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4. Open and distance education enters a new era worldwide
The history of open and distance education around the globe highlights the importance of not only education, but also technology. Today, technology is changing profoundly, and what lies before us is not so much choice as adaptation as we strive for survival and advancement. Open and distance education has entered a new era of development. Open universities and open education institutions all over the world must move forward with the help of technology; otherwise, they will be marginalized or eliminated.
Ⅱ. Strategies and Choices
1. History and current state of China’s open and distance education
In China, open and distance education has undergone three major phases of iterative development: correspondence education, radio and television education, and online education.
Correspondence education started in the early 20th century with the establishment of the private Commercial Press Correspondence School in 1914. Later, some public correspondence schools were founded by government legislation. After 1949, a large number of public correspondence colleges emerged. In the late 1970’s, the government established a network of radio and television universities (RTVUs) that formed a large educational system covering the nation’s urban and rural areas. In addition to China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU), there are 44 provincial RTVUs, about 1,000 prefectural or municipal RTVUs, 2,000 county-level RTVUs, and over 3,000 teaching centres and 60,000 tutorial classes. The system has produced a total of over 10 million graduates of undergraduate or junior college programmes, making a great contribution to society. The RTVU system is the primary component of open and distance education in China. Towards the end of the 20th century, open and distance education gradually transitioned from radio- and television-based education to information network-based education. At present, 3.5 million students are actively registered in the RTVU system, and 70 percent of them are from grass-roots communities, rural areas, and remote and ethnic minority regions.
Aside from the aforementioned RTVU system, open and distance education institutions in China also include 68 online colleges established by traditional universities to provide open education to the general public, as well as enterprises such as Open, ChinaEdu and China Cyber Learning. These enterprises are not accredited, but they work with online colleges to provide standardized, socialized, off-campus support services. With the development of online teaching and learning, many new enterprises and companies specializing in web-based education are appearing in China.
As of 2012, over 35 million students were actively enrolled in higher education in China, of whom 5.7 million were studying through open and distance education (with 3.5 million students in the RTVU system).
In summary, open and distance education in China has made extraordinary progress over the past few decades, and it now stands at a new historic starting point.
2. China’s development and strategy
It is well-known that China has undergone rapid socio-economic development since entering the 21st century and has become the world’s second largest economy. However, it faces numerous challenges, such as adjustments in economic structure, changes in development patterns and accelerating social transformation. To realize the “Chinese Dream”, the Chinese government calls for adherence to its new development path of industrialization, digitization, urbanization and agricultural modernization with Chinese characteristics, advancing the deep integration of digitization and industrialization, the smooth interaction between industrialization and urbanization, and the coordination of urbanization and agricultural modernization, and promoting the synchronized development of industrialization, digitization, urbanization and agricultural modernization.
Since education fundamentally and comprehensively impacts society, the Chinese government proposes a more modernized, globalized and future-oriented education system in line with national strategic development needs. Innovation must continue to drive reform, and the system will focus on providing a comprehensive, quality-oriented education for the people. It will promote equal access to education, improve quality, and develop scientifically from this new historic starting point, so that all citizens receive an education that enables them to teach, apply, and achieve. By 2020, China plans to complete the main phase of education modernization, establish a learning society, and become a powerful country with rich human resources.
In the meantime, China will also accelerate the digitization of education, more closely and comprehensively integrate information technology with education, facilitate sharing of quality educational resources, improve the quality of education, and promote equal access to education. Recently the “three accessibilities and two platforms” initiative was announced, which will drive education modernization through digitization. The three accessibilities refer to “broadband network accessible to each school”, “teaching resources accessible to each class”, and “online learning accessible to each person”. The two platforms refer to the national public service platform for educational digital resources and the education information management platform.
Those of us in the field of ODL are working hard to develop modern distance education and construct a public service platform for distance continuing education based on satellite, television and the Internet. We are striving to provide learners with a convenient, flexible and individualized learning environment through a high-quality open university system in which enrollment is easy but the standards for graduation are exacting.
3. The Open University of China
In 2012, the Chinese government announced the establishment of a new type of university called The Open University of China (OUC) upon the basis of the original CCRTVU. The university was established to meet national strategic development needs and build a system of lifelong learning for all. At the same time, the RTVUs of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Yunnan were also renamed open universities. This significant strategic decision marked a new stage in the development of China’s open and distance education.
The Ministry of Education defines the OUC as a new kind of university without walls, one that is built upon ICT, places equal emphasis on degree education and non-degree education, and serves all members of society. The mission of the OUC is to promote lifelong learning for all and to drive the formation of a learning society. Its core values are openness, responsibility, quality, diversity and internationalization. The OUC actively partners with other organizations and formed support alliances with universities, cities, communities, industries and enterprises to operate educational programmes. It aims for “staggered development” with traditional universities to universalize higher education, promote equal access to education and help people become better citizens. The OUC is a university that is integrated with society.
With regard to the value and significance of open universities, State Council Vice Premier Liu Yandong pointed out that the open university is an important means by which education serves national development and enhances the nation’s ability to compete internationally. It is a key initiative in building a lifelong learning system, developing a learning society, satisfying the people’s diverse learning needs, promoting equal access to education, driving the digitization of education, and accelerating educational reform and innovation. Liu also called on open universities to pursue “staggered development” with traditional universities and to explore a development path that embodies the characteristics of China.
Ⅲ. A University in the Cloud
1. Building the OUC “in the Cloud”
In 2006, Google launched a plan called “Google 101” and formally introduced the concept of “the cloud”. Later, Amazon, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo, Intel and IBM all announced their own “cloud plans”. Thereafter, the great “cloud computing” wave swept over the global IT landscape, and brought with it a surge in web-based education using cloud computing technology. Thus the “cloud” era was born.
The establishment of the OUC signifies a new historic starting point for the RTVU system. For the university to realize its mission, to promote the formation of a learning society where learning is available to anyone, anytime and anywhere, and to gather quality educational resources from all sectors of society and deliver them to rural, remote and ethnic minority areas, the OUC must employ ICT, especially cloud computing technology, to build a university in the cloud.