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ODL: A Vehicle for Access and Equity

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The Tamil Nadu Open University was established to benefit those who have been deprived of and denied access to higher education, especially destitutes, physically challenged, working men and women and economically weaker sections. The University offers many programmes in various disciplines and aims to reach the hitherto unreached. Digital Learning presents more about these academic activites while in conversation with the Vice Chancellor,

Women, particularly from the rural areas, form 50 % of the current student population. Our Course materials, especially in Tamil Medium are well received by the students. This is one of the major reasons for the increase in student enrolment.

What is the vision of the Tamil Nadu Open University (TNOU)?

Tamil Nadu Open University began its Academic activities in mid-2003. Barely 6 years into operation, this University offers 600 Courses in 114 Programmes at various levels- ranging from professional, including paramedical, to TVET- catering to a cumulative learner enrolment about 2, 10,000. Further, the TNOU has emerged as the only ODL Institution in the State to have learning packages that include quality self-learning materials in print with CD supplements. As regards meeting the learning needs of the students, a robust support services network of about 1000 TNOU Learning Centres is in place. In statistical terms, there is one Learning Centre for every 100 learners.

What impact has TNOU had on increasing access and enrollment ratio in higher education, especially in weaker, socio-economic areas?

The TNOU has made tremendous impact on the weaker and socio-economic areas. Women, particularly from the rural areas, form 50 % of the current student population. Our Course materials, especially in Tamil Medium are well received by the students. This is one of the major reasons for the increase in student enrolment. The TNOU Centres are established even in the remotest places. The University has its Centres across India. Most of the Courses of TNOU are job-oriented and directly linked with employment and offered through Community Colleges. So, the students from poor background find these Courses very useful. A number of Courses are designed targeting the women population, especially those at homes.

The Community College initiative of the University targets mainly the school dropouts in the rural poor and urban slum areas in Tamil Nadu and a few other States in India. The Programmes offered through the Community Colleges have been implemented through the School of Continuing Education of the TNOU. The feedback given by the industrial partners, who have taken the learners for apprenticeship, shows a high level of satisfaction about the performance of the learners. The feedback also reveals that nearly 80 percent of these learners, who were dropouts have got immediate employment in the relevant industries, and some of them have become entrepreneurs as well. Observing the success story of these learners, the Government of Tamil Nadu has issued order for recognition of Community Colleges attached to the Tamil Nadu Open University, and also to provide vertical mobility for their further studies in addition to providing scholarships to the tune of INR 1crore to  these poor students who otherwise will remain as school dropouts.

Despite major reforms in India`s higher education sector, we have not yet been able to match up to the demand for skilled workforce. What do you think are the reasons for this?

One of the major reasons is the absence of robust curricula that bridge the world of academics and that of worth. This University has been aware of this gap and has been offering Programmes that are socially relevant and demand driven.

Can our higher education system through open and distance learning measure up to other Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia? What do you think are the main challenges?

Indications are that already the higher education system has started using Open and Distance Learning (ODL) as a vehicle for access and equity in education. IITs, IIMs and many other Universities have started Distance Education Cells, employing ODL methods through them.  NPTEL is one such example. IIMA has opened its campus in Singapore and the Middle East. Many Indian Universities are collaborating with foreign Universities in the Tele-Education programmes. With the kind of quality education we provide, India has the potential much more than Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian countries. Indian higher education system is currently exploring ways to spread its wings through twining, franchising, off shoring, consortia arrangements, credit transfers, etc.

In what ways can an effective industry-academic collaboration build our education capacity? What learning can be taken from TNOU in this line?

TNOU has an effective Industry-Institute Interface since its inception. Most of the programmes have industry partnership or atleast with the people from the relevant industries. For example, the courses related to Four Wheeler Mechanism, Beautician, Refrigerator Maintenance, House Electrician, Nursing, Fashion Designing, Apparel Manufacturing, Computer Hardware, DTP Operation, Catering, Multimedia, Animation, Garment Making, Mobile Phone Servicing, Home Appliances, etc, are run by the people from the concerned industries only. The role of TNOU is to identify the demand, frame the syllabus, identify the particular partnership industry, launch the programme and conduct the examinations. In the majority of the industry related courses, the role of the industry is much higher than that of TNOU.

What are the future plans of TNOU, in terms of usage of ICTs in education?

Already 11 TNOU Coordinating Centres are identified to install the ICT facilities. They act as nodal centres of TNOU. Electronic instruments are also supplied to them partially. The faculty can teach from the EMPRC studio at TNOU and simultaneously the students at all these 11 Centres may interact.

  • E-Content in many subjects had been developed with the collaboration of e-Content management companies like Expertus, i-Grandee, etc. They are in the form of CDs which are to be distributed to the learners.

  • One FM Community Radio will be established shortly for the benefit of TNOU students.

  • TNOU has embarked  on a 4

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