Distance Education In The Not Too Distant Future

By Ananya S Guha

The other day when the board class ten results were declared a neighbour mentioned that her domestic help’s daughter had failed her examinations and  the father beat the girl up. This probably happens in India regularly one way or the other. Beating up the girl child is not new. I was affected by the statement as the question of examinations and ‘ failures ‘ needs to be properly   addressed.  Education is not very cheap in private schools, and all government schools are considered by parents to be ‘not up to the mark.’ In this case it is a private school of dubious quality, but the parents must have had a difficult time funding the education of the child in this case. The mother is a domestic worker, and the father is a mechanic in a garage on a part time basis. Now in this situation what are the means and ends for the child, where the ambience is not at all suited for learning, where the younger brothers were once victims of child trafficking; where getting beaten up by parents is a regular affair. Life must be as bad as hell for the children, and the parents  who hardly have time to look after their children, and also schools such as these pay the teachers a pittance, in turn teaching is poor. The teachers may not be qualified or trained teachers either.

Failure in examinations is a shame in our society. The stigma  of ‘ drop outs ‘ is another problematic aspect of education and its dynamics. How do we redress such problems? Vocational education is yet to get the impetus it deserves. Even now, although educational boards in India have vocational streams at the plus two levels, the ‘ elitist ‘ students are in the sciences, commerce and then the humanities. Vocational means the world of dirt, repair, smudges and garages. Prior certification of skills is not thought of, and this is an imperative in the unorganised  sectors. The linking up of Industrial Training Institutes with vocational courses in conventional education is an absolute necessity. The point is that there should be no hair splitting between ‘ vocational and ‘ professional, ‘ the latter largely meaning management, law, computer sciences or engineering sciences. What is ‘ professional ‘ depends on the needs and skills of the learner, whether it is cognitive or students endowed with practical skills.  With all this talk about skills education, we have to enunciate and adopt a larger framework in the country for students who may not be intellectually oriented or gifted, but possess skills in practically applied work.

Education is still fragmented into primary, secondary, tertiary, higher education and so on. It is the duty of every educator to think holistically in terms of education, and the linkages between school education, higher education and training of teachers. True there are refresher and orientation courses for college and university teachers in India, but these are done perforce to obtain certificates for the next promotion.

Educational policies, must take into account literacy, school education, higher education and also the opportunities provided by open and distance learning which is still considered by many to be second rate. They do not understand the technological nuances of open and distance learning, student management there and the chances it gives to address failure in schools and college, as well as to give fresh opportunities to the much maligned ‘ drop outs ‘. Why do such people drop out is the question, in the social and economic matrix. For example does everyone know that  the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India allows school drop outs without a ten plus two certificate to do graduation, after undertaking a six months preparatory programme, in commerce or the humanities, with an alternative in mathematics? How many know that the same university offers Associate Studentship up to 32 credits,  that is  four courses, for students who might have missed out on a subject say, Economics in college? True the end of education is a Degree, but the bias towards it must also be challenged, for the sake of deriving sheer pleasure in learning.

The teacher’s task at whatever level is to engage with students, whether by teaching, guidance or counselling. If the responsibility comes to  a halt in the classroom, then any teaching or for that matter learning will suffer from a gap or a hiatus, where the transaction is two way and didactic. Distance and Open Learning attempts to make this learner- centred, rather than teacher -centred, where the experience of teaching is not self congratulatory. I have delivered a brilliant lecture today- but how many have understood it, how do we follow it up for the ‘ weaker ‘ student?

The thinking that education is a linear progression is based on false premises. The very student who does outstandingly at the Masters or the Research levels, also studied at school and will probably reminisce fondly upon his or her school teacher than some of the university or college teachers. On the face of it education has to do with the head, but it is also the heart as well. If we can work linkages and clear  logical connections between school/ basic education, literacy, higher education, and distance education, then we will have holistic references to education. Again the example of the Indira Gandhi National Open University! The University offers a Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education for college or university teachers, or those who desire to be so, in the form of very practically oriented academic  programmes.

We are tired of listening to statistics. The common one is – out of the 25 percent eligible for higher education, only thirteen can actually  get admission into colleges. Seats are too less. In the not so distant future distance education both at school and college should take over the reins of education.

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.