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VOL XLII NO 31 New Delhi, July24, 2004

Distance Education in Delhi University


The Great Academic Divide

V.P.Jain

Introduction

It is admission time in Delhi University In the year 1985.


(DU), and the annual scrabble for university It is an irony that while the latecomers in
places has started. The DU’s regular courses’ the field have graduated into faculties and
seat strength of about 43,000 would leave universities, the School which was a
out twice as many disappointed. This pioneering institution of its kind has been
residual will be pushed to what is, languishing for want of adequate
euphemistically, called the non-formal institutional support. The institution is no
stream, the School of Correspondence more than an “academic parking lot” for the
Courses (renamed as the School of Open surplus students: the university officials
Learning) admitting the bulk of them. In have been more than content only to use it
fact, the total intake in the School would be as a buffer to absorb the pressure of
more than the enrollment in all the colleges thousands of admission-seekers every year
taken together, that is, more than fifty who fail to get admission in the regular
thousand. It would be worthwhile to ponder stream in the colleges. With swarms of
over their fate. First the profile: students, and no worthwhile academic
package and virtually no facilities, the
The beginning in Distance institution has earned the dubious distinction
Education in the country was made with the of being termed as an ‘academic slum’.
establishment of the School of
Correspondence Courses, in Delhi
University, as a pilot project in 1962. Soon, Contrary to the propaganda to paint
the initiative was replicated all over the the School as a shining institution (see
country: Institutions of distance learning School Newsletter), the overall dimensions
mushroomed in every State, and a milestone of the brutal exclusion of the students from
was created with the opening of the Indira the mainstream education in the university
Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) are quite staggering.

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Course Options been a constant refrain: various committees
(for example, the Panchapakesan Committee
The students of the School are way back in 1996-97) have drawn up plans,
discriminated against with respect to the N number of times, to set up regional
range of courses and subject options. The centres earlier also (and accepted by the
School offers only BA (P), B.Com (P) and Executive Council and Academic Council).
three Honours courses at the undergraduate Once again, the AC has reaffirmed its faith
level, namely, English (H), Political Science in the proposal, in the recently adopted
(H) and B.Com (H) for a student population ordinance to rename the SCC as the School
of more than one lakh. The subject options of Open Learning (SOL). But when it comes
in BA (P), which accounts for the bulk of to implementing the proposal, we are
enrollment, is limited only to half-a-dozen suddenly gripped by the procrasti-nation
or so of outdated and outmoded courses, psychosis, and every VC has, at least so far,
from a pool of well over fifty programmes left it to his successor to accomplish the
(traditional and job oriented) available in the task.
formal stream (see DU Information We sincerely hope that the present
Bulletin). Ever since the School was started regime (which has, of course, already
in 1962, not a single department in the completed four years of its five-year tenure)
university (there are more than eighty) has would be able to come out of the ‘do-loop’
cared to design and develop a new and save the chaotic situation that continues
curriculum, especially for the students of the to deepen with more and more students
School. Such is the deep-seated bias against huddled into the non-formal stream every
the distance mode that most of the year. Imagine the plight of one-and-a-lakh
departments have even refused to extend students who are required to commute long
their routine courses, for example, distances to the School, even for petty
Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy, just to academic and administrative work. One
name a few, to the students of the School. often witnesses mile long queues at the
Twenty job oriented courses are available in various counters and nobody to help the
the formal stream, but only one in the harassed lot.
School. No science courses are offered. It is
a pity that the IGNOU, which started much Self-Study Centres
later in the field of distance education, offers
a wide spectrum of courses (more than The success of Britain’s Open University, as
seventy) in science, social science, well as the IGNOU, owes much to the
humanities and ICT, while Delhi University network of self-study centres. The IGNOU,
is quite content to be a laggard. A law must for example, is serviced by an efficient and
be enacted to make it mandatory for all the effective networking of more than 25
departments to extend all their courses for regional centres and more than 500 study
the students of the non-formal stream also. centres all over India. The Open Campus
(approved by the AC and EC) has been
Decentralisation designed to organised itself with a chain of
self-study centres, spread all over the city,
The School has on its rolls one-and-a-half with elaborate paraphernalia as learning
lakh students, and they are squeezed into a support system: a decent library (both
college structure which was designed to printed and electronic study material),
accommodate a maximum of only ten audio-visual teaching aids, computer
thousand students. A regional centre was network and tutors. It is an irony that the
opened in South Delhi at Moti Bagh, way university has not bothered to open a single
back in the 1970s, to cope with the situation. such centre so far.
That was the beginning and end of the The self-study centres can be located in
decentralisation process, even though it has various colleges of the university. The

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sharing of the infrastructure between the which has a lone member, has been on leave
regular students of the colleges and the for more than six years, and yet the
students of the Open Campus (that includes Department functions (or does not function)
the School of Open Learning) can be as well as other departments.
worked out in an optimal manner to the It is unbelievable that, till date, the
advantage of both. The campus can finance School, an institution of distance learning,
creation of the necessary infrastructure, both does not have a website of its own, even
hardware and software and networking though several colleges in the formal sector
requirements. The willing teaching faculty have launched the facility already. A School
of the colleges can be associated with the web-site (scc-col.netfirms.com) was
academic programmes of the Campus as an launched last year, at the personal initiative
adjunct faculty: to develop new courses, taken by some faculty members, to
participate in personal contact programmes, demonstrate how simple the task is.
organise practical classes for science based Thousands of queries from students are
courses and help the Campus students as received everyday, in the sub-domain of the
tutors in the self-study centres. The self- university computer centre, which remain
study centres will be integrated with the unanswered. The School continues to
Open Campus by computer network and will observe a five-day week, in open defiance of
have the facility to download study material the university directive to reschedule it to a
of choice, fortified with self-help on-line six-day week. The Staff Council of the
collaborative tutorial systems. School was not convened to constitute the
mandatory Academic Supervisory
Faculty-support System Committee to monitor all academic
programmes in the School.
The faculty-support system of counselling
(the primary job of the faculty in the School) Finance
was done away with in the last academic
session. The academic schedule of the Distance education is cost effective in
teaching faculty was neither prepared nor various ways. Distance learning often
notified to the students. Every college in the operates at more efficient teacher/student
university implemented the teaching ratio. The School has a teaching faculty of
schedule last year, as per the directions of about sixty for a student population of one-
the Academic Reforms Committee, on the and-a-half lakh. Several studies have
first working day after the vacations, that is, established that the unit cost in distance
on July 16 itself. The other student support education is distinctly lower than in the
system, namely, the student response sheet conventional mode. On an average, the
(SRS feed-back mechanism) has virtually financial deficit per college is estimated to
ceased to exist, and no attempt has been be of the order of five to six crores of rupees
made to revive it. The study material also per year. The total deficit for all the colleges
continues to be prepared in the old fashioned in the university comes to more than five
non-interactive mode. hundred crores per year. In sharp contrast to
No systematic study has ever been made this, the estimated deficit for the School,
to study the staffing pattern in the School, which caters to more students than the
which is highly asymmetrical. In a set-up combined strength of all the colleges taken
where the economies of scale are positive, together, is no more than the average of only
the large number of students enrolled should one college (that is, six crores). The UGC
be a boon. Of the thirteen departments, five has declined to meet even this small deficit
departments are one-member faculties. The which is negligible (a few hundred rupees
Department of Education, for example, per student per year).

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Privatisation of Education Department of Distance Education

The MC of the School, which is a nominated The university operationalised the


body of the university, does not have a Department of Distance Education by
single member from the area of distance appointing an OSD of the Department two
education. What is more, the university has years ago. However, the Department has
thought it fit to appoint a practicing CA ceased to be operative without assigning any
(what are his credentials as an educationist, reason. It is shocking that the Department of
lesser still as an expert in distance Distance Education, which is to play a
education?) in the MC, even though the pivotal role in furthering core competence in
university Treasurer is an ex-officio the area of distance education in the
member. As was apprehended the MC has university, should be put in a limbo in this
already pushed the agenda of privatisation: fashion. The Department is expected to offer
one-and-a-half lakh marginalised students of academic programmes leading to
the School have been forced to finance their Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees in
own education to implement the “user pays distance education. It is also designed to
principle” (Birla Ambani report) by develop expertise to help produce courses
resorting to unprecedented hike in the tuition for delivery through the distance education
fee (hundred per cent), while their elite mode, and also to actively involve in
counterparts in the colleges would continue research, training and extension education
to be subsidised to the tune of five hundred activities. It should be borne in mind that the
crores per year. Department of Distance Education is not an
exclusive preserve of the Campus of Open
Examination Learning (as per the new ordinance), and is
well within its rights to float its courses in
The examination system in the university the formal steam also (like the Department
has lost all the credibility it once enjoyed. of Education). Similarly, all other
The School has been forced to adopt the Departments in the university (five have
same format with disastrous consequences. already done so) are expected to go online
One of the serious problems with the and offer their courses online, in the Campus
examination of the students of the School is of Open Learning.
the inordinate delay in the evaluation of the
scripts and declaration of the results. Several Post-Graduate Studies
computer based on-line examination modes
are available and more can be developed for The VC appointed Director, Campus of
the students of the Open Campus. The Open Learning (COL) in the year 2002.
university has introduced a system of With the appointment of the Director of the
internal evaluation as part of the Campus of Open Learning, the third
examination reforms. However, the system campus, as a virtual campus is supposed to
has not been extended to the students of the have come into existence in the university.
School. The most sordid tale pertains to the In contrast to the North and South
failure to work out a mechanism for Campuses, which specialise in the formal
internal-evaluation for these students teaching mode, the Open Campus has a
because there is no e-learning platform specific distance learning focus. All the
created, nor is there any attempt to do so. departments in the university conduct post-
Consequently, the annual examination of the graduate teaching, either in the North
students of School was held as a separate Campus, or in the South Campus, or in both.
entity, called category B, and they stand With the new dispensation, rationality
further segregated and downgraded, may be demands that the Departments offering PG
a prelude to awarding a separate degree. courses through distance mode organise

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their programmes in the newly created e- Learning, a damp squib. The School of
learning space, that is, the Campus of Open Open Learning would, in no sense, be a
Learning. The proposal to continue to use revamp, unless it is embedded in the e-
the School as a surrogate for the Campus of learning space, that is, the Campus of Open
Open Learning for post-graduate teaching Learning, which as an alternative roadmap is
(where the courses taught are university designed to promote distance education in
level courses), is seriously flawed and, if the university by rationalising the academic
implemented, will render the third campus product portfolios.
superfluous, a self-defeating exercise. It is unfortunate that the university got
How long will the post-graduate embroiled in an unnecessary controversy
students belonging to the distance education regarding the imple-mentation of the
stream be used as guinea-pigs for the benefit Chandrashekhar Rao Committee report, a
of a faculty not considered upto the mark by case of heightened expectations, which only
the university (the AC and the EC have served to obscure the substantive agenda,
rejected the recommendation to accord that is, the creation of the platform of
departmental status to the School faculty)? It distance (e-learning) education. Now, that
is pertinent to note that the students in the the issue has been sorted out, all efforts
formal stream have the privilege to be taught should be made to commission the recently
by the Professor level faculty in the created computer network in the university,
Departments, and thus, have an obvious so promising a gift as the e-learning space,
advantage over the students of the non- to further distance education in the
formal stream. The basic idea of university. The computer network as the
restructuring was precisely to assimilate virtual campus, with requisite support from
these underprivileged students also in the various faculties, is precisely what would
mainstream, by shifting all post-graduate constitute the Campus of Open Learning.
teaching from the School to the concerned The Open Campus would organise on-line
Departments in the new set-up of the learning applications which would include
university, within the institutional delivery of course material and course
framework of the Campus of Open modules, access to library collection and
Learning, where it actually belongs. media archives, discussion groups and chat
However, the distinguished teachers of the rooms, assignment submission and return
School can be associated with post-graduate system, and self-assessment tests as part of
teaching in the Departments as guest faculty, internal evaluation.
as part of cooperative teaching in the The Campus of Open Learning, by
university. The School, like any other drawing the best talents in the university,
college, should concentrate on under- will innovate and design curricula, develop
graduate teaching. teaching methodologies and systems of
evaluation for the students of the open
Campus of Open Learning campus as a special target group. The
Campus would, thus, provide an open
In spite of all the media hype to convert the platform for shared academic activities in
School into the Campus of Open Learning, a the domain of course design, instruction and
metaphorical conversion (the Campus of evaluation, which would revitalise and
Open Learning is not an institution), which stimulate an otherwise stagnating teaching
entailed a paradigm shift to make distance and learning environment. The university,
education integral to the university system with the convergence of the formal and the
as an all-embracing phenomenon, all that the non-formal system of education, will thus
university has succeeded in doing, perhaps become a full-fledged dual mode institution.
taking its cue from Oscar Wild’s The It is a pity that the Director, Campus of
Importance of being Ernest, is to re-christen Open Learning was appointed two years
the institution as the School of Open ago, and also given a grant of rupees fifty

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lakhs, yet the ‘expression profile’ of the extra-curricular activities, remain confined
campus, a new education paradigm, is not to the students of the formal sector only.
visible. It is a pity that by not giving
concrete shape to the Campus of Open Conclusion
Learning, we are missing a great opportunity
to innovate and experiment, by adapting to Given the elite character of the university,
meet the challenges of the new millennium. the resistance to accord a fair deal to
thousands of segregated, marginalised
students is understandable: the restructuring
Extra-Curricular Activities of the School as the Campus of Open
Learning is an initiative, essentially, in the
The academic strides apart, high profile direction of social re-engineering. Most of
colleges make sure that their students are the students of the School come from
also well versed in various extra-curricular marginalised and socially disadvantaged
activities (ECA). From a broader sections of the society, the poorest social
perspective, the sustained success of these strata accounting for the bulk of the
high ranking colleges can be attributed to enrollment. The egalitarian conception, that
their emphasis on all round personality everyone has a right to an education
development of their students, by enriching appropriate to one’s potential, and that every
their cultural and emotional domains. institution must offer students, from rich and
Anybody heard of ECA for the students of poor families alike, the chance to realise it
the School? Of course, they don’t count: fully, is the only democratic standard. If,
presumably, they are not going to assume however, distance education technology is to
leadership roles in society, so why bother? be used only as a pretence to let thousands
There are immense possibilities though: all of marginalised students to merely exercise
kinds of online discussion groups and hobby their democratic rights to higher education,
groups and chat groups are proliferating all whatever it may mean, as appears to be the
over the globe. Only if we take notice and case in Delhi University, one has to
give a helping hand. It, however, needs a seriously ponder over its legitimacy. The
different mind-set and a vision and university then must exercise its right to re-
commitment for the underprivileged, by interpret to block or even to turn aside, such
providing a level playing field. an exclusionist policy direction (namely, the
It is sad that the School continues to be Model Act) by asserting its academic
treated with disdain, and accorded step- autonomy. The merit of any policy,
motherly treatment. For years no new course including the policy of educaton, has to be
has been introduced, no new facility like the judged by the 'Rawlsian Difference
study centres created or regional centres Principle' or the Gandhian dictum that
added. It is not surprising that the School requires maximising the advantage of the
has the highest dropout/failure rate in the worst off, and not the already privileged.
University. The university continues to
pursue policies of exclusion so far as the V.P.Jain
students of the non-formal stream are
concerned. All the reforms enacted so far, be Department of Economics,School of Open
it innovative courses, examination reforms, Learning, University of Delhi.

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