishment of a University in Lusaka.

In January 1964, the Government signified that it accepted the recommendations of the Lockwood Commission and within four months there was an inaugural meeting of the Provisional Council of the University, the body charged with bringing the University into being.

In July 1964, the former Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, a research institute with an international reputation for scholarly research and publications in the field of social anthropology dating back to 1938, came under the jurisdiction of the Provisional Council. In July 1965, Dr D.G. Anglin, of Carleton University in Canada, was appointed as Vice-Chancellor. A month later, the Oppenheimer College of Social Service was incorporated into the University at a time when extensive additions to its premises in John Mbita Road, in the Ridgeway area of Lusaka, were already well under way (www.unza.com).

Purpose of the study
The purpose of the study was to relate distance education mode of learning to accessing higher education in Zambia. The study sought to establish ways of increasing access to higher education.

Research objectives
The main objectives of the study were to:

  • find out the type of qualification attained by distance education mode of learning;
  • establish whether courses covered through distance learning were difficult to understand;
  • establish the incentives acquired for obtaining the qualification;
  • find out the course contents in UNZA programs met professional needs at work; and
  • find out how local community perceived studying by distance education

Significance of the study
It is hoped that many people would realize how beneficial it was to study by distance mode of learning. The findings would also help the stakeholders in planning distance education in the country.

Limitation of the study
The researchers limited the area of study because of not having enough funds for the research. The researchers used their own funds in order to carryout the research.


Human beings in their socialization history and educational period have always tried to establish good contacts in order to share or change their knowledge, and experiences with whom they have established easy communication. This is a kind of feeling in their life. It is an absolute necessity for mentally, physically and emotionally development of human beings.

In a discussion of distance education definitions, Keegan (1986, p. 49) lists the main elements of a definition as: -

- The quasi-permanent separation of teacher and learner throughout the length of the learning process; this is from conventional face-to-face education.

- The influence of an educational organization, both in the planning and preparation of learning materials and in the provision of student support services; this distinguishes it from private study and teach-yourself program.

- The use technical media; print, audio, video or computer, to unite teacher and learner and carry the content of the course.

- The provision of two-way communication so that the student may benefit from or even initiate dialogue; this distinguishes it from other uses of technology in education.

- The quasi-permanent absence of the learning group throughout the learning process so that people are usually taught as individuals and not in groups with the possibility of occasional meetings for both didactic and socialization purposes.

This definition of distance education has been widely quoted, but it is not universally accepted. Several alternative definitions have been suggested, and writers have pointed out courses, which do not fit neatly within the definition. Given the diversity of courses offered at a distance, someone could probably point out and exemption to almost any definition

Distance education is a rapidly growing field with respect to both practice and promise. With respect to practice, distance education has permeated all sectors of education, ranging from primary school to higher education to business and industry, within just a few short years. With respect to promise, it is a field that may redefine twenty-first century education. The growing impact of distance education is significant given the fact that the field is but in its infancy. Even the defining term, distance education has been in use only a few short years. With rapid advances in technology we can only imagine what future decades will hold for our institutions of learning.
Independent study, consists of various forms of teaching or learning arrangements in which teachers and learners carry out their essential task and responsibilities apart from one another, communicating in a variety of ways for the purpose of freeing internal learners from inappropriate class pacing or patterns, of providing external learners with opportunities to continue learning in their own environments, and of developing in all learners the capacity to carry on self-directed learning.


Research design
The survey method was used to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Research assistants were used to administer the questionnaires.

Target population
The population consisted of all graduates in Kitwe district who had started their studies through distance learning mode at the University of Zambia.

A sample consisted of 41 respondents. 82.93% of the respondents were men whilst 17.07% were women. 34.15% of the men were in the age group of 41-45 years and 17.07% of the women were aged between 36 and 40 years.
87.80% of the respondents were employed by the Ministry of Education. The remaining respondents were employed by other organizations.

Method of data collection
Self-administered questionnaires were used to collect data


Data analysis is the process of bringing order, structure and meaning to the mass of collected data. Data analysis involved classifying of questions, coding of themes and categorizing of themes according to the mostly frequently used phrases or generative themes that were later tabulated into frequency tables for easy interpretation of the findings.

Qualification attained
73.17% of the respondents acquired first degree in Arts whilst 7.32% attained diploma. 14.63% had certificate qualification

58.53% of the respondents stated that it was not difficult to understand courses taken by distance education mode than courses taken by full time mode. 34.15% of them stated that the courses were difficult to understand.

78.05% of the respondents stated that they studied individually. 19.51% studied in groups

48.78% of the respondents were promoted after obtaining the qualification. 29.27% of them had their salary scales adjusted. 14.63% of them were able to undertake further studies.

82.93% of the respondents stated that the course contents in UNZA programs met professional needs at their working places. However, 17.07% disagreed.

How local community perceived studying by distance education

39.02% of the respondents stated that the local community respected the mode of study. 17.07% said that the local community took students studying by distance education mode as less intelligent. 12.20% said such students were intelligent.


Profile of participants

The results revealed that 82.93% of the participants were men while 17.07% of them were women. 36.59% of the respondents were aged between 41 and 45 years. The ministry of education employed 87.80% of the respondents. Most of them had working experience ranging between 5 to 20 years.

34.15% of the respondents who stated that the courses were difficult to understand gave the following reasons:

- there were few books for reference;
- the study materials and assignments were received late;
- the course outlines were not fully covered;
- there was less access to library facilities especially outside UNZA;
- residential school period was short; and
- dividing time between study work and others.

36.58% of the respondents stated that most of their workmates had diploma qualification. 31.71% stated that some of their workmates had first degree. 14.63% stated that they had friends in employment with master’s degree

Upon completion of studies successfully, 48.78% of the respondents were promoted, 29.27% had their salary scale adjusted and 14.63% of them were able to go for further studies. Only 7.32% of the respondents did not benefit in any way.

The respondents gave many reasons for undertaking studies at UNZA through distance learning, 26.83% were for job satisfaction, 19.51% for self actualization, 7.32% for self esteem and 9.76% wanted to help the local community.

39.02% of the respondents revealed that the local community respected this mode of study. They also took such students to be intelligent. However some local people took them as less intelligent to be full time students from the beginning.

Many respondents stated that they faced many problems when they were studying through distance learning mode. They said that some of the problems were:

- inadequate funds to pay for fees, residential school, transport to and from UNZA and at the same time supporting the family. They linked insufficient finances to support both studies and family to low salaries and lack of support from employers;
- there were no well stocked libraries in the rural areas for study books and other materials to refer to;
- non – availability of other students to study with and / or consult;
- not having sufficient study time;
- lack of qualified personnel to consult;
- flow of study materials, assignments and examination time tables from DDE was slow. This was also affected by the poor mail system in the country and rural areas in particular;
- failure to secure study loans from the employers;
- written assignments without guidance;
- interaction with lecturers was inadequate during residential school; and
- gaining and maintaining good grades in courses

78.05% of the respondents said that they studied individually because:

- they were the only one studying by the mode in the area;
- they worked extra hard when they were alone;
- it was easier to use time and internalize the material;
- worked on own pace;
- worked at own convenient time especially at night; and
- there was no copying of work from each other. Hence being able to measure own capability. No dependency on others

19.51% preferred to study in groups because:

- other students helped when stuck with a problem;
- there was rich exchange of ideas on issues through brainstorming;
- it was possible to learn from others;
- costs on photocopying of materials were shared amongst students; and
- were able to encourage each other

Many respondents who studied individually had disadvantages such as:

- difficult in getting study materials elsewhere;
- when they were not able to understand an issue, there was no one to consult. It was difficult to go ahead with work;
- they had no companion due to the type of course studying;
- it was difficult to identify mistakes; and
- there was no sharing of ideas with others

Respondents who worked in groups stated that reading alone had disadvantages such as:

- it was expensive to shoulder all costs;
- learnt very little;
- no checks and balances by other students; and
- having limited reading materials and books

82.93% of the respondents stated that course contents on UNZA programmes met professional needs of work. They had this to say about the course contents:

- they knew exactly what was supposed to be taught to students;
- most of the materials studied was used in lecturing at the work place, colleges and others;
- most of the programmes catered in the syllabus were actually the ones found at the workplace;
- course contents were meeting the international standards;
- they were able to use knowledge and skills acquired in administration;
- were capable to analyze, interpret and disseminate any information; and
- methods and teaching materials were covered

17.07% said that the course contents did not meet professional needs at work. They advised that the contents should be classroom oriented and based on what students would find obtaining at grassroot level rather than the theoretical aspect of the course that had nothing to do with work. They alleged that the content at a college like Nkrumah Teachers College was enough to teach from grades 8 – 12, unlike the content at UNZA, which was too advanced to teach at a college. They observed that some course contents were outdated.

Most of the respondents obtained Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Arts with Education qualification upon completion of their studies. After acquiring the qualification, they positively contributed to society in many ways such as:

- on return they became most dependable teachers in subjects like English literature;
- they produced better academic results at grade 12;
- they were able to plan work;
- they were able to contend with an industrial dispute that arose at work;
- they became a model to fellow teachers and other friends. Hence later many because students by distance education mode;
- they enhanced performance through acquisition of improved skills and knowledge;
- they became consultants at work;
- managed to create database for staff and pupils in organization of educational nature;
- able to advise school administrators on how best to handle administrative duties;
- they were perfect in teaching methods;
- as a senior lecturer in a college, became the heads of a section in education and was able to supervise lecturers;
- as a secondary school head teacher, administrative and managerial skills were improved;
- assisted to improve the quality of reading materials the college produced for distance students;
- more female teachers were inspired and encouraged to study by distance learning mode;
- they acquired research skills;
- able to write a new syllabus of the subject; and
- able to handle senior classes


Distance education or open learning is one of the ways of solving the developing and/or developed countries educational problems. In most societies, provision of education is a problem due to limited funding, quality of teaching team, physical capacities and so on. Distance education tries to solve these problems by using mass media to meet educational demand for its society within its own education method.
It will be noticed that distance education provides people with proper knowledge that is acknowledged by the employers and other stakeholders. It has benefited many people. It is a cheaper way of providing knowledge that should be expanded at any cost.


We recommend that the government should expand provision of distance education at any level so that people could acquire knowledge they missed earlier. This can be done by introducing distance education at all levels of education. Subsidizing such kind of education knowing that poverty levels are high in the country should also support it. The government should find partners in providing education if it may be impossible to do so on its own.


Calder, J. and McCollum, A. (1998). Open and Flexible Learning in Vocational Education and Training. London: Kogan Page Ltd

Bell, C. Bowden, M. & Trott, A. (eds.) (1977). Implementing Flexible Learning. London: Kogan Page Ltd

Kember, D. (1975). Opening Learning Courses for Adults. New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632.

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