Page 2 of 6THE NEED FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION IN ASIA PACIFIC
Asia's population has risen dramatically in the last 15 years to over 3.7 billion (InternetWorldStats 2008), with major increases in South Asia offsetting decreases in Southeast Asia. This has created critical education and training problems in many Asian countries. Conventional education systems in developing nations do not typically have the capacity to provide secondary, tertiary, and lifelong education to the whole population. The Millennium Development Goals (UN 2008) stress the role to be played by ICT and DE methods in overcoming this limitation both in formal and non-formal education.
ICTs have been used for the past 50 years to increase the efficiency of both face-to-face classroom training and distance-based delivery. The usual reasons for adopting DE methods are (Malik et al. 2005):
The number of DE institutions and their student enrolment is increasing annually, indicating a growing acceptance of this mode of education. Of an estimated 44 "mega-universities" (Daniel 1996) worldwide with at least 100,000 students (Wikipedia 2008a), 13 are single mode (DE) open universities and all practice DE in one form or another. Ten of the mega-universities are in Asia, including three in India alone, with a combined student population of approximately 2.1 million. The 10 largest mega-universities include Asian open universities. It may be argued that the China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU), with approximately two million students, should be included in this list, although technically the CCRTVU is a combination of separate institutions. It is estimated that 70 Asian institutions currently offer DE programmes to over six million students (Jung 2007).
The University of the South Pacific (USP), one of the earliest DE providers in the region, has offered degree programs to its 12 member countries since 1968. It currently uses a wide range of print materials, audio-conferencing, and Web-based methods. USP’s Wide Area Network (USPNet) incorporates a 5 MHz Internet Protocol (IP) satellite technology to integrate the University’s DE and administrative functions. Massey University in New Zealand, another early DE adopter, offers a wide range of Web-based programs, and numerous Australian institutions have become world leaders in DE provision, as shown in the activities and publications of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA). Worldwide, there is a trend of conventional, face-to-face universities beginning to offer DE programs, thereby converting themselves into dual-mode institutions.
The recognition of DE and ODL as a means of human resource development in Asia is indicated by the establishment of professional organizations, such as the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU) in 1987 and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Open Learning Center (SEAMOLEC)2 in 1997. However, DE is still in its infancy in newly transitioned economies like Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, and Vietnam. It has enormous social potential in Asia Pacific, and research and development is now needed for DE to fulfil its goals.