By-Abhijit Bora :In the central civil services examinations of last year two students from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has obtained top positions for which they were felicitated by the university a special programme. Further, Professor VNR Pillai, Vice Chancellor of IGNOU has revealed something quite interesting at an international conference on Open and Distance Learning (ODL) at Guwahati on November 15th.Prof. Pillai informed that the formal educational system with more than 400 universities and 22,000 colleges across the nation has under its jurisdiction 76 per cent of the total students’ strength of the country at post-secondary level. As against this, the ODL system caters to 24 per cent of the population of total eligible adult students for higher education. That too with just about 14 DE universities and about 125 conventional universities also having ODL system of teaching. See the spectacular achievements for the DE system with the passage of time. Among the topmost challenges the country has been facing over the years include increasing the literacy of the 116 crore of people across every nook and corner. Our literacy rate of 64.5 at present may seem to be a good one. However, in the age old story of the glass being ‘half full or half empty’ I would definitely stick to the ‘half empty’ side.
This is because of two main aspects. First of all we have achieved 65 per sent in almost as many years since Independence. Besides, the official definition of a ‘literate’ person is someone who can just sign his or her name, nothing more. So the actual literacy figure will be much less than this per cent. Further, just about 13 per cent of our adult and eligible population actually are being able to attend institutions of higher education compared to a very high figure in developed nations. Again, even for teaching at school level the availability of the requisite number of teachers with a proper degree in the field of teaching is rather too high. Also, out of the population of eligible for attending an educational institution (whether at school or higher level alike) majority can’t actually afford to continue their formal studies basically due to financial problems.
Today, the Indian school system needs three to four million serving teachers trained in the field of education which is near impossible task to be achieved under the normal circumstances. So what is the alternative to all these problems? I am tempted to say that at this point the system of ODL seems to be a very lucrative and potential one for taking care of at least a major portion of these problems.
The system really has come a long way since the days of the first ever open university in the country-BR Ambedkar Open University was stared wayback in 1964. The prefix ‘open’ comes into focus as this new and emerging system of education has made adequate provisions for allowing entry to people without any basic qualifications the opportunities for availing the benefits of higher education with some basic-level preparations. Of course, such persons are prepared for higher education degrees with some basic modules of study. On the question of quality control and regulatory activities, the Central Government has established the Distance Education Council (DEC) to carry out functions in the ODL field somewhat similar to that of what UGC has been doing in the general educational field. The Vice Chancellor of IGNOU is also the Chairman of DEC. Factors like flexibility in choosing various courses, delivery of tailor-made and precise study materials from good ODL institutions has been endearing this system to more and more people ever anywhere across the world. Today, IGNOU has study centres in several foreign nations as well and an increasing number of conventional universities are also adopting ODL system for ‘reaching the unreached’. In other words to make quality education available to everyone at his or her doorstep. IGNOU even reaches foreign shores with more than 30 centres abroad. In a way we can say that our formal educational sector has failed to deliver the goods during the last more than six decade’s time. Under such circumstances ODL is one system on which we can bank upon effectively for moving towards optimum literacy in the days to come. It needs mention here that Prof AM Pathan, President of Association of Indian Universities (AIU) based at Delhi, an umbrella organization of all universities in the country has recently said that "ODL and ICT possessed ample potential to achieve the goal of expanding the enrolment ratio in higher education to 20 per cent by 2015 across the nation. The prominent academician made this statement in the inaugural function of the 83rd AIU annual meeting of the organization in Shillong on November 17th. Further, for various factors including financial or otherwise, many of us have to join a job or engage in a professional activities like this would definitely like to catch up or make up with the lost opportunities to fulfill their wishes of acquiring higher education. Of course, many people would also like to do so out of mere curiosity. Also many of the people already in a job or profession would look forward to enhancing his or her professional capacity through ODL. But whatever it is, ODL system of education is always at their service ‘anywhere anytime’. The fees and other expenses are also normally are designed in a way to suit almost all the pockets. And then comes the question of what or which course to study. Considering all aspects like suitability, professional needs, convenience, skill enhancement one can have his or her pick from a wide range of choices. From business management, financial management, creative writing, nursing, mass communication, literature, environmental studies, nautical sciences, teacher education, montessori training, right from certificate, diploma to master degree and M.Phil and even Ph.D., you name it and you have it. Now, going a big forward a few ODL universities including the stalwart-IGNOU has started even Ph.D. and M.Phil education through the DE mode. As the system is far more user- friendly, usually the curses are designed (whenever applicable) in a ‘modular’ system. That is, courses with durations of more than a year are normally structured in the way by which if the student completes a certain number of papers and term successfully he or she may be awarded a certificate or diploma etc. If the person continues the course and completes the higher level of the course successfully he or she may be awarded the full course certificate. For example, some universities do have two- year Master of Mass Communication programme. Here, if a student completes the first year successfully he or she is awarded a diploma certificate and if he or she foes on to complete the final year also successfully, full Master’s degree is awarded to him or her. Flexibility, convenience and service are the major high points of the ODL system, across the world. As the study materials are prepared strictly keeping in view the structured syllabus of every course, they are always precise, to the point, comprehensive, smooth- reading etc. Also nowadays, with the use of modem audio-visual and electronic media tools, delivery of
self learning materials (SLMs) to the students have become much more easy and convenient. However, whenever one would like to enroll in any course under an ODL institution one should always consult the DEC website for details like recognition of affiliation, courses offered, system, number of study centres and where these are situated etc. IGNOU has also launched the Convergence Scheme project by which it collaborates with general full time study institutions across the nation for reaching to more students in the normal mode of study. The scheme is becoming popular with the passage of time. Significantly, it has been projected that IGNOU’s students enrolment will touch two million soon. This is quite a high achievement for the Institution for which it needs to be commended. DEC is to ODL system like what is University Grants Commission (UGC) to general higher education in the country. In short, the ODL system is actually emerging as the most potential modern day alternative for formal education in the days to come.
(The author is Lecturer & Head I/c, Dept of Communication & Journalism, Gauhati University, Guwahati-781014 (Assam)