A “Distant” Dream


http://archive.deccanherald.com/Content/May222008/dheducation2008052169197.asp

Distance education could still be the best means of providing higher education for the under-privileged. However finishing the course on time to apply for a job seems too much to expect from the universities offering “correspondence courses”, says Radha Prathi

Distance education programmes are a blessing in disguise to students who want to pursue their university education through correspondence courses. Students pursuing this mode of study have umpteen numbers of reasons for their decision.

Economic, social, distance and time constraints appear to be the predominant rationale in most cases. It is a well known fact that distance education programmes cost much lesser than a regular course all the while providing the luxury of availing the facility at one’s doorstep.

Usually courses in the arts and commerce streams are offered in these courses, as it is easier to circumvent the problems of practical lessons that have to be conducted in laboratories. A survey shows that post graduate courses have a better edge over undergraduate courses and the number of women who take up these courses far exceeds men.

Students pursuing their M Phil or Ph D are usually in the field of education. Many candidates who take up these courses through open universities are usually a motley group in terms of age, calibre, educational background and their agenda for taking up the course is also different. Most candidates who take up these courses are either working or are in the process of adding degrees to their curriculum vitae to boost their profile in the job scene.

When one takes stock of the diversities that an open university— or any university that offers correspondence— it is easy to imagine the mammoth dimensions of the enterprise. Understandably, there is a lot of scope for confusion and melee especially when the examination scene is round the corner. But it was amazing to discover that the students who had enrolled themselves into various courses are still in the dark about the entire system. They have not received any course material, they have not been informed of the contact classes that are conducted towards the end of an academic year and, in some shocking cases, some students have not even received their copy of the syllabus even by March.

Students who study accountancy, statistics and mathematics also prefer to take private classes to grapple with the rudiments of the subject because the material supplied to them was vague. Most students were frustrated with the way the universities stretched the duration of the course beyond the prescribed schedule anywhere between six to eight months sometimes even a year. This appeared to be the uniform criticism of several candidates, who were willing to bare their trials and tribulations at the hands of the university, strictly on conditions of anonymity.

While universities displayed a good deal of alacrity in collecting the fees and fulfiling the admission process, students were largely left high and dry and were expected to fend for themselves for the rest of the course. Every step can be arduous especially for a non-local student who has to invest a good bit of money sometimes amounting to the fees paid in reminding the authorities and following up their requirements from time to time. Syllabus copies, course materials, hall ticket, mark sheet and certificate apparently are extremely difficult to procure on time resulting in interruption of the well-laid plans of the students. Often these documents are mixed up causing agony to students till the matter is set right. Some students mentioned how they lost lucrative job offers as they could not produce their certificate or mark sheet before the given time.

Official grievances

When the officials of the distance education departments of various universities were apprised of the grievances, they voiced their own set of grievances, which began with the major volume of work they handled and most of them were perpetually short staffed or most senior staff were not conversant with using computers which stagnated their work to a large extent.

Moreover, since they did not have an exact idea of the number of students who would be enrolling in the course they always fell short of course material each academic year causing inconvenience to the students. Despite having e-facilities and e-communication for easy access, they found the number of enquiries far too much to handle.

The authorities also pointed out that most students hoping to pursue university education did not know how to fill up an application form properly. Many of them did not bother to intimate the university about the change of address and the most irritating of them were the ones who want to change their courses or drop out of the course after all the database had been created in their names.

Both the students and the officials in the arena of distance education in Bangalore University felt that in spite of all the drawbacks, distance education is here to stay because it caters to the masses at affordable prices and they hope things will get better over time. They hoped that if either party could visualise the setbacks in their area of activity then many issues could be sorted out. Innovative techniques like on-line study material, introduction of a new interactive FM station, SIM mode, EDUSAT programmes and upgraded course material are waiting in the wings of most universities, to be launched in the near future. It appears that there is a silver lining in the cloud after all…

Some like our Bangalore University offers annual scheme to candidates who take up these courses externally.
At the outset, distance education programme offered by various universities appears to be a boon in disguise to the under-privileged and the candidates under economic and social stress. Yet beneath the veneer of silken smoothness of the system, there appears to be a lot of cobblestones.

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