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

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

Can flexible, open and distance learning (FODL) deliver education equitably and equally, as well as remove barriers to women’s learning and enhance empowerment, in the Global South?

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 following two decades, examining what barriers women faced and how these could be overcome, some of which reveal very similar challenges that women encounter due to their socialised gender roles.

While these analyses were addressing gendered learning and pedagogical issues inherent in FODL, a simultaneous and separate discourse by feminists concerned with the rapid acceleration of man-made technology that 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, which 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 women’s empowerment and gender-based discrimination in all areas of women’s lives.

Given that these three theoretical strands have not been melded, this paper concludes by examining a recent and successful programme that does: Lifelong Learning (L3) for women farmers in Tamil Nadu, India. Facilitated by the Commonwealth of Learning, this programme 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 utilising modern ICT (mobile phones) 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.

[adapted from source]

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