Dr P Prakash, Vice Chancellor, B R Ambedkar Open University, in conversation with Rozelle Laha, says that we arrest a student’s thoughts by putting him in a conventional mode of learning
What are the challenges in bringing an open learning school to the Indian society?
Ours is the first open institute in India. It was initially known as Andhra Pradesh Open University and was later rechristened as Dr B R Ambedkar Open University. We were established in the year 1983 under the State Association Act. Then came the Indira Gandhi National Open University. There are 15 open institutes in India including the IGNOU.
Our contribution to the higher education sector is 30-32 per cent of the gross enrollment ratio. Open distance learning is one of the tools of higher education where the students have the flexibility of learning at a given space and place. They do not have to come to the classrooms and this gives a lot of flexibility to the learner who may be a fast, slow or a medium type of learner. So, to bridge the gap between the learners, this is one of the best ways of educating.
How open are we to adopt e-Learning?
We are all aware that the entire world is looking forward to open distance learning. I was going through an article that said 85 percent of the American students are going for online learning. Open learning is definitely not eye-to-eye learning, rather it is learning through online mediums.
In India, against the backdrop of power issues how can internet facilities be introduced?
We are now faring better in the power space, therefore, the Internet has now become available in all parts of the country. The Government of India is networking with all the institutes with NME-ICT. We have a very good fiber optic backbone to which we can always stay connected. Students no longer have to go to the library because we have the facility of e-Journals, including e-Books. Students are also more computer-savvy and they are also using mobile learning or cell phone learning through SMS or other types of audio-visual programs. We started primarily with broadcast, video cast and telecast, and now we have e-Learning that primarily comprises of animation and text.
Students still have the myth that a full-time programme is a more viable option than an open learning programme. How do we get rid of this myth?
It’s a mindset. If you take research into account, many scholars who work in the laboratories don’t need a guide regularly. They are just given a topic on which they have to learn, which they have been working on for their scholastic enrichment. Students work in the laboratories and come back with a result: positive or negative. And then they discuss with their supervisors. Don’t you think this is one of the best ways of learning with all the flexibility!
We are arresting the students’ thoughts by putting them in the conventional mode of learning. Although in some aspects the concept may not change, but he doesn’t have the freedom to learn what he is interested in.
How can we improve the quality of learning through open, distance and e-Learning?
We need to blend that. That is missing in India. As I told you, we have open distance learning schools at various places, but all these schools are not equipped with e-Learning labs. Whether you teach Einstein’s theory of relativity or Darwin’s theory of evolution, you require e-Learning modules. And if they are there, there are no e-Learning labs. So we need to blend both of them together so that whether you teach in French, German, or vernacular Tamil, Hindi or English, they all remain the same.
Please tell us about the MoUs BRAOU has with Apollo hospitals and Dr Reddy’s Labs?
We have MBA in healthcare management from Apollo Hospital. We also have an undergraduate programme with Dr Reddy’s Labs. Most of the students are comfortable and are placed very well after their graduation and post graduation.