Owners scupper floating classes

May 10, 2002

Merchant navy sailors have been denied the chance to test interactive online courses because ship owners will not pay for the equipment needed to receive learning materials by satellite.

North West Kent College, which hosts the National Sea Training Centre and offers NVQ training for the merchant navy, began a project in 2000 that aimed to deliver complex distance-learning courses to sailors at sea.

It would have meant students could have stayed on their ships with considerable savings for ship owners, and improved retention and achievement.

The college spent two semesters adapting materials for online delivery and then testing them on land. It was found that the concept of distance learning via satellite was feasible but would need a large number of students to be cost effective.

However, when ship owners were asked to help test the materials, not one was willing to be involved, although they agreed it would be technically possible. "The main objection was cost, although there seemed to be an underlying prejudice against allowing seafarers free access to the internet," said a report prepared for the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

The Inmarsat satellite used by ships for communication was not suitable, and owners would have had to pay about £12,000 for equipment to receive signals from a different satellite.

However, it may be possible to use Inmarsat in the near future. "In time a virtual campus at sea through satellite communications will be feasible," the report concludes.

Until then, the college is pursuing CD-Rom-based computer training using the materials developed for the online project.

The college hopes that until satellite becomes cost effective, this will help to reduce the high failure rates experienced with paper-based distance-learning courses.

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