Distance Education In The Not Too Distant Future

June 7, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Ananya S Guha

The other day when the board class ten results were declared a neighbour mentioned that her domestic help’s maid’s daughter had failed her examinations and the father beat the girl up.

This probably happens in India regularly in some 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’ need to be properly addressed. Education is not very cheap in private schools, and all government schools are felt by parents as 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 happening? 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 as well.

Failure in examinations is a shame in our society. The stigmatization 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 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 so readily in need in the unorganized 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 psychomotor. 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 are good with skills and 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 colleges, 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 mathemamatics? How many know that the same university offers Associate Studentship upto 32 credits, ie four courses, for students who might have missed out on a 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. Prima facie 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 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 academecic programme.

We are tired of listening to statistics. The common one is – out of the 25 percent eligible for higher education, only thirteeen 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. And each college and university teacher must go to a school class room and engage with young and sensitive minds, irrespective of gender, caste or class. That will be the day. Bravo, when we get out of our educational prudery, elitism, high handedness crass commercialization, and exploitation  (read privatization and disparities in pay structures, the lesser are classes, the ‘higher’ you teach!).









Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha was born and brought up in Shillong, North East India. He has seven collections of poetry and his poems have been published worldwide. They have also been featured in several anthologies. He is also a columnist, critic and editor. He now is a Regional Director at the Indira Gandhi National Open University and holds a doctoral degree on the novels of William Golding.


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