Distance education is a means to provide formal education where the instructors
and learners are physically separated, with increasing use of interactive telecommunications
systems to connect learners, resources, and instructors (Schlosser and Simonson,
2002). Distance education has traditionally been used to provide public education
about agriculture, health, literacy and basic education mainly for adult population
(Perraton, 2000). However, the distance education usage in higher education is
rapidly growing all over the world. The development of open universities in twenty
five developing countries has been a major achievement in this growth during the
last twenty years (Perraton, 2000).
Small island nations face many barriers due to their small population sizes.
There have been some efforts among different island nations to join the forces
in order to achieve economic viability. For example, University of South Pacific
(USP) and University of West Indies (UWI) are attempting to address broader
regional needs rather than just the national needs. USP has 3 campuses located
in Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa, and also national facilities in 12 other countries.
University of South Pacific uses satellite links between these campuses and
national facilities. Although the network is heavily used for administrative
purposes it is used regularly for regional tutorials. The technology allows
staff to staff communication and staff to student communication across different
campuses (Perraton, 2000). Distance programmes are taught using locally developed
print-based materials supported by a range of other media and resources. Tutorial
support is provided for these programmes both in face-to-face contact as well
as via technology. Frequently audiotapes are used to complement the programmes
as well as videotapes on occasional instances. All the programmes get support
from the human network of full or part-time staff widely dispersed in the local
centres. All these services are centrally coordinated at University Extension
(Matthewson and Va’a, 1999).
University of West Indies (UWI) was established in 1948 to cater for the English-speaking
population in the Caribbean. It was formed as a college in collaboration with
University of London at Mona, Jamaica (Brandon, 1999). The university consists
of three campuses located in Mona (Jamaica), St. Augustine (Trinidad and Tobago),
and Cave Hill (Barbados). In addition, twelve non-campus countries contribute
to the university for whom the university runs distance courses. The distance
education program at UWI began in 1983-84 under the name University of West
Indies Distance Teaching Experiment (UWIDITE). Since then, UWI began experimenting
with the use of telecommunications to deliver courses to off-campus students
through UWIDITE (Perraton, 2000). Satellite links were established between campuses
and off-campus centres. However, technical weaknesses as well as managerial
difficulties led to UWIDITE exploring new potentials. UWI lags behind USP in
integrating its distance education programme with other activities.
The regional models used by both USP and UWI are only applicable to small island
nations where neighbouring nations are also small island nations. Even with
these collaborations the host countries dominate and the countries with fewer
resources suffer as a consequence. This disparity will be higher when small
island nations are situated alongside huge countries where total control will
be taken by the larger power players making this sort of collaboration impossible.
Maldives is a prime example of a small island nation with less than 300 thousand
people surrounded with countries having millions and billions of people. Hence
the nations like Maldives have to seek alternative models.
Maldives is a prime example of small island nations facing a number of barriers
due their size and economic status. As it is not economically feasible to build
a secondary and high school in each of the islands one of the ways to achieve
economies of scale is to have regional centres where the students travel on
a daily basis to get their education. However, the absence of regular ferries
between the islands of Maldives makes it impossible for students to travel to
the regional centre on a daily basis if the centre is not situated in their
own island. For this alternative to work Maldives needs to invest heavily on
establishing regular ferry services between the islands in addition to the human
resources development and other infrastructure development costs. Alternatively
boarding houses can be established in the islands where the regional schools
are located and students can reside in these houses during the school term which
again requires huge financial investments. This leads to the alternative of
reaching the students wherever they are through distance mode. Hence a study
into the best technology and delivery systems in Maldivian context was carried
THE DISTANCE EDUCATION MODEL
The distance education model was designed and developed focussing on accessibility,
cost minimisation, and interactivity. Access to education was the main criteria
in developing the model as there were no venues of access to secondary education
in most parts of Maldives within the existing infrastructure. Hence, the distance
education model designed and developed was aimed at providing access to secondary
education for the students in the outer islands of Maldives. While providing
access was a major criterion, cost minimisation in terms of both initial investments
as well as recurrent costs was a huge factor due to the economic conditions
of Maldives. Consequently, the model was designed based on the existing infrastructure
of Maldives without requiring additional investments on infrastructure. The
third criterion was the level of interactivity provided to the students within
the model. Distance education programs are highly criticised was the lack of
interactivity and isolation of students. Hence, it was prudent that an adequate
level of interactivity was incorporated into the model. The model provides adequate
interactivity for the students to interact with both content as well as the
A descriptive case study approach led to a deep understanding of the barriers
and constraints for delivering distance education in Maldives. A process of
elimination of the different technologies used for distance education was used
to identify the most suitable choice for Maldives. This process will not explained
in this paper as it beyond the scope of this paper. The model developed uses
the existing computer networks to deliver the instruction, with Internet for
teacher-student interaction. Three-tier architecture of communication is used
to provide effective interaction between the teachers and students. In essence,
the current infrastructure allows us to use computers as a medium of delivery
without any access to Internet for individual students. However, at a regional
level, Internet access is available and can be used for a limited amount of
time without having to incur huge costs.
The distance education model developed in this study is based on the assumption
that the students will not have personal Internet connections and therefore
cannot be required to go online at any time on their own computers during their
study. However, they need to communicate with the teacher who would be based
in a different location (most probably in the main island); hence a link needs
to be made between the students and the teacher. The model is based on three-tier
architecture, which portrays these three entities: the student, the teacher,
and the link between the two. The three tiers comprise the student module, regional
module, and the headquarters module. The student module is the component that
the student uses to learn and interact with the content. The headquarters module
is the component with which the teachers interact to monitor students’
progress and provide feedback. The regional module is the link between these
two modules and provides a bridge between offline and online modes. All the
communication between the students and the teachers are done through the regional
module. The student module is sent to each student, the regional module is set
up in each of the regional centres, and the headquarters module resides at the
central location where teachers are available. Figure 1 shows the communications
structure of the model. All the communications between the student module and
the regional module are offline; hence the students are not required to have
Internet connectivity. All the communications between the regional module and
the headquarters module are online, but they take place in batches, hence not
requiring continuous online connection.
Figure 1: Structure of the model
The model in this study uses a CD-ROM/Web hybrid model to deliver distance education.
A hybrid model is mainly used to get the benefits of both CDROM as well as Internet,
while compensating the drawbacks of each other. Use of multimedia on the Internet
poses major problems in terms of bandwidth which can be overcome using a CDROM
with all the multimedia content. Similarly, using only a CDROM will provide
static content which can be made dynamic and adaptive through the use of Internet.
According to Metcalf (1996) a hybrid model will provide timely information,
real-time interaction, and centralised user activity.
A hybrid model was used in this research mainly to provide an adequate level
of adaptivity in content. Although Internet is not directly accessible to the
students, Internet is used to provide the adaptivity. CDROM is used to deliver
the content and Internet is used for regular updates to the content. Due to
the lack of human resources in Maldives, especially teachers, the possibility
of having teachers for each subject in each island is impossible. Hence, this
model proposes human teachers to be located in the capital providing instruction
to a number of islands at the same time.
A learning system based on the theoretical model was designed and developed
to implement the model. This learning system was then implemented to find out
student accessibility within the remote islands of Maldives. The main purpose
of the evaluation was to find out whether the proposed model is suitable in
the Maldivian context. In order to find this out, three questions needed to
- Will the proposed model provide physical access to learning to the students
in the islands?
- Will the students be able to learn through the proposed model?
- Will the students accept the proposed model as the basis for a form of teaching?
The evaluation was carried out at three different centres in the Maldives.
This included two of the smallest islands in Maldives in terms of population
as well as school enrolments. Furthermore, these two islands were considered
very remote due to limited transport services to them. The third centre was
at the capital where most of the facilities are available.
The completion of the evaluation in all the three centres proved that physical
access to students in remote islands was possible using the model. Furthermore,
the student responses from all the three centres strengthen the claim that this
distance education model was suitable in delivering education to the remote
islands of Maldives.
Physical accessibility is only one aspect of the students’ accessibility
provided by the proposed model. The other two aspects were how much the students
learn using the learning system, and whether the students would accept the proposed
model as the basis for a form of teaching. Statistical analysis was used to
measure these aspects of the learning system. T-tests and Correlation Analysis
were used to answers these questions.
One aspects of the evaluation of this research is to identify whether the students
were able to learn using the learning system. The most logical way to determine
this was to identify their knowledge before and after using the learning system
and compare them to find out whether they performed better in later case. Hence
pre-test and post-test were used during the evaluation and the scores from these
two were compared. Since there were no control groups, a control measure was
used to check the reliabilities of the test scores. That is, the average scores
from the students’ last grade at school were compared with their final
scores in the evaluation to see if there is any relationship. The statistical
tests determined that the students were able to learn using the learning system.
Furthermore, results showed that the students increased their knowledge by 135%
after using the learning system. When compared with their average school scores
the results determined that the students scored 8% higher when using the learning
While it is important that any model of education is able to demonstrate that
it can create effective learning, it is also important that students themselves
are willing to accept the new method. Hence the evaluation also focused on determining
whether the students accepted the learning system. Technology acceptance model
was used as the basis to identify how well students accepted this learning system.
Davis (1993) proposed the technology acceptance model where he argued that the
perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness of a technology would formulate
users’ attitudes towards using a particular technology and consequently
to actual use of the technology.
Once the students completed their course using the learning system they were
given a questionnaire which consisted of questions regarding their perceptions
of the software. The questionnaire was divided into several scales, each scale
measuring a different aspect of students’ perception of the learning system.
The research also looked at the students’ perceptions of the learning
system. One of the aspects the study focused on was the students’ overall
perception of the learning system. Most students liked using the learning system
and were ready to use the learning system again for other subjects. Sixty four
percent of the students stated that they liked using the software, while only
20% expressed some dislike. When asked whether they would use the learning system
for any other subject 52% indicated that they would use the system for other
subjects. These results were then compared with other factors including relating
them to the students’ attitudes to and experience with computers.
Further analyses were done on the student acceptance of the model. Student
acceptance was measured using following attributes of the technology acceptance
- Ease of use
- Perceived Usefulness
- System Design Features and Tools
In measuring the ease of use, three different aspects were measured: student
perception of prior knowledge requirement to use the learning system, ease of
use of the learning system, and ease of use of the layout of the learning system.
The statistical tests showed that there was weak to no relationship between
students’ attitudes towards and experience with computers, and their perception
of learning using the system. Hence, it can be concluded that computer usage
or experience has little effect on the students’ belief that they learnt
using the learning system. Consequently, it can be concluded that the students
are likely to accept the proposed model as a reliable form of teaching.
The main aim of this model is to provide access to secondary education throughout
the country with a minimal expenditure on the infrastructure development. The
model capitalises on the existing infrastructure and technology in the country
reducing the costs required for implementation. The model also provides students
interactivity and adaptivity without asking for direct Internet connectivity.
One of the major advantages between this model and other commercially available
systems is that this system consists of a two-layered CD/Web Hybrid approach
where the students with and without online connections are catered for. The
results of the evaluation showed that this model is both physically accessible
and acceptable to the students in the remote islands of Maldives.
Although this research focussed on Maldives, the distance education model can
be used in different small island nations with minor adaptations. Many small
island nations in the South Pacific, like Fiji and Solomon Islands, share similar
geographical constraints to Maldives. Hence, this distance education model can
be easily adapted to cater for students in these island nations. These nations
have limited accessibility to education in many parts of the country and a hybrid
model can reach some of the remotest areas with extreme conditions. Further
research need to be carried out in other small island nations to find out how
the model can be adapted in these countries.
The implications of this research are enormous for the education in Maldives.
In addition, to providing secondary education in the outer islands it can also
be used to provide skill based training to the existing labour force. Currently,
most of the students in the tertiary education sector are employed and they
generally attend evening classes after work (personal observation). The proposed
model will allow these students a more flexible learning environment.
The next stage of development will be to create comprehensive content on the
secondary school curriculum using the model. Furthermore, more personnel will
need to be trained, at least one per centre, to implement the model. One of
barriers to providing secondary and higher education in the smallest islands
is the lack of skilled human resources. This can be overcome using our model.
In addition, the model will have most impact where there is a lack of teachers
in those islands affected by the Tsunami. It will benefit the local population
in the islands, where there is a lack of education due to inadequate human resources.
Further research will also be carried out to find out how this model can be
used in other small island nations, especially in the South Pacific.
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