By Dr. Kipkirui Langat
Last week the government closed down schools and colleges due to fears over the spreading coronavirus. With the ever-rising cases of the unrelenting pandemic across the world, learning institutions are faced with the prospect of losing an entire semester or more.

Elsewhere in the world in countries like China, which has been the epicentre of the pandemic, most institutions turned to online learning after halting in-person teaching as a short-term remedy to overcome the fatal virus.
In Kenya, the adoption of online learning as a method of teaching has been slow, especially amongst the TVET institutions largely due to lack of an established legal framework and standards to guide a proper roll-out.
However, that has now been addressed after the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVETA) developed the standards that set the requirements and guidelines for the implementation of Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL).
These standards, which has been developed through consultations with stakeholders and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), was necessitated by the need for establishing requirements governing the quality of training services in the TVET Sector. It is envisaged that through standardization, service delivery disparities that are encountered when services are rendered within the TVET sector will be removed.

During the development period, the technical committee worked in consultation with key stakeholders representing government, regulatory and professional bodies, curricula development and assessment agencies, academia, consumer groups, public and private colleges, universities and other interested parties.
The TVET Standard prescribes requirements for Open, Distance and e-Learning centres through traditional distance education; e-learning provisions; blended learning and virtual education and training modes.

The Standard defines some of the key terms of ODeL. For instance, “Distance Learning” is defined as the delivery of learning or training to those who are separated mostly by time and space from those who are training. The training is done with a variety of mediating processes used to transmit content, to provide tuition and to conduct assessment or measure outcomes. The delivery modes may include traditional distance education by correspondence courses, e-learning and blended learning to open learning centres and face-to-face provision where a significant element of flexibility, self-study, and learning support, is an integral part.

“e-Learning” is defined as the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance distance education, implement open learning policies, make learning activities more flexible and enable those learning activities to be distributed among many learning venues. While “Open Learning” is described as policies and practices that permit entry to learning with no or minimum barriers with respect to age, gender, or time constraints and with recognition or prior learning.

The Standard sets out a number of requirements for ODeL providers. An ODeL centre shall show evidence that an appropriate needs assessment or feasibility assessment has been undertaken giving the rationale or justification for setting up the institution or starting the programme as reflected in the beliefs and core values of the institution.
It should show the target groups that are to be served by the institution focusing on their demographical factors, education background, motivational factors, experiences -including work situation and accessibility and familiarity to media and information among others.

Furthermore, the centre should also show the infrastructural situation in the catchments regions, especially telecommunication network, electricity and transport; the educational resources such as facilities in the learning institutions, library services as well as human resource; and the market demand of the courses to be offered.
But most importantly, ODeL centres shall ensure that the quality of the TVET CBET Programmes offered through ODeL and those offered through face-to-face are comparable.

According to the Standard, the centres offering ODeL programmes shall be accredited, same as the programme to be delivered. The Centre shall have budgetary provisions for the programme to ensure its sustainability and this shall be reflected in the financial policy statements. It should also ensure that there are clear governance and administrative structures that involve stakeholders, where appropriate.

The guidelines also provide that an ODeL Centre offering ODeL programmes may establish regional learning centres to bring services closer to the trainees. These regional centres shall require accreditation by the Authority. The learning centre shall have academic, guidance and counselling services (trainers should be available in respective subject courses); study support services; and administrative support services.

The guidelines also allow the ODeL Centre to enter into collaborative arrangements for delivery of open, distance and e- learning. However, such collaborative arrangements shall be approved by the Authority.
The Standard has also addressed the issue of curriculum development and implementation. Where the ODeL centre fall under the category of national polytechnic, the curriculum development and implementation shall be as provided in the national polytechnic CBET programme development standards. For other categories, they shall implement already developed programmes from recognized curriculum development and assessment bodies. The ODEL centre shall ensure quality in the implementation of the programmes.

For ODeL centres which are established within National polytechnics shall put in place mechanisms for regular review of both the curriculum and learning materials by peers and experts. The review shall focus on relevance and appropriateness of content in relation to the syllabuses and their objectives, discipline conformity and learner expectations.

The issue of trainers has also been addressed whereby an ODeL Center shall ensure the appropriate orientation of TVETA accredited trainers by expert trainers on ODeL system, who give face-face or non-contiguous intervention or interaction with the trainees.

On assessment, the ODeL Centre shall, at enrolment, inform the trainee of any assessments that would be required and declare the requirements of the said assessments. The requirements for external assessments should include the responsibility of the provider and responsibility of the trainee.

The TVET Standard on Open, Distance and e-Learning captures and addresses a wide range of other issues that are aimed at mainstreaming these forms of learning.

It is now upon the ODeL providers to get hold of the standard, read and understand and roll-out according to the guidelines so that in the coming days no learner is left behind no matter the circumstances we are facing individually, as a country or a people in a global set up.

The writer is the Director General/CEO, TVET Authority