As online learning becomes easy to reach, it is becoming old-fashioned for young Malawians to brag about their ‘university corridors’ as did the old guard.
Given fierce competition for space in brick-and-mortar colleges, thousands of students leaving secondary schools and working adults are turning to their phones and computers to attain higher learning.
Just like that, learning online has become a life-changing experience for people who would otherwise have been excluded from the much-fancied colleges by the shortage of classrooms and beds in public colleges.
Every year, the Department of Higher Learning in the Ministry Education, Science and Technology receives more than 15 000 applications from students scrambling for higher education.
However, the scramble gets frustrating as all public universities can enrol only a third of the applicants jostling for a place.
Unfortunately, rapid population growth can only make the competition tougher, with over half of the people in the country aged 18.
This brings to light the challenges in terms of access to higher education.
The country has fewer than 10 public universities, putting higher learning out of reach for many Malawians.
This calls for innovative strategies to increase the number of learners transitioning from secondary schools to colleges.
The ministry has introduced the open distance learning (ODL) to improve access to higher education.
Dr Samson MacJessie Mbewe, director of the Department of Higher Education, said ODL programmes have ramped up annual enrollment in pioneer colleges.
The programme is available at Mzuzu University (Mzuni), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luarnar), Domasi College of Education as well as University of Malawi’s Chancellor College and The Polytechnic.
“Currently, some universities and colleges in the country are enrolling more students despite shortage of infrastructure, especially classrooms. We will continue to expand higher education by introducing ODL programmes, which are not limited by bed and classroom space,” he says.
Mbewe said ODL programmes have increased the public universities’ intake to 36 000.
“Our goal is to ensure no one is left behind when it comes to higher education, but the major challenge is ensuring that all students are conversant with the requisite ICT facilities for this programme.
The ODL system has also opened university doors for adults who would have been shut out because of the challenges of balancing school, work, and family.
“The good news is that ODL is flexible. I continued with my everyday life, including work, yet I was studying at the same time,” says Miracle Ndonani, who has just completed bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics studies at Luanar.
Ndonani salutes ODL for the ease to maintain his full-time job as an artist, which financed his education.
Ndonani said learning online can be challenging because it requires one to be constantly connected.
“For me, it was a great mode of learning most likely to broaden access to quality higher education,” he says.