Mason Durie shares a little bit of history around around flexible and distance education in Aotearoa NZ, looking back to 1922 at Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School. In 1922 the school had 100 isolated school children from disparate locations around New Zealand. The roll is now is well over 25,000. He went on to say that it is not just a question of the numbers increasing; nowadays, distance education is a preferred option rather than a default option, and may lead to much better results than any other option. Distance education is, also being shaped by many influences including technology.
Tutoa (secondary school), Te rau puawai, and the Māori doctoral portal are three case studies that Mason Durie explores.
The Tutoa project started in 2005 with 12 students (and expanded to 25 students in 2010). Following an integrated approach, students who were good at sports were encouraged to follow their skills, but were penalised for missing other subjects while participating in sport. As such, the group were enrolled in the Correspondence School, and were encouraged and supported to create a personalised curriculum. Excellence in sport is seen as playing at the national level, they are also high fliers in an academic sense, and all of the learning is couched in a Māori context to help with grounding alongside a sense of belonging. Each student has a plan of action. Student managers try to help mediate between personal, sporting, and academic goals. Regional subject specialists add value to the distance education by working directly with students in their geographical region. Families make quite a few sacrifices, such as relocating to support their children in their studies. Academic results have been consistently high, as has sporting performance.
Te Rau Puawai (the Maori Mental Health Workforce Development) project was started in 1999, through a partnership with Massey University and the HFA. The students are usually mature, doing part-time study, have little previous tertiary experience, are working full time, this may be their first qualification, some with go on the post-graduate qualifications, and only a few go on to doctoral study. Most (75%) in the programme were studying extramurally which added further challenges to studying. A fee bursary was given based on academic outcomes. To help students meet these challenges strongly, a series of support mechanisms are in place, including proactive outreach via mentors, a weekly telephone catch up, a proactive approach to learning support, and twice-yearly on-campus seminars.
The Maori Doctoral Resource Portal was developed to support students, encourage sharing, have interactive seminars with experts from a whole range of fields, and to set up professional and academic networks. The portal is linked in to doctoral study skills, expectations and requirements. Eight university campuses link up once a month.
All of the studies illustrate opportunities around distance education as a preferred option that would not have been available with a more traditional programmes. The description of the studies definitely gives an insight into how programmes can truly be flexible and personalisable, while truly meeting the individual needs of students. This approach to learning enables learners who may otherwise not have the access or opportunity to enhance their skills and be able to follow their long-term plans and dreams.