Transcending Barriers: Inclusive Education in the context of Open Schooling

National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Govt. of India organised a two-day seminar Transcending Barriers – Inclusive Education in the Context of Open Schooling at India Habitat Centre on March 8-9, 2011. With the motto of “Supporting inclusion, challenging exclusion”, the dates were symbolically chosen to coincide with the 100th year of International Women's Day because even today, women are a marginalised group and need to be consciously included in all streams of life, more so in education. Dr. S.S. Jena, Chairman, NIOS was the Conference Chairman; Dr. Kuldeep Agarwal, Director (Academic), NIOS was the Conference Director; and Ms. Asheema Singh, NIOS was the Conference Coordinator. The objective of the seminar was to establish that the fundamental principles of open distance education are based on 'inclusive education' including diversities arising from gender, age, nationality, race, language, social background, level of educational achievement, disability etc. It aimed at exploring the achievement of 'Barrier Free Education' which is unprejudiced and supportive in all forms. Conducted over two days, the seminar touched upon many serious issues like Cultural and Disability Barriers, Socio-Economic Barriers and Initiatives (exploring the value of innovative techniques for inclusive education). Under “Breaking Barriers”, papers on Life Skills for Life-Long Learning were presented. A session on “Voices from Within” was based on shared learning through discussions on success stories from learners, parents & other care givers. All the participants actively contributed in drawing the Road Map for inclusive education through open schooling in the session “Constructing New Possibilities”. The seminar was inaugurated by Sh SC Khuntia, Joint Secretary, MHRD Govt of India, while Mr. A. Parsuraman, Director and representative from UNESCO was the Guest of Honour. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Rukmini Banerjee, Director PRATHAM. The Guest of Honour of the valedictory session was Dr. Marc Derveeuw, Country Representative A.I., UNFPA, India. Welcoming the guests, Dr. S.S. Jena said that Education is the key to all development. Keeping the huge number of out of school children in mind, conventional schooling may not be adequate to meet the national aspirations of 'Education for All' (EFA). This has necessitated the promotion of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) approach as an alternative system. The cost effectiveness and wide outreach are some of the salient features of this system. Since its inception in 1989, the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), has enrolled 1.6 million learners, and is the largest Open school in the world. It offers Academic, Vocational and Life Enrichment courses at the Senior Secondary, Secondary and the Elementary level through 3700 Study Centres. Dr. Kuldeep Agarwal, while introducing the seminar, said that it was organised to strengthen the outreach, inclusion of all and exclusion of none. He said that NIOS has taken a big step forward to partner with and network with several like-minded individuals and organisations. He thanked Expressions India, Prayas and Tamana for the technical support. Dr. Shankar Chowdhary, National Professional Officer, UNESCO, Ms. Usha Ram, Principal, Laxman Public School, Mr. Amod Kanth, Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, (DCPCR), Dr. Sushmita Mitra, Director Student Support System (SSS), NIOS, Mr. Vinod Raina from Eklavya, Dr. Shyama Chona, President Tamana, Ms. Madhu Ranjan from USAID, Ms Geeta Narayan, Programme Officer from UNFPA, Mrs. Mridula Seth from Lady Irwin College, Prof Frank Banks, Director IDTE, UK Open University, Dr. Jitendra Nagpal, Program Director, Expressions India, Dr. S.S. Jena, Dr. Kuldeep Agarwal, Dr. Huma Masood, Education Specialist from UNESCO were amongst the many luminaries who chaired or co-chaired the sessions.

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