Reaching the unreachable
Think of open and distance learning, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) is likely to figure at the top of a student’s list of preferences. The figures in this regard are self-explanatory. Established by an Act of Parliament in 1985, Ignou began by offering two academic programmes in 1987 — diploma in management and diploma in distance education, with a strength of 4,528 students.
Today, it serves over three million students in India and 43 other countries through 21 schools of studies and a network of 67 regional centres, around 3380 learner support centres and 80 overseas centres. The university offers about 245 programmes, 27 e-learning programmes and about 54, 234 academic counsellors from conventional institutions of higher learning. “I am cutting down the number of programmes which have no viability. If we have to compete with institutions in India or abroad, we need to introduce quality programmes. Quality is the trademark for survival,” says M Aslam, vice chancellor, Ignou.
The university, through the Pan Africa e-Network Project, offers a range of programmes to around 30 countries. Counselling is provided to learners through tele-seminars — an estimated 1400 have been organised so far for the benefit of students in Africa. This is now expected to be upgraded to India-Africa virtual university in the near future.
It is also perhaps the only university in India which has opened its doors to students who have not finished high school with its bachelor preparatory programme (BPP). BPP is offered to those students who wish to do bachelor’s degree of Ignou but do not have the essential qualifications of having passed Class 12. It is valid for admission to Ignou’s non-formal stream of BA/BCom etc. BPP is offered in English, Hindi, Oriya, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam and Gujarati. A student, who wishes to pursue BPP, has to choose any of the three courses — general mathematics, social sciences and commerce.
Admissions: Ignou follows two academic annual cycles for most programmes — July and January. Being a national open university, Ignou has minimal entry requirements and there is no restriction on the number of applicants to be admitted. Students can take admission in any non-entrance based programme at any point of the year. However, in courses with entrance tests, seats are reserved for categories including the scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, war widows, physically handicapped learners and Kashmiri migrants, as per government of India rules. “The objective is to provide access to higher education to all the segments of society and reach out to the disadvantaged in all parts of the country through our centres,” says Aslam.
Students’ verdict: Today a degree is not just a piece of paper; it is a passport to better income and reputation. With flexible duration, faculty and placements, Ignou has made achieving it much easier for students who might otherwise not be able to juggle between studies and earning a livelihood. “I have been associated with Ignou for the last ten years and I think open and distance learning is the best way of learning. Students who choose a conventional way of learning are guided at every step, it is more like spoon-feeding. But in distance learning you get a chance to discover your hidden talent and potential,” says Shakeel Rehman, presently working as PRO at the department of art, culture and languages, government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar.
“I was preparing for civil service exams so I had no time to pursue a regular postgraduate course. I chose Ignou and did my MA in sociology from there. The study material provided to us was more than sufficient; I didn’t feel the need for a teacher. Many students consider Ignou as a ‘leftover’ university but that’s not true. In my view, this university is at par with any other university in the country. The only issue I faced was lack student-teacher engagement,” says Lalnunmawii who is working as block development officer in Mizoram. “I am now planning to do a PhD course from Ignou as Mizoram University doesn’t offer PhD courses, open and distance learning works best in a situation like this,” she adds.
Another student named Gagan, who is working as an officer on special duty, health department, government of Bihar, feels Ignou provides extensive study material; it is updated and internationally recognised. “I did a course in disaster management from Ignou and scored well. Being a gold medalist in my subject, I was sent to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, Bangkok, for a three-week special training. The study material provided by the university gave me an insight into the subject. Not just theory, it covered practical aspects as well which really helped me. Today I am known as Dr. Gagan, the credit for this goes to Ignou, a university that changed my profile from a government official to an academician.”
Fees: Most of the courses are reasonably priced at about Rs. 1,000 - Rs. 30,000 per year.
Facilities: The university has adopted a multimedia approach to instruction. The different components being — self-instructional materials, audio-visual material aids, radio and TV broadcasts counselling/tutoring, interactive CD-ROM and internet-based learning, and live tele-conferencing sessions which are conducted via satellite through the interactive Gyan Darshan channel and broadcast on the EduSat channel from the university studios. Ignou has around 1.30 crore printed blocks, 1,916 audio programmes and 4,229 video programmes. It also airs educational and student support programmes through two Gyan Darshan channels and 37 Gyan Vani FM stations.
Placement cell: There is a campus placement cell (CPC) at the varsity’s headquarters in New Delhi. It aims to enhance and facilitate the process of employment opportunities that are commensurate with the profiles of the students. “Ignou is revamping its placement cell and getting in touch with the corporate world, MNCs and others. The main focus is to equip students with employable skills even he/she does a BA course. We are planning to introduce some electives which will help the students in seeking employment,” says the vice chancellor, Ignou. During the period 2012-13, companies such as Religare Voyages, GE Capital India, Genpact etc, visited the campus for recruitment.
Courses on offer
BSc (hons) in optometry and ophthalmic techniques
BSc (with majors in physics, chemistry and life sciences)
BA with many majors such as economics, political science, history and social work, among others
BA (tourism studies)
Bachelor of social work
BBA in retailing
Diploma in value-added products from fruits and vegetables (one-year)
Diploma in dairy technology (one-year)
Diploma in meat technology (one-year)
Diploma in aquaculture
Diploma in women’s empowerment and development
Diploma in production of value-added products from cereals, pulses and oilseeds (one-year)
Diploma in fish products technology (one-year)
Diploma in watershed management
Certificate in food safety (six-month)
Certificate in teaching of primary school
Student profile: Bandana Kumari, Age: 24, Pursuing: master of arts in Hindi from Ignou
Fighting against all odds
I am from a lower middle-class family living Jharkhand. My father is farmer and my mother works as a teacher in a government school. When I was in school, it was very difficult for me to attend regular classes. Because I am physically challenged, I needed someone to accompany me to class every day but that was getting to be difficult for my family. As my school days were coming to an end, my family and I were getting anxious about my future studies. During my final exams, KP Yadav, a coordinator from Ignou’s study centre came as an invigilator. I got to know about Ignou from him, about its programmes and flexibility. That’s when I decided to choose Ignou for my further studies. ‘Meri parhai ko ek nahi umeed mil gayi…’ I missed not being in a regular college but I was on my own and I had a lot of flexibility for my studies and exams.
While doing my bachelor’s course, I realised Ignou is a very good source of learning for people of all segments. With the support of my family and cooperation of my teachers, I got the first rank in BDP all over India and won Professor Grover’s award.
After this, the vice chancellor contributed in taking my career one step ahead and assigned me as a computer operator at Ignou’s study centre to gain some hands-on experience. Currently, I am doing master of arts in Hindi. If I have any difficulty, the teachers are there to help me. They are very cooperative, and only because of them I am able to do my postgraduation. However, the self reading material is sufficient for me.
Apart from studying, I like painting and singing. My only aim is to become self dependent and education is the only tool that can help me achieve this. Credit goes to my teachers and family for my achievements. I know I will have to struggle but I am prepared. I was born this way but I am no less than others. In fact, this handicap has given me power to follow my dreams, and my mother made me realise that I am not a burden. The whole experience has been enriching. Right now, I am managing life as a student, employee, and civil services aspirant due to the flexibility of the open learning system.