‘Capacity building of teachers needs top priority’

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Improving quality of educational interventions entails greater significance in the role of a teacher, believes Prof. M. Aslam, Vice-Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University. In conversation with ENN, he says IGNOU would like to focus on increasing access, equity and quality. Excerpts

Prof. M. AslamWhy do we need the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system in India? Is its target learner different from those in other universities?

The ODL system in the country is aimed to redeem the promise of providing access to higher education to all segments of society. For a majority of Indians in villages and small towns, reaching a centre of higher learning is a challenge and the ODL system has to facilitate access to education. We should not wait for learners to come to seats of learning. Instead, learning seats would have to reach out to them wherever they are. Today, IGNOU as a National Resource Centre for Open and Distance Learning, with international recognition and presence, seeks to provide seamless access to sustainable and learner-centric quality education, skill upgradation and training by using innovative technologies and methodologies.
We cater to a unique type of target learners for our programmes. These include traditional teenage school leavers supported by their families or the state, teens forced into labour market for want of support and are in need of education, new learners who as adults want education/ training for horizontal or vertical mobility on their terms, defense personnel and the digital natives who prefer distance modality to the four-walled regimen. We are the first university in the country may be in the world as well, who made appreciable education interventions initially in Tihar Jail and subsequently in about 94 jails across the country. We provide free education to all the inmates.

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Have you promoted any key initiative in reaching the unreached?

IGNOU has been mandated to reach out to the marginalised sections of our society. We have responded to the need to initiate special measures to attract learners from the disadvantaged groups. An estimated 690 Special Study Centres address specific educational needs of disadvantaged learners.

There is a lot of talk around ICT, digital learning etc. Since IGNOU is expected to make maximum use of ICT for teaching and learning, what steps have you taken towards ICT upgradation and outreach?

The university is keen to harness the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for enhancing the teaching-learning process. IGNOU became a pioneer in delivering technological mediated education in South-East Asia. National and international agencies acknowledge the significance and contribution of IGNOU in offering quality education. The UNESCO described IGNOU as a “… living embodiment of inclusive knowledge societies in a globalised world”. The Government of Japan acknowledge the role of IGNOU in the delivery of telecast/broadcast based education by awarding the third Japanese Grant for the project “Strengthening of Electronic Media Production Centre in Indira Gandhi National Open University” with an outlay of 787 million yen. As a result of this, a high definition studio has been made operational recently. Multi-media form an important feature of self-instructional materials offered by IGNOU to distance learners.
IGNOU has 4,375 video programmes and 2,258 audio programmes which supplement the printed course materials. Recently, we launched web-based broadcast & telecast channels for the benefit of its students across the country and abroad, who will now be able to access high quality curriculum based programmes and get an opportunity to interact with subject experts in real time through this new initiative.

Poor faculty and lack of teachers seem to mar Indian education at all levels. How do you plan to address this challenge at your university?

When we talk of improving quality of our educational interventions, role of a teacher assumes great significance. In order to improve quality of education, capacity building of teachers has to receive top priority. There are lakhs who need to be trained. The conventional system of training imposes lot of limitations in terms of number to be covered by training. The ODL system has the capability and capacity to undertake training of in-service teachers covering large numbers without compromising quality. IGNOU has signed MOAs with Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Sikkim to train about 36,500 inservice teachers. The university has also taken up a project to train about 24,000 in-service teachers, employed by the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan.

There is good amount of stress from the Prime Minister on skill development vis-à-vis actualising the benefits of India’s demographic dividend. How well are universities geared up to address the mismatch between the industry demands and the students’ skills?

I fully agree that skill development in India needs special attention and the Prime Minister had rightly done so. India has set a target of skilling 500 million people by 2022, for which a herculean effort would be required. IGNOU offers several job-oriented programmes in several areas. In particular, I would like to mention about two of them. The first is the Certificate in Motorcycle Service and Repair (CMSR) is aimed towards the structured competency based skill development training for the learners. Any functionally literate person who can read, write and understand and having basic knowledge of motorcycle systems and repair on self-certification basis is eligible for this programme. This is a collaborative project with Hero Motors Limited. The second is Certificate in Bee-Keeping (CIB), which is a skill based programme that requires only an 8th standard qualification.
Consequent upon the Prime Minister’s call of “Skilling India” and in line with the skill development initiatives of MHRD, the university is initiating steps to align some of our existing certificate programmes with the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF). The university has appointed a task force for paying special attention to programmes and courses in vocational and skill based areas. We are also working on our flagship undergraduate programme (B.A. /B.Com) to blend its curriculum with skill-based component so that along with graduation, the students can have some skill competency certification to enhance their employability.

How do you visualise the future of open & distance learning in higher education in India?

The university stands at the threshold of a future envisaged to provide leadership and direction to the ODL system in the country. This brings with it pride at our notable achievements but great responsibility too. This calls for review, reflection, introspection and appropriate action to enhance quality while maintaining and consolidating our best practices. We would like to dedicate ourselves to focus on increasing access, equity and quality. Although, expansion of activities of the university is an achievement in itself, it is equally important to ensure that we consolidate our efforts and design, develop and deliver ‘quality higher education’. It is only the quality of our educational interventions that will help us to make our presence felt nationally and internationally. The importance of technology enabled education, skill development are other changes that we need to keep pace with and to draw advantages. To achieve above, it is important that distance education system is viewed as synergistic with conventional educational systems. The boundary between conventional face-to-face and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) need to be dismantled such that the two approaches are integrative rather than segregating. Given due and equal recognition, ODL will certainly live up to the country’s expectations of providing quality education to the less privileged, upgrade the skills of the aspiring and provide enrichment opportunities wherever they are in demand. n

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