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Distant, yet done

Education spreads beyond its constricted periphery to establish a unique system of borderless academics for all. Garima Sharma casts an extensive look over Open and Distance Learning.

delhi Updated: Jun 06, 2007 14:03 IST

It has only been in the past odd decade that we, in India have taken notice of the potential of Open and Distance Learning (ODL). Essentially, ODL is a form of education that uses traditional methods of teaching to provide academic support to students who cannot be physically present in a classroom.

ODL has seen a gradual development: from print, audio/video broadcasting to audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/online-learning and finally computer broadcasting or webcasting. And today, it seems poised to shoulder the burden of 40 per cent of India’s educational requirements.

Rajasekharan Pillai, Vice Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Chairman of the Distance Education Council (DEC) believes, “There is a sea of difference between correspondence learning and ODL. It is because of its technology-intensive dimension that ODL is much more effective.”

ODL according to him should not be seen as a different form of education, but as a tool for education itself. And he firmly asserts that ODL is necessary today for India’s qualitative as well as quantitative educational growth.

Twenty per cent of India’s twelve million students today are enrolled in higher education. Out of these, an approximate 40 per cent should be addressed by ODL. Around the world, ODL caters to an approximate 65-70 per cent of Humanities students, 30 per cent of Science students and 85 per cent of students enrolled in capacity building courses.

Globally, in many colleges, especially those in the United States of America, ODL systems work in tandem with regular lessons. In the same vein, Delhi University (DU), IGNOU and the University Grants Commission (UGC) may soon enter into partnership to give the education system in the country a new dimension.

This was declared at the National Seminarcum-workhop on ‘Convergence of Conventional and Distance Modes of Education” and the national launch of “Training of Academic Counsellors for the ODL System”. Here, it was unanimously agreed by R.P. Agarwal, Secretary Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD), Prof. Sukdheo Thorat, Chairman, UGC, Prof. VN Rajasekharan Pillai, VC, IGNOU, Prof. Deepak Pental, VC, DU and N.K. Sinha, Joint Secretary, Distance Learning, MHRD that it is essential to converge the conventional tools of education with the information and communication technology of ODL where, cost can be minimised and quality enhanced.

Initiatives, in similar hues abound. Funded by MHRD, the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) is a joint venture between the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

The main objective of NPTEL is to enhance the quality of engineering education in India by developing curriculum-based video and web courses. At IIT Madras, the project is evolving and will provide learning materials, digitally taped classroom lectures, supplementary materials and links to state-ofthe art research materials in every subject possible. Distance learning today refuses to be contained within conventions.

In a brand new inititiative, the Tuck School of Business is all set to launch an interactive distance learning initiative in India. Professor Vijay Govindarajan will spearhead a virtual learning series with three groups of high-potential Citibank India managers located in Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai.

"We are excited to bring the engaged, interactive teaching that Tuck is known for, to executives halfway around the world by leveraging the power of technology,” says Anant Sundaram, Faculty Director of Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth.

Wipro Infotech too has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Centre for Distance Education (CDE) of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) to act as the strategic IT services partner for the institute. Under this agreement, Wipro will provide consultancy services in the IT requirements of the university an elearning initiative being undertaken at CDE. Banking on all this and working on more is DEC.

It has signed an MoU with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) on May 10. The purpose of this is to cross-cooperate to provide quality technical and general education through the distance and mixed mode.

UGC and AICTE will also utilise DEC’s expertise for reviewing courses, norms and curricula for the approval of new programmes. They will also jointly develop standards for technical and general education. Moreover, DEC and IGNOU are developing an accredition system for distance education institutes.

With such efforts, nodal authorities want to create a branch name for Distance Education. Traditionally, ODL students have been victims of a targeted stigma, but concentrated efforts in the past few years have done enough to break that illusion. Believes Jitin Chadha, Director, Indian School of Business and Finance, “We offer professional certificate programmes for working professionals. When one caters to such a mature audience, there is no question of an inherent apprehension. These professionals know that they are short on time and are doing such courses for professional enhancement.”

That is that. However, emerging trends show that the scene is changing for the better. With institutes, authorities and government bodies joining hands, 40 per cent may be outstripped far sooner than later.