Distance Education and Human Resource Development:Undergraduate Learners’ Perception towards Employability
Ashok Gaba, Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education, IGNOU, INDIA
The quality of labor force is a very important concern with regard to human resource development in a country. This is influenced by the level of development of education and training, and the availability of professional mentors and facilities. Research evidences show that continuing education can improve work efficiency and productivity, and, thereby, contribute to economic growth. Both work efficiency and productivity, besides a certain required level of education, depend upon training and orientation of human resources. These types of activities would include on-the-job training, upgrading courses, and awareness courses, which are possible more through distance education than any other means. Further, this system can raise employment opportunities in many ways, as it helps develop the necessary skills, attitude and motivation to match opportunities to fresh job seekers as well as for self-employment. Recently, there has been increase in demand for skilled labour as a result of globalization and changes in technology and the reorgansiation of work structure. The process of skill development in the informal sector in the developing countries is more important since formal training institutions do not have the capacity to train all those who want to acquire skills, and only a few of those who want to acquire the required skills have the means to afford formal training. It is in this context that the importance of educational planning, particularly the use of distance education for human resource development, becomes important.
Reddy (2002) found that post-graduate and certificate programmes had relatively higher pass rate than the bachelor or diploma programmes in IGNOU. Majority of the programmes (17 of the 40 programmes) had the pass percentage of less than 5 and the grand average pass rate (GAPR) is 8.85 only. In the case of 26 programmes, the average pass rate was less than the GAPR of 8.85 and only 14 programmes had it above GAPR. Evidences from the Certificate in Computing (CIC) and the Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications seem to support the perception that more professional programmes are likely to attract more motivated students, resulting in higher pass rates. The data on professional courses at the bachelor's and master's level indicates otherwise _ both the MBA and MCA, as also BCA and Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com), had very low pass rate.
Similarly, only a few studies have been conducted by scholars on learners' perception towards benefits and employability of distance education. Mullick and Mullick (1995) found that high proportion of students perceived the programme `most useful' for `knowledge enrichment' followed by `professional competencies' and pursuing `higher studies'. However, it was `somewhat useful' for changeover to a better job and/or an organization. As regards the various aspects of the instructional system, the study material and design (syllabus/curriculum) had been opined to be `excellent'.
Raza (2004) reported on the difficulties encountered in measuring outcomes in open and distance learning, and highlighted that the existing studies therefore give rather crude measures in terms of completion, graduation and examination results. Woodley and Parlett (1983), in another study, based on wastage rates i.e. students who withdrew and failed in undergraduate courses in a given year in the university, suggested that outcomes were better in lower level courses, and courses in the social sciences. Woodley (n.d.) found that completing UKOU courses led to a salary increment; 17% stated that the UKOU course had led to a new occupation. The study suggested a significant shift out of existing occupations, particularly for those employed in manual employment and at the lower-end of non-manual strata. A subsequent study by Woodley and Simpson (1999) on rates of return also suggested that while graduation from the University was likely to be associated with increased earnings, the increase was greater for women than for men.
Gaba (1999) examined the experiences of IGNOU graduates in the job market and found that out of the 13.52% of the total graduates whose main reason for joining the course was to get a job, 24% of them had been successful. Of those who desired promotion (10.32%), 28% achieved their goal. Most of the UK studies reported that other types of skills, more than specialised knowledge were being valued by the employers. In their study of survey of employers of university graduates in Sri Lanka, Gunawardena (1997) found that communication skills emerged at the top with almost 37% of employers specifying these skills, followed by the next highest ranked four characteristics as appearance, grooming, manners (31%), interpersonal skills/ability to work in a team/concern for others (29%) and leadership (27%).
A review of related studies indicates that a few ODL programmes had lower pass rate. Employers' views also showed that there was a lack of interaction between industry and distance teaching institutions. Employers also perceived that they were looking for appropriate skills among distance learners at the time of recruitment.
DISTANCE EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
Since independence, there has been significant progress in human resource development in India as reflected in broad indictors viz. improvements registered in educational attainments, health coverage, and in provision of basic social infrastructure. HRD in India is at present characterized by a good deal of imbalance at all kinds in terms of region, gender and levels of education. There are disparities in the secondary and higher levels of education as well as the level of educational attainment of different population. For reducing these disparities, use of modern communication technology has been emphasized, and distance education had been adopted using a variety of means and methods including videoconferencing and computer based learning. Distance education has created the possibility of and has the potential to provide large-scale multi-media education for the development of human resources. At present, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), 13 state open universities (SOUs) and 106 dual-mode university correspondence course institutions (CCIs) offer programmes through open and distance education mode in the country. All these institutions put together enroll about 2.8 million students (i.e. about 28% of the total higher education students), and IGNOU alone shares half of this, i.e. about 1.4 million students on roll, scattered over 32 countries. For such a huge system of education, it is important to ascertain how the students perceive their programme and its employability. The present research was a small attempt towards that direction.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The objectives of the present research were to study:
The study was based on survey method. We had selected the sample of the Bachelor level degree programmes of arts and computer science since these two programmes represent equality of educational opportunity and of professional aspects respactively. Students will have to acquire 96 credits to complete these programme. The objectives of Bachelors' Degree in Arts (BA) programme is to prepare the student to a wide spectrum of fields and can be better understood from the three major components i.e. (i) foundation courses (24 credits) , (ii) Elective course (56 to 64 credits) and (iii) Application-Oriented Courses (8 to 16 credits). The broad objective of BCA programme is to provide an understanding and skills related to the use of computer and its applications at the undergraduate level. The programme had been designed with special focus on the current applications in computing.
A questionnaire developed by the researchers was administered among a randomly selected 307 graduates - BCA (N=204) and BA (N=103) programmes - who came to attend the 17th convocation at the university head quarter on 18th February, 2006. The 10- item questionnaire covered various aspects relating to learners profile, goals to pursue the programme completion, constraints in completion of their progrmme, learners' perception of the value of distance education degree and factors responsible for completion of their respective programme, and perception of employability of their respective distance education programme. The profiles of the learners are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Respondents' socio economic profile
The findings of the survey focus mainly on three areas: (i) individual goals to pursue the programme; (ii) problems faced by the learners during programme completion; and (iii) their perception towards employability. The findings of the survey are presented as follows:
Perception About the Programme
Constraints in the successful programme completion
The results are given in Table 2. The survey showed that more than half of the respondents `disagreed' with the statements: that
Table 2: Respondents' views on problem on which affected/created constraints in the successful completion of their respective programmes (in %)
Note: Scoring was done as:1= Agree, 2= Disagree and 3= Can't say
However, half of the respondents were `agreed' with the statements that feedback on assignments came too late and the course material did not have enough practical components which affected the successful completion of their respective programme. Quite a majority of the respondents also agreed with the statements that it was difficult to contact staff at study centre (40%); the feedback they received on assignment was not very helpful (34%); the assignment grade was not incorporated in final grade card at the time of the term-end-examination (34%); course material were not despatched to them on time (32%); and the examination did not reflect the learning materials they read.
PERCEPTION TOWARDS EMPLOYABILITY
Most of the respondents (41%) informed that they perceived their present degree will help them in achieving higher education; to get a new job (30%), and get promotion (18%) in their present job. However, a few respondents perceived their present degree will help them in changing their present job (4%); for social aspects like marriage etc (4%); and for self-business (3%). Contradiction was observed in the views of the graduates. For instance, those who said that their goal was to get job; a few of them also informed that they perceived the degree will help them in pursuing higher education. On the other hand, those respondents who said that their goal was to pursue higher education after their degree; a few of them said they perceived degree will help them in getting a job. Of the 41% respondents who perceived their present degree will help them in achieving higher education, 72% of them were male and 24% hod rural background.
It is observed from the above analysis that most of the respondents joined the DE system because of its flexible characteristics and with the purpose of manly getting a job. They perceived their degree to be help in continuing education and getting a new job. Holmberg (1985) points out that there is no evidence to indicate that distance learners should be regarded as homogenous group. However, Gibson (1998, 10) indicates that distance learners do share broad demographic and situational similarities that have often provided the basis for profiles of the `typical' distance learner in higher education. The case will be very different, if the idea is to develop skills of the learners. One has to be careful in using distance education strategies for skill development, because there has to be greater physical participation and involvement of the target groups of the population in skill generation. These types of skills are available in industries, and they can be demonstrated to different target groups of learners through suitable ICT interventions. Using ICT in ODL will help update the existing skills of learners and also generate new skills among them. Further education can raise the employment opportunities in many ways, as it helps develop the necessary skills, attitude and motivation to match opportunities-wage-employment as well as self-employment. In our study, most of the students perceived that they will utilise their degree in pursuing higher education, and will also eventually get a job.
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