Distance Education, Education & Student Enhancement

By Ananya Guha

Over the last three decades or so distance and open education has played a pivotal role in taking education to various sections of the society  at affordable costs. The cost effectiveness and universality of distance education by reaching out various target groups is its high point. Moreover the target groups range from young students to adult learners, who are working or even those who might desire to pursue courses out of a sheer interest in learning. The treasure house of learning is provided by distance education which has provision for courses and academic programs right from certification, to diplomas, post graduate diplomas, degree programs, post graduate courses to even  M.Phil and P.hd programs. This array of academic programs, makes it much easier to earn and learn at the same time, or study while in a work situation. The world of work and the world of education education are today markedly connected, thanks to the opportunities afforded by distance and open education. Distance education a mechanism to study anywhere, any time and at any place is flourishing because of the presence of one National Open University the IGNOU and several state open universities in Maharashtra, Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar etc. Distance Education is then education for the young, the young adult, the unemployed, the girl or woman student and the working professional. It is training on the job, adult education and continuing education because of its flexible qualities such as, relaxed entry points, longer time to complete academic programs, flexibility in examinations such as twice a year at least, walk in admission, and on demand education. It liberates  education from stereo types such as failing once or twice, which more often not gives students the stigma, or ‘ shame ‘ of failing.  By its intrinsic nature distance education gives students many chances to appear for examinations, so that the learner gets rid of the proverbial examination phobia. Moreover by sending quality course material to the distant learner, the teaching and learning process is savoured in the self learning or self instructional study material, which is a teaching and learning mechanism, not to be mistaken by lecture notes, to be learnt by rote.

 Of course the seeds of distance education were sowed by universities such as Delhi University and Himachal Pradesh University which started correspondence courses through a dual mode system of engaging the working learner with studies at home. Very soon by the eighties correspondence courses which were second rate blended beautifully into a dual condition of education: traditional and non traditional/ formal by which conventional universities  started establishing their distance education directorates. Now over hundred universities in the country have the dual mode system of education recognised by the University Grants Commission. Several states as mentioned earlier have their open universities. It is estimated that out of the students seeking  higher education in the country about 20 percent are in distance education, open universities or in the dual mode system.

The IGNOU since three decades has rendered yeoman service to education by branching into nooks and corners of the country through its study centers. Under its umbrella of 67 Regional Centers in the country it has networked with various colleges, academic institutions, universities, higher secondary schools to establish over a thousand study centers and Regional Centers from Jammu and Kashmir in the North to Madurai in the south, from Bomdilla in the North East to Nagpur or Pune in the West. Moreover by enunciating the concept of the host institution and part time teachers or Academic Counselors culled from host institutions spread across the country, the democratic characteristic of education and access has been made a palpable  reality.

 Again the areas of studies are vast and have ramifications on the social and cultural ethos of the country: rural development, social work, tourism with emphasis on culture. media studies, computers, social sciences, disaster management, management and human resources, teacher education, pure sciences, creative writing a,post basic nursing, agriculture, psychology, food , nutrition and dietetics are some of the human resources, professional and vocational paradigms touched upon here. This is indeed a vast menu of academic courses, enhancing also vocational and skill competencies. The current enrollment of the university stands at 3 million, which is mind boggling. The current enrollment of IGNOU Regional Center Shillong, the oldest Regional Center in the North East and one of the first in the country stands at over 20, 000 which is  commendable.

 What however should be done is student retention and student tracking so that the malaise of ‘ drop outs ‘ is attenuated. Skilled graduates create  a stronger work force and more trained personnel. This is certainly one of the strengths of this university which is mandated to take education to the rural poor, the masses and those who need education the most. More courses should be opened/ translated in Hindi and in our regional languages.

 It is indeed good to note that the Shillong Regional Center which started functioning since April 1988, and which initially looked after the entire North East Region now has covered almost all the districts of Meghalaya excepting South West Garo Hills. It has 32 active learner support centers spread over Eat Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, Ribhoi,West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills,East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, North Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and South West Garo Hills.It is hearty to note that the enrollment in the Shillong Regional Center is increasing every year by leaps and bounds. This year like last year it is expected to cross the 9000 mark.However student support services, timely distribution of study material, regular academic counselling must be ensured to give academic sustenance to the weak and needy learner. The is the succor in the form of student support services which must be provided by the learner. Education in the ultimate analysis is non formal, informal and the extension of the conventional classroom, to give it a multiplier effect. Distance Education has the mechanism for it, by building up student friendliness, counselling students in many aspects, including his or her problems. In that sense distance education can be made truly inclusive and must play a positive role to enhance the education of the physically and mentally challenged.

 It is known that IGNOU uses technology for its students in the form of webcasts, but it must achieve rounded shape in this by developing lucid e learning modules for both its students and trainers, so that technology, the IT model of learning and teaching is put to its effective and best use. Even keeping in touch with students on the internet and through the mobile will be of great help. E Learning in various shapes and forms, and mobile telephony must supplement the teaching in built in the course ware. Chat groups and social site networks may be profitably used. Discussions both by video and chat must be strenuously developed.

 It is hoped that distance, open learning, flexible education will augment education systems in the country and IGNOU will continue to play its cardinal role of professional enhancement, training, human resource development and above all the sheer pleasure of learning – to know, do be and live together ( Delors Commission Report, 1996).

 The University must also think in approaches of community radios, teleconferences and radio stations to take its outreach further. Technology enhances interest in listeners and viewers. Learning to be and to know and live together are the finer paradigms of education, the web, the radio, the computer, the television intricately combined can take education, skills development and even literacy to the corners of the country. Enrollment is fine, but  what matters in the end is student acquisition of applied knowledge and student enhancement. Technology is an exacerbating factor in this end.

About the Author: Ananya S Guha lives and writes from Shillong in North East India.

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