An exploration of women's transformation through distance learning in Kenya.
This research, An Exploration of Women's Transformation through Distance Learning in Kenya, applied Mezirow's theory of transformative learning to investigate how distance learning impacted on women's views about themselves and their position in society. This was done by examining whether distance learning enables women to acquire new self-perceptions about themselves and leads them to challenge the status quo and take action in order to improve their status in society. Three distance learning programmes were studied: the B.Ed. programme at the Faculty of External Studies at the University of Nairobi, Theological Education by Extension, and the Co-operative College of Kenya. This research was motivated through my own biography, with the purpose of identifying and encouraging distance learning practices that promote women's transformation. The research also hoped to draw attention to the study of women's issues in distance learning, as an area that has not attracted much attention in Kenya and to generate information which can be used to inform the use of distance learning methods in a way that favours women. Biographical methods of research were used. This involved listening to women's learning stories, noting their reasons for coming back to study, the barriers that they encountered as they studied and the coping strategies that they used to overcome the barriers. In addition, other methods were used to supplement the biographical data collected from the women. These included focus group discussions, observation and documentary evidence. The approach to data analysis was based on the use of hermeneutics methods of data interpretation. The themes and concepts that emerged from this process were compared with themes and concepts generated through other methods of data collection. The main findings were that distance learning, though based on alternative forms of provision, does lead to transformation, however, women from the three programmes experienced diverse levels of transformation. The B.Ed.programme with its face-to-face component and women with higher education had greater impact on women's transformation than other programmes. Although the TEE programme had face-to-face interaction, their curriculum, which reinforced the negative gender stereotypes in society and does not lead to recognised certificates, could not allow them to achieve this experience. The Coop programme, without the face-to-face arrangement had the lowest transformative effects on women. On the basis of these findings, it was recommended that more distance learning programmes be designed, with increased use of face-to-face components in order to help women achieve transformation. The findings and the discussions thereof also show that prior level of education had far reaching effects on the levels of transformation that women achieved. This led to the recommendation that women's education should be encouraged and the society should be sensitised about the value of educating women. Distance learning also enabled women to achieve economic empowerment, in terms of promotions, new jobs and increased salaries; however this was only noted in the B.Ed. and Coop programmes. The TEE programme, being a church programme had no economic benefits for its women learners. The women in the TEE programme were not happy with the present arrangement and were, therefore, calling for a review of the programme. The findings also showed that women's transformation is not being fully achieved because of non- supportive facilities and the use of learning materials, which reinforce the negative gender stereotypes in society. Therefore, to make distance learning more accessible to women learners and more transformational, the research recommended changes geared towards the creation of women-friendly facilities and learning materials.
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