The open and distance education (ODE) system was introduced in India primarily to meet the aspirations of the young generation of our country. With more than 500 universities and around 30,000 colleges, India at present has the world’s second largest education system. However, a large section of society still remains deprived of higher education.
It is painful to realise that only about 12% of 18- to 23-year-olds participate in higher education in our country while the corresponding world average is 23%.
Experts hold that an enrolment ratio of 20% in higher education is a minimum requirement for economic development in the modern world.
In such a scenario, distance-mode courses have opened up a new path to build, nurture and sustain a strong base of a value-added educational system in the country.
Distance-education courses are convenient in many ways. They are very cost effective and flexible. For example, you can get an MBA degree by studying at home. You may appear for an online exam after studying at home. You also have an opportunity to pursue your studies simultaneously with a career. Now a PhD can also be completed from an open university.
There are at present 14 open universities in India - one national and 13 state-level. They provide an opportunity for the development of your talent and innovative skills. In India, about 24% of all enrolees in higher education study through the distance-mode while the plan is to increase this number to 40% by 2012.
However, one prejudice that unfortunately exists in some sections of our society is that credentials obtained from open universities are less valuable those from conventional institutions. This is not true at all. One should rather appreciate the fact that this mode of learning has been established to empower learners to study at their own convenience - “Anyone, Anywhere and Anytime,” the 3As are the main philosophy behind ODE.
Courses offered by open universities have a different outlook in the sense that the process of imparting education in open universities is focused on learner-centric flexibility in which the student plays a pivotal role. Of late the structure of ODE courses has also been upgraded to incorporate pure and applied knowledge that takes care of skill-based competencies relevant to society and the nation. Together with this, a host of vocational courses are available and more are being added to promote employability.
Various open universities like Indira Gandhi National Open University at the all-India level and UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University and others at the state level offer hundreds of courses. You can pick from undergraduate, postgraduate, diploma, certificate and doctoral programmes. The popular ones include BA, BCom, BSc, BCA, BLib, BEd and bachelor of information technology (BIT). For masters’, the MBA course is quite a favourite. Many popular vocational courses include diplomas/certificates in nursery teacher training, costume design and fashion technology, medical lab techniques, journalism, tourism studies, office assistantship, textile designing, fashion designing, yoga, entrepreneurship, photography, automobile technology, child care and education, electrical equipment repairing, interior design, food quality control, criminology and forensic science, advertising, disaster management etc.
The ODE system in India has come a long way in the past 30 years and its impact is being felt all over. However, there is still a long way to go in ensuring high quality. While a lot of effort is being put into improving the quality of the study material, steps are also being taken at the national level on enhancing the quality through its integration with Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT, if used creatively, can make a big difference in the way ODE courses are conducted and help students acquire 21st-century skills and abilities such as digital literacy, innovative thinking, creativity, sound reasoning and effective communication. The National Mission on Education through ICT, launched in 2009, is a major government initiative to leverage the potential of ICT in providing high-quality multimedia-enriched personalised and interactive content, free of cost, to all learners in higher education institutions in the anytime-anywhere mode.
Multi-media enrichment helps communicate difficult concepts in simpler ways and thus, offers unique advantages in education. For instance, text alone does not allow you to get a “feel” of Shakespeare’s plays while a zoology teacher cannot make a killer whale come alive in a classroom. Multi-media enables us to provide a way by which you can experience your subject in a profound way.
The future of ODE in India looks very promising and the day is not very far off when students will come to this system by choice and not by compulsion.
The author is currently vice chancellor, UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University, Allahabad. He is on deputation from the University of Delhi where he holds the prestigious Sir Shankar Lal Chair of chemistry since 1996