Rural students’ experiences at the Open University of Tanzania
Mahai, Lulu Simon
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This ethnographic study has been undertaken to address a literature gap relating to rural students’ experiences of distance education in developing countries. It gives an account of teaching and learning practices at the Open University of Tanzania (OUT), describes the needs, challenges and coping strategies of students and makes recommendations for improving teaching and support practices in rural areas. An ethnographic approach was used to enable the generation of rich, contextual data from four OUT regional centres. Data generation methods included interviews, observation and document review, while themes were inductively generated through thematic analysis. Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus were used to guide the conduct of the study and interpretation of the findings. The study shows that the OUT does not significantly address the problem of the educational divide between the rural and urban populations of Tanzania. This is mainly due to the urban location of regional centres and to students’ inadequate access to relevant teaching and support services such as tutors, library resources and Internet services. The existence of poor infrastructure and the many technological challenges encountered in rural areas further exacerbate the situation. Such limitations may make it difficult for students to develop the intellectual inquiry and critical commentary skills necessary to make informed decisions, and to acquire the competencies expected of graduates of higher education programmes. This study presents rich data based on the immersion of the researcher in the everyday lives of students at the OUT, and proposes a series of recommendations addressing the development of future policy and planning for the university.