Flexible, Open and Distance Learning: An Enabler or Barrier to Women’s Empowerment through Education and Learning

Whittington, Sherrill A
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This paper will address the potential of Flexible, Open and Distance Learning (FODL) as a modality not only to deliver education equitably and equally, but one that removes barriers to women’s learning and enhances empowerment, particularly in a development context. // Although most of the early writings on women and distance learning focused on how its open, flexible approach could open up doors for women in developed countries denied access to intramural educational opportunities, concerns were raised as early as the mid-1980s that it might not have been as ‘woman-friendly’ as anticipated. This led to a number of studies being undertaken in tertiary distance education institutions over the next two decades examining what barriers women faced and how these could be overcome. The findings of four such studies, two from universities in the North, and two from the South, reveal very similar challenges which women encounter due to their socialised gender roles. // While these analyses were addressing gendered learning and pedagogical issues inherent in FODL, there was the simultaneous development of a separate discourse by feminists concerned with the rapid acceleration of man-made technology which was exclusive of women and female input. This approach focused particularly on the gendered exclusivity of ICTs, but did not consider how this could impact on women’s access to educational delivery platforms that were becoming increasingly ICT reliant. In transferring such technology to education and learning in Third World countries, development specialists promoting gender equality and women’s rights, have not evaluated how combining extramural learning with ICTs will impact on women’s empowerment and gender-based discrimination in all areas of women’s lives. // Given that these three theoretical strands have not been melded, the paper concludes by examining a most recent learning model which can be considered to blend all three gender frameworks. This is a most successful program of Lifelong Learning (L3) for women farmers in Tamil Nadu, India, which has factored in all the concerns raised about women’s exclusion and inequality. This program has facilitated by the Commonwealth of Learning has implemented a process and system of “Life Long Learning” in rural communities leading to knowledge empowerment, particularly among women who have been enabled to translate the knowledge empowerment into livelihood security. It has done so by utilizing a modern ICT in the form of mobile telephones to enable uneducated, illiterate women to alter their lives remarkably, taking the journey from total personal and economic disempowerment, to where they are making key decisions about their own lives and that of their families and their communities. // Paper ID: 45

Women and Girls' Education,Empowerment,Gender,Open and Distance Learning (ODL),Flexible Learning