Articles

Dr. Aminu Ladan Sharehu, Director General/Chief Executive, National Teachers Institute Kaduna, Nigeria 


Many societies in the world have turned to Open and Distance Education (ODE) to meet their academic, vocational, professional, and training needs. Due to this fact, there is paradigm shift of concept of education from an elite based system to mass based system towards increase in educational access. In Nigeria today, there is improved development in Information and Communication Technologies, with the emergence of affordable, portable, personal computers laden with multimedia capabilities that have leveraged institutions to deliver distance learning programmes.

Research findings have shown that ODE has potential to address the shortcomings of traditional face to face institutions in more cost effective ways. There is increasing roles of ODE in providing access to meet societal needs. ODE in Nigeria is now a veritable training tool for corporate bodies like the oil and gas, finance houses, manufacturing, etc, and there are a number of programmes available for learners.

Due to ODE being misunderstood right from its early inception as not of same standard with the conventional system, early practitioners in ODE had always somehow included Quality Assurance (QA) to safeguard its operations, to ensure that the quality in question is the same with the conventional system and is maintained, thus the issue of Quality Control had always feature in ODE. To what effect then is Quality Assurance?

  • Course materials recognized as the main feature of teaching in ODE
  • It is open for others to read, examine and critique

The institution also should:

  • Employ Facilitators/Counselors/Tutors
  • Appoint coordinator(s)
  • Invite experts
  • Determine syllabus/curriculum
  • Constitute Course team
  • Provide House style template and other guidelines
  • Manage process of writing
  • Conduct peer review
  • Pretest before release to the students (public)
  • Collect feedback from students

The sequential process, though they vary in different institutions, have been an example of Quality Control (QC) in ODE delivery from early times (Peters, 2013).

 
What is Quality Assurance?

Quality Assurance (QA) refers to the processes and procedures that systematically monitor different aspects of a service, process or facility to detect, correct and ensure that quality standards are being met. QA furthermore, is often used interchangeably with quality control; it is a wider concept that covers all policies and systematic activities implemented within a quality system. QA frameworks include:

  1. determination of adequate technical requirement of inputs and outputs
  2. certification and rating of suppliers
  3. testing of procured material for its conformance to established quality, performance, safety and reliability standards
  4. proper receipt and storage of materials
  5. audit of the quality process
  6. evaluation of the process to establish required corrective response and
  7. audit of the final output for conformance to:
    • technical
    • reliability
    • maintainability and
    • performance requirements (Meisinger & Wagner, 2006).

In education, QA is the systematic actions taken to prove and improve the quality of an institution’s methods, educational products and outcomes. It also refers to the policies, attitudes, actions and procedures necessary to ensure that quality is being maintained and enhanced (Woodhouse, 1999 in Peters, 2013).

Quality Assurance (QA) further refers to the engineering activities implemented in a system or in an organisation so that requirements for a product or service will be fulfilled. It is the systematic measurement, comparison with a standard, monitoring of processes and an associated feedback loop that confers error prevention. This can be contrasted with quality control, which is focused on process outputs (Feldman, 2005).

Two principles included in QA are: "Fit for purpose", the product should be suitable for the intended purpose; and "Right first time", mistakes should be eliminated. QA includes management of the quality of raw materials, assemblies, products and components, services related to production, and management, production and inspection processes.

Suitable quality is determined by product users, clients or customers, not by society in general. It is not related to cost and adjectives or descriptors such "high" and "poor" are not applicable. For example, a low priced product may be viewed as having high quality because it is disposable where another may be viewed as having poor quality because it is not disposable.

 
Company quality

During the 1980s, the concept of "company quality" with the focus on management and people came to the fore. It was realized that, if all department approached quality with an open mind, success is possible if the management lead the quality improvement process rightly or correctly.

Company quality assurance approach places emphasis on four aspects:

  1. Elements such as controls, job management, adequate processes, performance and integrity criteria and identification of records
  2. Competence such as knowledge, skills, experience, qualifications
  3. Soft elements, such as personnel integrity, confidence, organizational culture, team spirits and quality relationships.
  4. Infrastructure (as it enhances or limits functionality).

The quality of the outputs is at risk if any of these aspects is deficient. QA is not limited to the manufacturing and can be applied to any business or non-business activity:

  • Design work
  • Administrative services
  • Health care
  • Consulting
  • Banking
  • Insurance
  • Computer software development
  • Retailing
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Translation (Almeida, Alvaro & Meria, 2007).

QA comprises a quality improvement process, which is generic in the sense it can be applied to any of these activities and it establishes a behavior pattern, which supports the achievement of quality. This in turn is supported by quality management practices which can include a number of business system and which are usually specific to the activities of the business unit concerned. In manufacturing and construction activities, these business practices can be equated to the models for quality assurance defined by the International Standards. In the system of Company Quality Assurance, the work being carried out is display inspection, which did not reveal the major quality problems. 

In Open and Distance System of Education QA is guided by the educational philosophy of:

  1. Giving learners choices about media, print, on-line, television or video
  2. Place of study, whether at home, in work places or on campus
  3. Pace of study, whether closely paced or unstructured
  4. Support mechanisms, whether tutors on demand, audio conferences or computer assisted learning
  5. Entry and exit point (Commonwealth of Learning, 2000).
 
Nature and Purpose of Quality Assurance

(Peters, 2013) explains that QA serves two (2) major purposes: Improvement and Accountability.

 
Accountability
  • Accountability refers to rendering of account of what one is doing in relations to goals that have been set or legitimate expectations that others may have of one’s products, services or processes, in terms that can be understood by those who have a need or right to understand the account.
  • Quality procedures for accountability purposes are therefore based on criteria set by external authorities and institutions.
  • QA for accountability purposes implies the use of a summative approach (an assessment of educational system by supervisors to determine level of performance).
  • They aim at strengthening external insight and control, with possibility of understanding external corrective action, if necessary.
  • Accountability is therefore, though not always linked to explicit public information and to judgements on outcomes about the fitness, the soundness or level of satisfaction achieved by the accountable.
 
Improvement

The purpose of QA would seem to lead to improvement if the procedures lead to ends that are specifically in the interest of the higher education institutions and towards the specification of quality according to goals and criteria that are internal or may be made internal by the institutions.

Quality Assurance for improvement purposes implies a formative approach (a range of formal and informal assessment procedures employed by teachers during learning): the focus is not on control but on improving quality. Quality procedures for improvements purposes therefore are aimed at promoting future performance rather than making judgements on past performance. The criteria and procedures used are therefore intended to strengthen the conditions, motivations, scope and levels of information of the institution towards quality improvement.

 
Discussion on Quality Assurance Mechanisms (QAM) in some key ODE Institutions in Nigeria

Some of the key Institutions that run single mode Open and Distance Education in Nigeria include the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and the National Teachers’ Institute (NTI). Others that operate dual mode include:

  1. Modibbo Adama University of Technology Yola,
  2. Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU),
  3. University of Abuja,
  4. University of Ibadan,
  5. University of Lagos, and
  6. University of Maiduguri.

This paper generally explains the features of QA in ODE and application of institutions as NTI is one of the institutions operating ODE system in Nigeria; as explained in the abstract.

 
The National Teachers’ Institute as the First ODE Single Mode Institution in Nigeria

The National Teachers’ Institute (NTI), is one of the world’s largest institutions for teacher education at distance, provides an excellent model for countries wishing to increase numbers of trained teachers rapidly within a national policy framework (Daniel J.S., 2010). It was established in 1976 to provide in-service education for teachers through Distance Learning System (DLS). It is one of the few Institutions allowed and mandated to run Distance Education Programme in Nigeria. Based on its mandate, the Institute runs programmes in retraining and upgrading unqualified primary school teachers and refresher courses for teachers at all levels. NTI is making a major contribution to the development of education in Nigeria, having trained nearly a million teachers since inception. Currently, the Institute runs the following programmes by Open and Distance Learning System:

  • Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE)
  • Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
  • Advanced Diploma in Education (ADE)
    • Guidance & Counselling
    • Early Childhood Education
    • School Supervision & Inspection
  • Pivotal Teachers Training Programme (PTTP)
  • Continuing Professional Development (CPDs), for teachers on demand by states and Federal Government, other organizations and other agencies, example of such CPDs is Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE) and MDGs Nationwide Teachers’ re-training workshops.
 
Application of Quality Assurance Mechanisms in NTI 

The National Teachers’ Institute has a number of mechanisms built in its distance learning programmes to ensure quality and high standards. The students enrolled are usually screened to ensure compliance with the stipulated entry requirements. Other QA features include: 

  • The programmes are subjected to rigorous periodic evaluation and accreditation. 
  • Staffs of the Institute always go out to monitor the programmes to ensure strict compliance with its policies at the zonal, field and study centres. 
  • At regular intervals, the Institute works in conjunction with the Institutes of Education of some Nigerian Universities to give more professional touch and thus credibility to its programmes. 
  • There is a special independent monitoring team consisting of the Federal Inspectorate Service, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), States Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs), and States Ministries of Education.
  • There are also independent assessors drawn from Nigerian Universities and Colleges of Education who monitor the programmes and report directly to the Director General and Chief Executive of the Institute. 
  • In addition, the course materials are reviewed from time to time and the examinations are conducted under stringent examination conditions.

To ensure good results, the monitoring exercises embarks upon by the Institute, are categorized under the following:

  1. Administrative monitoring (Facilitators and arrangements)
  2. Subject monitoring (Academic exercise)
  3. Teaching practice monitoring.
  4. Examination Monitoring.
    (The programmes are regularly monitored).

The students’ Management Information System is fully computerized. The Institute has a working relationship with nine (9) Nigerian Universities referred to as “Cooperating Universities”. Through this mechanism, the Institute ensures that the products of its programmes are comparable to those trained by the conventional Institutions. The Cooperating Universities are as follows:

  1. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
  2. Bayero University, Kano
  3. University of Benin
  4. University of Ibadan
  5. University of Jos
  6. University of Lagos
  7. University of Maiduguri
  8. University of Nsukka, and recently 
  9. National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Lagos.

Other general Quality Assurance Mechanism in NTI programmes includes the following:

  • Collaborating with Nigerian Universities in the implementation of the NCE programme.
  • Implementation of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) Minimum Standards for NCE programme.
  • Accreditation of Institute's NCE programme by the (NCCE). 
  • Rationalization of Study Centres that fall below the minimum requirements for teacher training.
  • Strict adherence to admission criteria. 
  • Regular consultation with all stakeholders such as SMOEs, SUBEBs, sister parastatals of the ministry.
  • Affiliation of NTI PGDE programme with Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto (previously), but now with National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Lagos.
  • Constituting of State Programme Monitoring Teams that include FIS, NUT, SMoE, SUBEB in each state.
  • Partnership with Development Partners and international educational institutions and NGOs for best practices.

Strict adherence with the above quality assurance mechanism gives the Institute its fame, relevance, and continuous qualitative programmes to date.

 
Conclusion / Recommendation

Quality Assurance Mechanisms, either in Companies or Institutions of learning have been in existence since time immemorial. Therefore, it is very necessary to ensure that strict compliance to QA mechanisms is enforced, in order to have good output. For example, good output in a company may be related to high quality product and services, while good output in Institutions of learning may be related to students’ impressive performance as well as general academic output.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that QA mechanisms in company related organizations are very similar. QA mechanisms in Higher Institutions of learning, especially ODE related Institutions are as well similar.

 
References

Almeida, E., Alvaro, A., Meria, S. (2007, September 3–4). “A Component Quality Assurance Process”. Foundations of Software Engineering.

Commonwealth of Learning Publication, 2000.

Daniel, J.S. (2010). “Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers” Rutledge Publication, New York.

Feldman, S. (2005). “Quality assurance: much more than testing”. Queue, 3(1).

Meisinger, M. & Wagner, S. (2006). “Integrating a Model of Analytical Quality Assurance into the V-Modell XT”. Foundations of Software Engineering, 38-45.

Peters, O. (2013). “Quality Assurance in ODL for Single and Dual ModeInstitutions”. A paper presented during a workshop on “Quality Assurance Mechanism in ODL and Dual mode Higher Educational Institutions in Nigeria”. Lagos: National Open University of Nigeria. March 26th.


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