Monday, 21 January 2013

The VCILT: Why is it the pioneer in e-education in Mauritius?

About us

The VCILT was setup in 2001,with the aim to modernize the distance education concept by fully utilizing the possibilities offered by IT-enabled networked systems and the Internet.The VCILT started with the vision of being a service centre to assist academics in developing e-learning courses and to use ICT as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning process. This methodological approach did not really work as it emerged that the major stakeholders (students, teachers, academics, government) were not psychologically nor technically ready to embrace such innovative concepts.

In 2004 after three years of struggle with only a few academics trying out the e-learning approach, the VCILT realigned its strategy taking into account the national priorities and introduced a teaching, research and development arm within the Centre. The first online programme of studies the Masters in Computer-Mediated Communication and Pedagogies was launched targeted at school educators and university academics to build capacity in the educational technology field.

In 2008, the VCILT worked on the integration of text-to-speech technology in e-learning courses, a technique which turned into a rapid e-learning development methodology. This technique is currently being disseminated both in Mauritius and in Africa through conferences and funding from COL and Microsoft.

In 2009, the VCILT launched a top-up degree in Educational Technology which provided to so far more than 150 school teachers with an innovative route to upgrade their qualifications. This course is transforming the educational practices in schools as it is equipping teachers with the competencies to transform the Mauritian classroom in a digital classroom. The VCILT has also introduced a general education module on Educational Technology to first year students and 1000 first-year students enrol yearly on the course. This is a grass-root activity aimed at inculcating a digital education culture in aspiring educators. 

In 2010, the VCILT received the COL Excellence Awards in Education. In 2012, in a traditional public university of a developing small-island state with economic constraints, the VCILT has introduced 5 Online Programmes, with 8 parallel cohorts constituting a total of 300 enrolled students and more than 5000 users university-wide of its e-learning platform. It has emerged as one of the leaders in education technology in the African Region and which has become nearly self-sustainable economically.

Educational Transformation
The major barrier towards educational transformation in the ICT era is resistance to change. The transformative approach is 3-fold(1):inculcate new educational culture in aspiring educators from their first year of University education itself, (2) provide a route for in-service educators to upgrade their qualifications (better income, and promotion prospects) through an innovative degree in education technology by transforming them into digital migrants, and (3) influence policy makers by demonstrating that technology has increased access to education and has transformed traditional practices.

The impact on society is that more students are able to secure a place (a virtual seat) at the University where undergraduate education is free; teachers are able to maximise on the use of technology in the classroom thereby diminishing the divide between the poor and the digital native and the policy makers are convinced of investing more on innovative learning technologies for the common good.  
Innovation, inclusion and diversity
The VCILT's nature of  activities in a traditional university is considered as innovative in practice. Educational Change agents are formed since the first year of University itself. The Online Top-Up degree in Educational and Instructional Technology is a first in Mauritius where their existing teacher qualications and experience count as the main eligibility criteria for admission.Teachers no longer have to embark on completely new disciplines if they want a degree and they do not need to wait for years to upgrade their teaching qualifications based on senority criteria.

On the other hand the courses are conceived on activity-based learning that focus on technology-based competency-building rather than content mastery. Course contents on a majority of the modules are OERs that have been repurposed. This is a novel practice as the project  succeeded in getting the concept of OERs to be an accepted practice in a university where traditional quality assurance processes are key.   
The online programmes of the VCILT target school leavers who do not secure a conventional place in university, and in-service educators. Undergraduate free education means the needy and those with average results can secure a place in the University on an online programme. Teachers have the opportunity to access University education, a right which was kind of denied to them in the past unless they possessed satisfactory secondary education and embarked on a discipline afresh.

Empowering teachers of public schools in the digital age means greater social justice to needy students who do not have access to technology at home as they will benefit from the optimal technology use and facilities in schools. The free and open learning resources created and disseminated online contributes further towards increasing access to informal learning which will benefit the public at large, and external institutions in particular and deprived African regions on a global basis.