Open and Distance Learning The Context Of Quality In Teacher Education
In the present times of information at a click away, not many may recall the advent of the ‘teaching machine’ designed by US psychologist Sydney Leavitt Pressey in 1920 and later popularised for academic instruction by BF Skinner in 1954.
Now it is the personal computer, mobile, I Pod and Internet. It has been a long journey that has changed the shape of the classroom, extended the boundaries of learning to everyone, anytime, anywhere! It could be characterised as moving from serious limitations-of-learning to an abundance of choices in the process of individualised learning.
The world of formal education now acknowledges the dominant presence of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) as an independent and also as a great augmenting and support system to the formal learning. It still has unexplored potentials to innovate and support individual learners. Learning as per individual’s choice is now accessible, affordable and free from constraints of time, distance or duration. After certain initial pilot projects with All India Radio, India began its first Educational Television Programme in January-March 1960 for schools which provided huge learning experiences for future expansion and concerns that may arise in large scale implementation.
Educational Television started functioning regularly in Delhi on August 15, 1965. People still remember the Krishi Darshan programme for farmers and the Satellite Instruction Television Experiment (SITE) inaugurated on August 1, 1975. The initial telecasts reached villagers through direct reception TV sets in 2400 villages. It was followed by terrestrial mode and viewing facilities were provided in selected areas in six SITE-served states. So much is now known on the usage of Educational Television—ETV— that its advantages and potentials hardy require any recounting. This was a great leap forward in extending the outreach of education and also in enhancing its quality.
People were amazed to find that the best of the teachers and outstanding knowledge workers could be accessed in every classroom. Now this access extends to individuals as well. India occupies the front rank amongst nations in its capabilities to utilise ODL and ICT for education using most recent of the technologies and in fact, innovating and exploring the ‘better’ alternatives. The quality of education and learning still prominently remain linked to the formal systems of education which now stand benefitted from the new techniques and technologies that have become accessible to every classroom teacher. The popular expectation of ‘good teacher’ in public perception still remains paramount. It deserves to be scrutinised how the teacher could really play an effective role in the new and demanding conditions.
Educational developments and dynamism have always been characterised by the levels of professionalism amongst the manner they are educated and supported in their ‘learning throughout life’. In spite of all the early apprehensions, none of the developments in science and technology; and also in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have resulted in even slightly diminishing the role of teacher. In fact, teacher’s role has changed drastically in the world of teaching and learning.
The content and process of education now requires far greater dynamism as result of unprecedented pace of change in the emerging demands and expectations from the people and society. Teacher remains the pivot of every system of education. The National Policy on Education: NPE 1986/92 reiterates prominently that no people can rise above the level of their teachers. It is now well realised that the success or otherwise of the ODL also directly and indirectly depends on the commitment and professional preparedness of the teachers, at one stage or the other.
The global upsurge for the universalisation of education meant more schools, more teachers and expansion of the system to accommodate those who, after completing initial education, would reach the gates of the secondary education and higher education. Training institutions were not sufficient to cope up with the demands of expansion. The percentages of trained teachers in schools was very low in the initial decades after Independence. High hopes were generated by the constitutional directive that state shall provide for free elementary education to all children till they attain fourteen years of age. It meant recruitment of more untrained teachers.
The problem got more and more confounded. Further, there was an acute need for orienting the existing teachers, particularly in the areas of science and mathematics. It was impossible to train all teachers in formal training institutions because the numbers did not match. State governments were advised to draw up strategies for providing short-duration training programmes. These were designed promptly and were of different durations; ranging from few weeks to few months. In-service education became the buzzword and training using the “correspondence-cum-contact” mode became prevalent for the first time on a large scale in the education system of India.
The learning by correspondence was a new concept even for those who were assigned to design and develop self-instructional materials that could be studied by the serving teachers during their stay in schools. Subsequently, during the contact programmes, organised generally during summer and winter breaks, could seek clarifications with the resource persons in identified training centres. The National Council of Educational Training and Research (NCERT) set up in 1961 to advise and assist the central and state governments and the institutions took a leading part in this preparing training materials and providing training to state personnel in technologies and methodologies.
One of the most significant models tried for the training of serving-regular teachers in schools was designed and implemented by the NCERT in its four Regional Colleges of Education—now called Regional Institutes—at Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, and Mysore. It had four months residential-contact programme a ten-month correspondence programme between two summer vacations. The contact programme was very intensive with practically no holidays and during the intervening period, experts from the institutes visited individual teachers in their schools, supervised their teaching, guided in the progress of the project work that was assigned to them and which they were supposed to bring back for scrutiny during the second part of the contact programme When it was thoroughly evaluated by experts.
Though it was a highly demanding programme, it became popular as it provided an opportunity to untrained teachers who had served decades together but were not confirmed or given the regular grade as they were untrained! As the model became known, demands grew from young persons also for similar arrangements who saw an opportunity of getting employment as teachers in schools. Consequently, universities came in a big way to begin correspondence education programmes for teacher training. Annamalai University became the leading name and so many others followed suit, including Bhopal, Rohtak, Kurukshetra, Shilmla and several others.
They all needed to generate funds and thought this to be a very lucrative and viable alternative. Many of them boosted of having created huge infrastructure out of the ‘gains’ from courses for preparing teachers for tomorrow. This was a very crucial stage in the progress of correspondence education in the country. What could have created a very strong system in terms of quality and also in augmenting quality was converted into a money-spinning machine by the universities maintained by the state funds and within the knowledge and with the approval of the regulatory bodies like UGC.
Imagine a situation: a university admits around forty-fifty thousand students, has a department of education of three-four faculty members, is deficient on teaching learning materials; conducts contact programmes of 7-10 days throughout the country with the help of ‘local’ experts! Lesson plans and projects are available in the market and purchased from suppliers by student teachers and those managing the programme just blink at it.
From teacher education, it extended its outreach to other courses also. During this period two things were happening simultaneously. India’s capabilities remained no longer confined to correspondence cum-contact ode alone but were embracing all the contours of the ODL strategy. In actual practice, in most of the cases it was reduced to an ‘easier option’ for the learners and a resource-generating option for the universities. Even before the strategy could really take a sustainable shape and receive people’s acceptance and attention, its reputation came down. Even the products of these courses realised that the training they received was inadequate.
If there is one phenomenon that has done greatest damage to the concept of ODL in India, it was this approach of the state universities and the lack of exercise of its authority by the regulatory bodies. It created an environment of great concern amongst genuine academics that began to protest in this ‘commercialisation of teacher education’ by the universities. They demanded a statutory body to oversee the regulation of teacher preparation programmes, both regular and of correspondence mode. In 1986, a delegation headed by DR KL Srimali, former union minister for education and culture, called on the Chairman UGC demanding a ban on low-quality teacher preparation courses. At this stage, the areas of concern were B.Ed and M.Ed courses being run by correspondence-cum -contact mode. By that time the number of universities offering these programmes rose to around thirty; and they had strong presence, the deterioration continued uninterrupted.
It was only 1990 onwards that the MHRD realised the need to have a statutory body for the regulation of teacher education. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) Act was passed by the Parliament in December 1993. The Council became operational in 1995, came out with its regulation in 1996 and succeeded in regulating the low quality correspondence courses. Having aroused high hopes in its initial years, the NCTE fell prey to unscrupulous elements, both within and beyond, under serious charges of malfunctioning and loss of credibility, the NCTE stands taken over by the central government as per the provisions contained in the Act.
“IGNOU is providing quality education in remote areas”—Prof M Aslam, Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU
The world has shrunk to an i-Pod, palm top or a notepad so has education. Wherever you run across the world you remain well connected. You are studying abroad sitting back home in India. Why bother about going anywhere seeking admission to an institute?
Pursuing education of any degree sitting home has become as easy as ABC. Whether it be an academic or a professional career everything is just a click away. There are a plethora of universities across the country that help your dream of education come true. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has a good number of diploma and degree programmes on its prospectus. If you are an MBA aspirant or looking forward to doing a Master’s or a B.Ed degree without any hassle of going to college and keeping the rolls attended, IGNOU provides you with the best of solutions and that too without coughing up too much. In an interview with Syed Wazid Ali, Prof M Aslam, Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU, speaks about the educational format of distance learning. Excerpts:
How do you draw a line of distinction between IGNOU and other universities catering to the same needs?
In the last 27 years it has evolved in a big way. We have reached everywhere with 67 regional centres. Started with 5-6 programmes way back in 1985 and the number of students enrolled at that point in times was 4000. Since then the response has begun to pour in at a fast pace. The university went streets ahead in terms of programmes and courses offered and also the areas once considered inaccessible we have touched and tapped them. Moreover, IGNOU has courses which cater to the needs of everyone from an unschooled, drop-outs, businessmen, married (discontinuing education after marriage), the ones financially and economically deprived to working class. This university accepts those who have been denied, whom no university admits.
Now, IGNOU has 400 programmes 3500 courses, almost in every state across India and in 43 countries particularly in the Middle East, South Asian and African countries with 43999, students. 7 lakh students enroll at this university in various courses every year. In order to extend our educational interventions through Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and cover new and emerging areas hitherto untouched by the conventional system the University has recently established Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, and successfully offers the Bachelor’s Degree Programme in Sign Language to students from five different countries.
We at IGNOU hope to live up to the country’s expectations of providing quality education to the less privileged, upgrading the skills of the aspiring and providing opportunities wherever they are in demand.
What are the courses that the university offers?
The university has designed education for all age groups and class. I tell you even one who has never been to school at all can do a graduation degree from here only by cracking an entrance exam, BPP.
Who are your clients?
From a layman who wants to pursue academics to those who long to upgrade their both academic and professional qualifications. We have doctors, Army, Navy, Air Force and paramilitary personnel and civil services aspirants.
What do the doctors and force personnel come to the university for?
We conduct workshops on different medical segments like neurology and cardiology, IGNOU has a panel of experts and professors who with their valuable services and expertise enrich such sessions. As regards paramilitary forces, Army has six centres, Navy four and Air Force has one centre that cater to their needs pertaining to higher degree of education and cyber-related courses.
Could you please elaborate on their needs?
Let’s put it like this, those who are nearing retirement can do a small course in programmes like rural development, nutrition, law and many others with an eye to keeping themselves engaged in some activity or other. Those who are either 10 or 10+2 can pursue graduation, those who are already graduate can take a Master’s degree to enhance their academic qualifications and one can even get a PhD from here. One who is already employed but remains deprived of benefits, incentives and promotion due to one’s qualification not matching the standard, particularly in PG courses like M.A. and MBA or MCA one can acquire an additional degree without even quitting one’s job and climb up another rung of the ladder. Last but not least, the most important aspect is that one can do these courses with a time limit stretched to six to eight years.
You mean that one who has done MBA either from an IIM or FMS (DU ) is no way better than one who has acquired the same degree from IGNOU, is it what you say?
No, I do not mean that but then this varies from candidate to candidate; maybe he will be on a par with the IIM product.
What are its objectives in terms of spreading education nationwide?
It basically aims at providing the best of education to those living in remote areas. We have accessibility. Besides, the fee structure is quite affordable and above all those who are working can continue their academic pursuits through this university.
Do you have courses in foreign languages?
Yes, we have foreign languages too.
Is it somewhat like that of JNU’S?
On that stand we should not make comparison. I have professor friends from JNU; they appreciate every move we make. But yes our Spanish is doing well.
How does getting a degree from DU and JNU matter above the one from here?
It’s just the psyche of the people. I agree to an extent that those who study at regular prestigious institutions may have the edge over an open learning set-up. They are admitted already groomed and here we groom the raw stuff.
Do you have campus placement as well, if so what’s the ratio like?
Yes, we do have. But then the percentage is rather low.
The University has hundreds of courses in various disciplines. Do you have classes and campus learning sessions too?
Absolutely, we have experts and teachers placed at all the study centres across the country and they are there to bust students’ queries. Besides, we have on line or virtual learning classes like Face-to Face or On-Campus learning sessions, which help our students absorb quite a lot.
Those who are tech savvy can go about lapping up information and knowledge while on the go. We keep sending books containing study materials with questions and drill tags that again help students as a lot comes from them in exams. The University makes extensive use of Information and Communication Technology for dissemination of knowledge and providing effective student support services to its learners. The 37 FM Gyan Vani Stations and 2 Gyan Darshan Educational Channels help the University in reaching the unreached with updated knowledge and information. ‘E-Gyankosh’, an educational web resource of the University, has emerged as one of the largest educational resource repositories of the world, where e-content on more than 2200 courses and over 2000 video lectures are available on line. The e-Library created by the University is accessible to all sections. Moreover, the University has also become a part of the National Knowledge Network of premier universities, institutions and colleges across the country under the Government of India plan.
There were other positive developments taking place simultaneously in the country as the importance of distance education in a broader and comprehensive canvas was being realised globally. It could cope effectively with new concepts like ‘lifelong learning’ and need to acquire and upgrade knowledge and skills to remain relevant in the place of work. More than that it was considered to be the only panacea in times of universalisation of education and it’s consequential up thrust impacts on secondary and higher education.
The coming up of the National Open School, now called National Institute of Open Learning (NIOS), gave new hopes to school dropouts and those who were forced to earn a livelihood even before completing secondary and senior secondary stage of education. Provisions like study-at-home, appear in selected number of papers at their will and even appear in ‘on demand examination’ were unheard of and unthinkable in India just some two decades ago. The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), set up in 1985 by an Act of the Parliament of India, was slowly yet steadily making its mark in acquiring international level understanding and expertise in ODL.
LIVING WITH DISTANCE LEARNING
Higher Education sector has grown significantly in scale and size but it is still unable to meet the growing demands for it because of many reasons including resource constraints. It is not possible to meet this rising demand through the capital-intensive conventional system of education only. The need for an alternative strategy to supplement the conventional system of higher education has been appreciated and accepted long back by the policy makers of the country. Through various policy and programme interventions, attempts have been made to promote Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system to facilitate the expansion of higher education sector for the fulfillment of aspirations of those who are deprived of pursuing it for whatever reason. As a result, the contribution of ODL to Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education has risen to about 22%. But, a lot still remains to be done. With the increasing use of technology all over the world in providing learning support to ODL students, the Committee finds it appropriate to recommend well regulated expansion of ODL system in the higher education sector in the country during the 12th Plan period to help fulfill the aspirations of the seekers of knowledge and skill by enhancing the opportunities at affordable cost for the benefit of all those who have the desire to educate themselves further but cannot do so on a full time basis.
Every conventional university and institution, including technical and professional ones, should be encouraged to switch over to a dual mode of imparting education by offering ODL programmes in additional to the conventional programmes so that the already available infrastructure can be used as study centers for holding counseling and practical instruction not only on holidays but on every day after the working hours. This will automatically increase the enrolment by 2-3 times. Starting ODL programme would require preparation of appropriate study material and appointment of coordinators and counselors in appropriate numbers. A centrally sponsored scheme should be devised by the Distance Education Council (DEC) to share the cost involved to encourage the conventional universities and institutions to start ODL programmes without delay.
Barring technical and professional programmes totally through distance mode will be against the accepted policy of Government of India of expanding opportunities for higher education and making it inclusive as an instrument of democratising education and making it a life-long process. The inherent advantages of the flexibility to move from education to work and vice versa and innovativeness of the ODL system, so well suited to the diverse requirements of the citizens of the country, need to be harnessed in full for enhancing the productivity of the human resource.
Besides, Part VI of the National Policy on Education 1986 dealing with “Technical and Management Education” stipulates in para 6.6 in unequivocal terms that “in view of the present rigid entry requirements to formal courses restricting the access of a large segment of people to technical and managerial (sic. management) education, programmes through a distance-learning process, including use of the mass media, will be offered. Technical and management education programmes, including education in polytechnics, will also be on a flexible modular pattern based on credits, with provision for multi-point entry. A strong guidance and counseling service will be provided.”
An effective regulatory system must be put in place before letting technical education through ODL mode is allowed extensively in all types of institutions. Before allowing technical and professional programmes through the ODL system, the DEC, in conformity with the AICTE norms and standards, will have to develop programme specific benchmarks, inter alia, for theory, tutorial/counseling and practical, infrastructure and manpower requirement. Once such system is in position, the DEC should open the ODL system to technical and professional programmes gradually to the extent it can monitor and supervise effectively, either through inspections or technological interventions, to ensure that the learner acquires necessary skill before the completion of the programme.
It will be the duty of the proposed DECI to ensure that the nomenclature of the degrees proposed to be awarded through such programmes are approved by the UGC, the institute has the requisite recognition from the respective regulatory authorities, viz AICTE, MCI, DCI, etc. for the regular course in conventional mode, it is affiliated to a university, it has developed the self learning material of desired standards, it has a credible system of counseling, evaluation of assignments and examination, it has the necessary infrastructure including laboratories, library, class rooms, etc. and qualified counselors as per the relevant norms. No conditional or post facto recognition shall be granted by the DECI. While granting recognition for Diploma and Certificate courses, the DECI must also ensure that the programme content in terms of both, theory as well as practical, are in consonance with the standards of such courses offered by various State Technical Education Boards etc. so that credit transferability and flexibility of exit and rentry are facilitated. Flexibility in learning and quality of learning have to go hand in hand to make the ODL programme acceptable to institutions admitting such learners to a higher education programme or the employer recruiting the graduates as the case may be.
The Open Universities can be granted recognition for offering general, technical or professional degree programmes from its campus and study centres having necessary infrastructure and other facilities prescribed by the DECI. Before granting recognition, the DECI will ensure, inter alia, that the syllabi of various courses of Open Universities are not inferior to the model syllabi of the UGC in respect of general courses, AICTE in respect of technical and professional courses and of the respective Boards in respect of diploma courses and there is a credible system of evaluating the theoretical and practical attainments of the learner.
If all the components, viz. admission, Learning Management System (LMS), counseling, submission of assignment and evaluation and final examination of the ODL programme are offered completely online, then there will be no restriction on territorial limits. For offering such online programmes, however, the universities including institutions deemed to be universities and other institutions will have to obtain prior approval of the DECI.
—Excerpts of Prof. NR Madhava Menon-led Committee, set up by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India, to “Suggest Measures to Regulate the Standards of Education Being Imparted through Distance Mode”.
Its establishment, growth and expansion are a landmark in ODL in India. It now has a global presence. At this stage IGNOU has an enrolment of 3.5 million students in India and 40 other countries. It has 59 regional centres, seven sub-regional centres, and 2600 study centres. IGNOU’s 175 academic programmes offering 1100 courses of varying durations present a very satisfying picture of the developments in ODL in India. The Distance Education Council (DEC) has an important role in maintaining the quality of distance education including teacher education. The materials for teachers prepared by the School of Education of IGNOU have set standards for others and have received wide-spread appreciation.
The option of ODL now offers innumerable programmes of varying durations from so many institutions and institutions. ODL offers working individuals and serving professionals to hone their skill further and also provides opportunities to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. Education has moved out of the restrictive boundaries of time, place, subject combination and duration including examinations on a fixed day once in a year at the fixed-time duration. Institutions equipped with latest facilities and expertise now provide education and training that has earned credibility and acceptance in the labour market including the exclusive world of professionals in upper echelons of the corporate world.
IMPORTANCE OF OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION
“Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit…”
—Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, December 10th, 1948
Education for All, UNESCO
The UN declaration and various initiatives of UN including Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Education for All (EFA) have time and again stressed the importance of formal education in the human development. However the accessibility, equity, quality of education at different levels of education still remains a challenge for many of the developing countries. Underpinning this challenge is the growing, enormous, and urgent need to train, retrain, and continuously refresh the knowledge and skills of every nation’s workforce in an increasingly globalised knowledge economy. With the advent of modern technology, it has become possible to address these challenges through Open and Distance Learning (ODL).
ODL includes the philosophy of “openness” and uses the “distance mode” of learning. It is “open” in the sense that it removes whatever constraints exist in face-to-face conventional classroom method of teaching and learning. Flexibility achieved through ‘openness’ expands opportunities for many more learners aspiring for higher education but not having access to it through the conventional mode, and further scales it up with equal quality.
Unique benefits of ODL
■ ODL is able to reach out to those learners in far-flung geographical regions, who are not able to travel to or register and reside at conventional universities due to either distance, inflexibility of programmes or cost.
■ ODL offers higher interactivity in terms of learning materials, and that ODL learning materials are in fact better than those of conventional face-to-face universities, since students enrolled in conventional universities often buy and use ODL materials/modules.
■ As cited by the UK Open University, the quality of ODL programmes and products are and/or can be as good as those of face-to-face conventional institutions.
Hence, the need of expanding ODL towards achievement of MDG and EFA goals is well recognised by many countries, who have renewed their focus in improving the overall environment for ODL.
Distance learning is growing dramatically in Brazil in the last 10 years accompanying and collaborating with the social and economic changes. The numbers of undergraduate distance learning entrants in the period between 2004 and 2008 has experienced a growth equal to or greater than 40 per cent per year. The percentage of students in distance learning among all higher education enrolments emerged from the level of 1.4 per cent in 2002 to 16 per cent in 2009. Almost one in six students enrolled in undergraduate studies in Brazil enters into a distance learning course.
There are many organisations, corporations, and institutions that conduct open and distance education in China. There are 68 e-colleges in conventional universities utilising information technology for open and distance education delivery. With a view to implementing the strategic objective laid out by the government, open and distance education institutions have defined their further measures to facilitate continuing education and lifelong learning. Moreover, efforts to expand open and distance education programmes now include a movement toward increasing the range of learning resources that are available and open to the public via open and distance learning systems.
New stage of distance education started in early 1990s with introducing information and communication technologies into education. The number of distance learning students in higher education institutions increased noticeably from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2010. Hence, the number of distance learning students in Russian higher education programmes increased by more than 50 per cent from 2000 to 2010. Distance learning is represented in higher education, secondary school, various kinds of industries and social communities. For acquiring new information, mastering certain skills and self-education in different fields with the use of the Internet, PCs and mobile devices, distance education has become daily practice for many learners.
The development of distance education started in 1980s with the establishment of first single-mode distance education institution in 1978. From the early beginnings, distance education has grown to play a significant role in the country’s higher education system. The two open universities in public domain contribute about 40 per cent of enrolment in higher education. The distance education has reach in 7500 schools across the country. As the telecommunication infrastructure is developing in the country, there is an increasing interest in the use of e-learning with a number of online courses being offered by various universities.
In India, the need for an alternative strategy to supplement the conventional system of higher education has been appreciated and accepted long back by the policymakers of the country. Through various policy and programme interventions, attempts have been made to promote ODL system to facilitate the expansion of higher education sector for the fulfilment of aspirations of those who are deprived of pursuing it for whatever reason. As a result, the contribution of ODL to Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education has risen to about 22 per cent, since it was introduced.
By A Special Correspondent
It is indeed encouraging to note that terms like audiotapes, videotape, teleconferencing, study centres, print and video computer-based system, internet, and mobile and others being frequently used in small towns and even villages by young persons who would otherwise have resigned to their fate as dropouts and discards. They had no chance of getting further education in life. It is refreshing to meet young person’s earning their livelihood and simultaneously studying for higher professional courses with confidence and assurance that motivates them to reach higher goals in life.
Knowledge and skill acquisitions under ODL must not be regarded as second rate. The challenge is tough though not insurmountable Hence, the quality of teacher education needs to be enhanced continuously using both the formal systems and also the ODL techniques and methodology.
By JS Rajput
“DISTANCE EDUCATION SUPPLEMENTS FUTURISTIC EDUCATION STRATEGY”
—Brig (Dr) Somnath Mishra, Vice Chancellor, Sikkim Manipal University
How was Sikkim Manipal University started?
Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) is the result of a unique partnership between the Government of Sikkim and Manipal Education. Established in 1995, it is the first government-private initiative in the region. It was set up with the objective of providing the best means for higher education.
What are the unique features of Distance Education offered by SMU?
Directorate Distance Education has been a pioneer in distance education in the country with many unique initiatives.
- Merit-cum-means Scholarship: Social inclusion is a keyword for SMU-DE. We aim to increase the access to quality education in India. We have achieved geographical reach with the use of state-of-the-art technology and now are trying to make education accessible to all sections of the society. Merit-cum-means Scholarships provided to 1500 meritorious students is an effort in this direction. Education loan facility is also provided to enable students to afford higher education.
- Learning Platform through EduNxt: EduNxt is a multiple award-winning learning delivery system that has brought students and teachers closer than ever. Students can take tests and quizzes online, read articles, blogs, participate in discussion forums and access rich content. EduNxt empowers students with anywhere, anytime access. Students experience a ‘portable campus’, have ‘carry along mentors’ and regularly access over one million online books and journals. EduNxt is available to all the students of SMU-DE.
- ProDegrees: SMU-DE addresses India’s talent gap through the ProDegree programmes, a set of job-ready graduate programs that gives its students knowledge & skills. As a student of ProDegree programme, one can look forward to acquiring trade-based skills and sector-specific/domain knowledge that will help them score an advantage over a regular graduate degree. ProDegree gives a student incremental employability.
- Impact on Employability: SMU-DE is passionate about shaping the lives of its students by giving their career a head start. Our emphasis has always been on the employability and job readiness of our students. SMU-DE’s attention to these parameters has resulted in its alumni working in reputed companies like Airtel, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Nestle, Raymond, Times of India and many more. ProDegree programmmes are also a result of this endeavour.
How do you ensure quality of programmes offered through Distance Education?
All programmes offered by SMU-DE are recognised by the Distance Education Council (DEC). SMU-DE is a member of Association of Indian University (AIU). The University is also recognised by the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development and by the University Grants Commission (UGC). SMU-DE delivers quality education through more than 6,500 mentors. SMU-DE is ISO 9001: 2000 certified organisation. When a student joins the programme, she/he will be informed in advance when she/he will receive her/his courseware and exam schedule so as to help her/him plan her/his study. They will also be informed about when the results will be announced and can be assured of completing the degree in the stipulated time frame. SMU-DE attracts the best students in India who are looking for distance education. The type of students and the companies they work for is a testimonial of the quality of education SMU-DE provides.
What is your view on way forward for Distance Education in India?
Technology is driving the education in a big way. The general talk is about virtual class rooms. Distance education supplements such futuristic education strategy all over the world. This form of education with IT-enabled technology will bridge the gaps in education far and wide to every cross section of students whether young or old. Therefore, distance education has a great future and is bound to increase its presence in the education sphere.
Interviewed by Ashok Kumar
“DISTANCE EDUCATION IS A BOON TO THE COUNTRY”—Prof NS Ramesh Murthy, Director, SMU, DDE
What are the unique benefits offered by Distance Education over Conventional Education System?
Distance Education is indeed a boon to this vast country which faces several challenges, not the least of them being in educating the vast masses of citizens spread over the nook and cranny of the country. Government’s well-meaning welfare initiatives including empowering the child to the right to education cannot be realised through conventional education for obvious reasons. Infrastructure, trained faculty in large numbers, learning resources including library facilities are some of the features that are imperative in education. Conventional education, by its very nature of being bound by structure and timelines, is unable to cope up with this demand that requires a different and more flexible approach. Further, the participation of the private sector to support governmental efforts is a sine qua non in this noble and onerous task. Distance education meets all these demands and is therefore growing in popularity by the day.
What steps are taken by SMU DDE to allay fears of poor quality associated with Distance Education?
At Sikkim Manipal University, no effort is spared to maintain the highest standards of quality consistent with universally accepted norms of education. The UGC has rightly equated distance learning with that of campus education in that the degrees conferred under the two modes are the same. The rigour and strength of learning available on campus is maintained in distance education by fiercely adhering to course credits. For instance, at Sikkim Manipal University a one credit on campus translating to fifteen hours of classroom engagement is matched by thirty hours of engagement on distance using the prescribed tools of Self Learning Material (SLM), aided by technology-enabled learning to supplement the SLM as also robust interactive sessions, all achieved on the unique interactive portal, christened EduNxt. Further, continuous and periodic upgrading of reading material coupled with peer reviews are undertaken to remain topical and updated.
What are unique initiatives undertaken by SMU DDE to make DE more attractive and promote as an alternative means of higher education?
Some of the initiatives undertaken by SMU DDE to make DE more attractive are as under:
■ Launching of Vidyadeep scholarships to meritorious and deserving students
■ Organising Vidyadeep Case study contests
■ Facilitating placement support to students through IRIZE, the Manipal group’s placement initiative
■ Supporting and connecting with alumnis
■ Promoting contemporary specialisations in management studies
■ Revision of syllabi once every three years
■ Revamp of content on a regular basis to ensure contemporariness
■ A dedicated helpdesk for quick and speedy resolution of student queries
■ Continuous and constant student support through programme managers
■ EduNxt Learning platform for additional resources
■ Regular counselling to students
■ Online Examination Booking System (OEBS) offering convenience and flexibility to students
What kind of regulatory challenges are faced in the growth of Distance Education?
Regulatory pronouncements are indeed an enigma to providers of distance education. Lack of clarity in matters of policy and overlapping of jurisdiction is a serious threat to the very continuance of Distance education. It is a matter of grave concern that the spirit of Distance learning is being sought to be stifled by prescribing ‘ territorial limits’ to distance learning. This is antithetical to the very concept of distance education, whose essence is to ‘reach out’. Notwithstanding the fact that the subject of ‘education’ falls in Entry 25 the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and is thus a matter of debate and conflicting interest between States and Centre, this should not be the reason for meeting step-motherly treatment to distance education. In fact, if the pious announcement of the government of improving upon the GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) is to be realised, the way forward is only through’ the mechanism of distance education.
What is your view on way forward for Distance Education in India?
Distance education in India is at cross oads. It is still at a nascent stage. Unlike the popular notion that anyone can take up distance learning, in reality, distance learning calls for a lot of self-learning and maturity. The medium of distance learning is indeed the best option for a country like ours reeling under the pressures of lack of infrastructure, trained and rich faculty, library facilities and other features.
Interviewed by Ashok Kumar