Igniting open and distance education

The demand for places in higher education has been steadily but consistently growing more than that of the rate of population growth in India. India now has a population of 15.93 crores in 18-24 age group and it is growing at a faster pace. On an average, the population of India is increased by 1.82 crores individuals every year approximately (with a birth rate of 2.2 percent and death rate 0.82 percent) and the decadal growth of India’s population was 17%.

We have at present around 700 Universities or its equivalent degree awarding institutions and 35,539 colleges. Higher education institutions have enrolled only 2.03 crores students, which is around 12.76 percent of the said age-group. Although statistics show that Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) is 17.09 (2013), it’s not at all satisfactory when compared to the international average of 27 percent.

If we were to make a provision of higher education for at least 30 percent population of the relevant age-group, we need at least two-and-half times increase in our number of institutions, which translates to 1750 degree awarding institutions and 888475 colleges in different parts of the country. It needs 23.35 lakh teachers (from 9.33 lakh as at present) and proportional number of non-teaching staff instantly.

It is beyond anybody’s comprehension that both the central and state governments put together, will not be able to establish such a large number of Institutions to cater to the needs of the people. The best option available in the existing circumstances should be invariably the ‘Open and Distance Education’ (ODE).

The introduction ODE system is a major break¬through in the higher education sector and during the last five decades or so. There was a steady growth of Distance Education Directorates (DEDs) and Open Universities (OUs). At present, there are about 275 DEDs and 17 (two Private) OUs, which currently accommodate over 45 lakh of the students in higher education with a GER of 24 percent.

ODE is thus able to absorb more than 30 percent of students of higher education operating with its large network of more than 12000 study or off-campus centers, involving more than one lakh ‘Academic Counselors or Facilitators’ and more than two lakhs of other subject experts as course writers and examiners.

However, an analysis of the existing situation especially with regards to the spatial distribution of DEDs/OUs indicate an uneven development and this has a corresponding impact on the enrolment and coverage of students, programmes and courses offered and the growth of new institutions over the years.

A few universities offer more than 100 programmes at different levels while a large number of others offer only a couple of programmes which again account for their non-viability at the one end and disproportionate development at the other end. There has been a lot of du-plication and overlapping of programmes.

Though the growth of institutions and provision for courses is impressive, the overall development seem to be unplanned, unregulated, haphazard and even hasty affecting the quality of education offered. Though OUs get state funding to some extent, the DEDs hardly funded (except in few cases) and they invariably meet the expenditure out of the fee collected from the students.

In other words they are totally ‘self-financed’ and surprisingly without imposing any burden on the State offer education to a third of higher education students in the country.  In recent years, however, there has been growing criticism on the functioning of DEDs for various reasons including over dependence on printed materials, near absence of face-to-face contact and counseling, lack of use of multimedia technologies, failure to maintain academic calendar and conduct of examinations, failure to maintain desirable standards.

In view of this, during the recent years there has been a serious discussion in various academic circles including Indian Distance Education Association (IDEA) conferences that the apex bodies need to initiate necessary steps to improve and reform the ODL system in the country for better.

The Conference on “Open & Distance Education in India: Emerging Issues and Challenges” Scheduled to be held at Nagarjuna University, Guntur during 15-16 December 2016, being attended by distance educators drawn from all over the country will focus its attention on many of these vital aspects and offer suitable recommendations to the emerging problems. (The writer is President of Indian Distance Education Association)

-By Prof K Murali Manohar

Courtesy : Hans India

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