South Africa has a quality system of education that simply has no equal on the continent of Africa. As an educational leader of the region, the country’s government is always striving to offer its students the widest array of courses and the most up-to-date delivery methods, including many programs that are now conducted partially or entirely online. This is known as distance education, and in South Africa, programs such as these are now leading to a variety of degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
About Online Education in South Africa
In recent years, the commitment South Africa has made to implementing and improving distance and e-learning programs has revolutionized its system of education, particularly higher education. All schools in South Africa are now connected with basic ICT features, connecting teachers and pupils through a system that South Africa has dubbed “EduNet”—a cutting-edge countrywide distance learning system. In addition, the country’s main educational body, the Education Ministry, recently created an online portal known as Thutong, a system designed to spread distance learning opportunities and resources throughout every South African community. Through this portal, teachers, learners and parents can access valuable educational resources aimed at enhancing the learning experience—resources which are free to access for every citizen in the country.
Distance or Online Education addresses two categories within South Africa’s educational system: academics and vocational/professional studies.
Not too long ago, online education in South Africa was assumed to be inferior to other educational delivery models. Much of this was critique was quite deserved, as most of the early programs were offer by non-accredited bodies who were simply motivated by the prospect of easy money. Today, however, all of that has changed. Most major universities in South Africa now offer online education as part of their overall curriculum, and the majority of upper high school, college and graduate students in South Africa now take at least one or more academic classes a year via an online format, where lessons are completed independently at the student’s own pace and sent back to the instructor via email. There are also plenty of opportunities in which students can interface with instructors, sometimes as often as two to three times a week, and to work cooperatively and electronically with other students in the same course. About half of these programs require some attendance, usually for events such as exams, guest lectures, etc., while others are conducted entirely over the Internet.
Vocational and Professional Programs
In many of South Africa’s vocational institutions and professional programs, students are now given the option of completing the classroom-based portion of their course through distance learning. Some of the courses offered, most of which lead to online diplomas and/or certification rather than degrees, include hotel and hospitality management, business and marketing, IT, paralegal studies, corrections and even law. These courses give students the opportunity to continue working towards their degree while also working a full-time job.
The Benefits of Distance Education in South Africa
The advancements being made in digital technology have opened up education to a wide variety of people that would otherwise be excluded. Most of South Africa’s universities are concentrated in the country’s major urban areas, in places such as Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg. This can make it very difficult for individuals living in the country’s wide expanse of rural country to participate in the educational system. Fortunately, with the expansion of distance learning programs many of these people are now able to pursue a variety of educational options, including academic, professional and vocational opportunities that were once not attainable due to distance.
Distance education not only benefits those people who are challenged by geographic limitations, it also opens doors to those challenged by time or disability. People who must work full-time to support themselves and their family, for example, may not have the time or energy to make regular trips to one of South Africa’s brick and mortar universities; and many of those struggling with disabilities have other challenges that prevent them from attending classroom-based lectures and courses. With online programs, individuals such as these can now study from the comfort of their home—and at their own pace—without having to worry about the time, hassle and expense of making regular trips to a physical institution. Students can watch live-streamed lectures, attend virtual seminars and receive and remit assignments via email. They can even set up weekly conferences with instructors and fellow students, and use email and messaging software when they have questions for the instructor.
Students are not the only ones who benefit from these types of online programs. By reaching out to a wider range of potential students, online programs have been credited with recent spikes in university enrollments, adding much needed funds into the schools’ collective coffers. Distance education also limits the amount of classroom space universities need, thus enabling them to enroll more students than the university can actually accommodate. Finally, the ability to offer fewer lecture-based courses, and more through an online format, means that institutions of higher learning can now streamline their staffing in ways that are beneficial to their bottom line.