Information communication technologies and distance education in Sri Lanka: a case study of two universities
Liyanagunawardena, T. R. (2012) Information communication technologies and distance education in Sri Lanka: a case study of two universities. PhD thesis, University of Reading
Sri Lanka's participation rates in higher education are low and have risen only slightly in the last few decades; the number of places for higher education in the state university system only caters for around 3% of the university entrant age cohort. The literature reveals that the highly competitive global knowledge economy increasingly favours workers with high levels of education who are also lifelong learners. This lack of access to higher education for a sizable proportion of the labour force is identified as a severe impediment to Sri Lanka‟s competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. The literature also suggests that Information and Communication Technologies are increasingly relied upon in many contexts in order to deliver flexible learning, to cater especially for the needs of lifelong learners in today‟s higher educational landscape. The government of Sri Lanka invested heavily in ICTs for distance education during the period 2003-2009 in a bid to increase access to higher education; but there has been little research into the impact of this. To address this lack, this study investigated the impact of ICTs on distance education in Sri Lanka with respect to increasing access to higher education. In order to achieve this aim, the research focused on Sri Lanka‟s effort from three perspectives: policy perspective, implementation perspective and user perspective. A multiple case study research using an ethnographic approach was conducted to observe Orange Valley University‟s and Yellow Fields University‟s (pseudonymous) implementation of distance education programmes using questionnaires, qualitative interviewing and document analysis. In total, data for the analysis was collected from 129 questionnaires, 33 individual interviews and 2 group interviews. The research revealed that ICTs have indeed increased opportunities for higher education; but mainly for people of affluent families from the Western Province. Issues identified were categorized under the themes: quality assurance, location, language, digital literacies and access to resources. Recommendations were offered to tackle the identified issues in accordance with the study findings. The study also revealed the strong presence of a multifaceted digital divide in the country. In conclusion, this research has shown that iii although ICT-enabled distance education has the potential to increase access to higher education the present implementation of the system in Sri Lanka has been less than successful.