The South African Ministry of Higher Education and Training (MHET) published the draft Policy Framework for the Provision of Distance Higher Education in the Government Gazette on 29 May 2012.
Based on the MHET Policy’s glossary (p. 4) definition of distance education work-integrated learning (WIL) can be regarded as a method of structured distance learning:
... a set of teaching and learning strategies (or educational methods) that can be used to overcome spatial and/or temporal separation between educators and students. However, it is not a single mode of delivery. It is a collection of methods for the provision of structured learning. It avoids the need for students to discover the curriculum by attending classes frequently and for long periods. Rather, it aims to create a quality learning environment using an appropriate combination of different media, tutorial support, peer group discussion, and practical sessions (emphasis added).
This is emphasised on page 8 of the draft MHET Policy that states: "Distance education proceeds from the belief that learning can be nurtured without necessarily requiring teachers and learners to be in the same place at the same time, and that the resource based nature of distance education allows for the possibility to achieve economies of scale" (emphasis added).
Page 8 of the draft MHET Policy also points out that distance education 'requires substantial up-front investment in curriculum design and materials development, including attention to issues of structure, pacing and meaningful formative assessment, as well as considerable investment in decentralised student support' (emphasis added), which is also true about WIL. Page 12 of the draft MHET Policy continues to state: 'Online communication allows students and academics to remain separated by space and time (although some forms of communication assume people congregating at a common time), but to sustain an ongoing dialogue. Online asynchronous discussion forums, for example, reflect an instance where the spatial separation between educator and learners is removed by the ‘virtual’ space of the Internet, but where there remains temporal separation' (emphasis added). The facilitation of reflection among students during and after stints of WIL has been emphasised.
Item 4.2.2 (h), pp. 22-23 of the draft MHET Policy giving the example of teacher education should enjoy appropriate attention:
Teacher education is a good example here: it remains in the lowest CESM funding category even though new accreditation requirements require investment in a robust teaching practice placement, mentoring and supervision system. While teaching practice has been funded as a full course at funding level 1, the issue now is to define it as an experiential learning component through the funding review process and thus fund it accordingly. Similar concerns arise regarding any programmes of study that require substantive work-integrated-learning and/or practical components and/or substantial online engagement between teachers and students in synchronous and asynchronous fora. Such requirements militate against the potential of achieving economies of scale.
It needs to be pointed out that the statement above does not mention the role of the teaching community of practice, which is a very important oversight. The collaborative notion in Cooperative and Work-integrated Education is not mentioned in the draft policy. The establishment of a supportive community of practice is crucial with regard to curriculum design, especially if work-integrated learning is decided upon as most appropriate method.
Practitioners, serving as mentors for learners, are the third key players in programmes that include work-integrated learning as preferred method. The up-front investment in for quality work-integrated learning includes appropriate materials development that would structure and pace learning as well as empower workplace mentors to offer meaningful formative assessment. This is where the investment of decentralised student support of quality work-integrated learning should focus. (Page 8 of the draft MHET Policy)
Although improvement of the quality of distance education is mentioned in section 4.3 (p. 23); concern about quality and of “inadequate practical work or exposure to work integrated learning” is highlighted.
Republic of South Africa. 2012. Department of Higher Education and Training. Draft Policy Framework for the Provision of Distance Higher Education in South African Universities. Retrieved online from: http://www.dhet.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ZgZKPb1fM38%3D&tabid=36