xxxxxxxxxx1.1 Introduction Globalization is one of the most common aspects of the contemporary world that has received vast attention in almost all human life facets. This is in response to its impacts on key human life facets such as politics, economics and social life. Indeed, a reference to the contemporary world almost automatically elicits a focus on globalization. In his remarks, the Vice Chancellor of Open University Malaysia highlighted that globalization had two key impacts on education: transformation and internationalization (Ali, 2011). With reference to higher education, there has been unprecedented growth and diversification and increasing pressure on education systems to provide quality to the increasing need of consumers.
Globalization has brought forth swift technological advances, swift obsolescence of information based products such as technology and rapidly changing market demands. These have in-turn put challenges on the education systems to provide responsive educational opportunities with necessarily increasing costs. In Ali et al. (2003) words and other literatures, this can be and has been achieved using distance education. This is a mode that allows institutions an opportunity to offer flexible learning to a wider consumer base.
It entails having either an individual flexible teaching, or extended classroom model. Whatever the model, there are two key aspects: instructor absence’ and use of alternate learning and communication media. Saudi Arabian educational systems are experiencing the cited pressure to provide to a market whose needs are increasing. In addition, the country’s educational institutions are not growing commensurate to the enrollment demands. As such, it has experienced rapid growth in education programs that are alternative to regular programs. However, similar to other developing economies, distance learning is an emerging higher education provision tool in Saudi Arabia that is rapidly growing.
As indicated in UNESCO (2002), there has been a rapid and vast augmentation of distance learning to the extent that it has shifted from being a marginal area of focus by institutions to a core area. Higher education institutions are now focusing on internationalization of this mode of learning. As such, it has developed in other avenues such as e-Learnng and Open Learning. It provides an opportunity for educational institutions to provide education to non-traditional students and in neglected market segments and areas of study.
According to Ali (2011), the very essence of distance learning is to create broader and enhanced access to higher education. With regard to the non-traditional learners, the Saudi women have emerged as a unique and growing clientele with an ardent need to access education. They have unique needs especially as regarding the continuing debate in the kingdom over their position, rights and responsibilities in public life. This study explores their experiences in distance learning. It presents phenomenological qualities of female learners perceptions and appraisal of distance learning, the challenges that they face as well as their rating of satisfaction.
From the results, it makes suggestions on pedagogical implications. 1.2 Background to the study The study focuses on exploring experiences of female students using distance learning methods. There have a lot of changes in the education sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the kingdom experiences unprecedented growth in higher learning pursuits. More specifically, democratization of education has factored key components of women empowerment. Traditionally, women in Saudi Arabia have had limited educational opportunities compared to their male counterparts.
This is because of the bases of the cultural and religious teachings which have, for years, relegated women to focus only on domestic chores as their men participate in economics. There has been a persistent exclusion of women from public life as a result of historical, political and socio-economic conditions (Hamdan, 2005). In deed, women fall in the category of the most contested aspects in intellectual debates concerning the future of Saudi Arabia. Others are religion and democracy (Moaddel, 2007).
As such, democratization of education especially for the purpose of empowering women is also prominent in the debate. This debate has been characterized with controversies between progressives and conservatives over the position, rights and responsibilities of women. In Hamdan (2005), the Saudi women situation is described as unique due to their presence and yet non-presence in the public sphere. This presents inherence of inequalities which is both as a result of socio-economic structures and women’s traditional absence from public life.