Education is an organic entity; it dynamically evolves to meet new and emerging requirements. Therefore, the education system in general and every institution in particular is expected to introspect constantly to evaluate its relevance in contemporary scenario. The emergence of knowledge society powered by revolutionary developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and their integrated applications in delivery of education in the 21 st century has changed the pace of transformation. Now knowledge, rather than labour and capital, is the basic resource to create wealth. The range of media and tools that have become available to us for transmission, storage and retrieval of data are amazing in terms of their efficiency, versatility flexibility, economy and productivity. These have enhanced the reach of the word of mouth to such an extent that now omnipresent (any where, any time) education for all and life long learning for continuous professional development have become a reality. The Internet mediated virtual conferencing for PCF-4 began a month before the actual event; the University of the South Pacific manages to reach its learners on isolated atolls in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean through satellite based USPNET and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) presents the best teachers simultaneously to its entire student population inhabitating backhole districts, Andaman and Nicobar islands, villages and metro cities all over the country through 134 video-conferencing centres, more than 800 teleconferencing centres, 26 FM radio stations under Gyan Vani cooperative, four educational TV channels under Gyan Darshan , 186 radio stations of All India Radio and 486 community based Information Centres in the North-East.
IGNOU is singularly privileged and placed; it has already digitised its learning materials and placed the same in the electronic repository, named, eGyan Kosh . It is also participating in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, GoI initiative of one stop Educational Portal – Sakshat – for students of all levels (K20) and achievements as well as other knowledge workers for indigenous capacity building. The best e-materials developed in-country are being uploaded and those available as open resource are being hyper-linked. To facilitate free access of these resources to students, broadband connectivity is being provided by GoI to all schools, colleges and university departments at no cost to them. This has genesis in the belief that deploying latest ICTs will facilitate equitable access to educational opportunities to all and help indigenous capacity building and raise the standard of education and training, particularly to those engaged in learning at a distance, and equip the society for meeting tomorrow's needs at work.
ICTs and Capacity Building
A very significant impact of technology on education is the advent of porous transnational borders due to electronification, globalisation and commodification of education as marketable good/service in the WTO supported GATS era. Many leading universities from the developed world have, on their own or as a part of consortia, not only transcended their national boundaries for offering education abroad (on-line or off-line) but are also vying with each other for market space. It is important to realise that such efforts should supplement the growth of local educational institutions, particularly in small nation states by raising standards of their offering and contextualisation of content rather than being dictated by economic considerations. IGNOU has its presence in 35 countries, as of now. The Pan-African tele-education & tele-medicine initiative of Government of India, which shall connect all 53 African Union member states through a satellite, fibre optic and wireless networks should be seen as an efforts towards capacity building across cultures in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutmbakam , the World is one family. The project is likely to be inaugurated by the end of 2006 and Ethopia has been selected as the first country to benefit from the pilot phase. (South Africa, Mauritius and Ghana have also been shortlisted for the pilot.) The network will connect five universities (two in India and three in Africa) to 53 learning centres for tele-education and 10 super-speciality hospitals (three in India and seven in Africa) to 53 remote hospitals for tele-medicine. (The main objective of the tele-medicine network will be to share the knowledge of Indian medical professionals with their African counterparts through on-line training programmes for nurses, paramedical staff and other health workers (Jokivirta, 2006).) Five universities are being equipped with tele-education studios, including post-production facilities, data centres, and a portal comprising delivery system software. Recently, COMESA has shown keen interest in accelerating these efforts.
The students enrolling in tele-education programmes shall get access to e-materials and satellite-mediated interactive support. These could be easily extended to Pan- Commonwealth nation states as well. The point we wish to make is that ICTs are helping us to achieve a major goal of capacity building by integrating people, societies, cultures and nations, promoting international understanding through bilaterial and multilaterial strategic collaborations and partnerships between educational institutions and bridging the digital divide. We are collaborating with University of South Africa (UNISA), South Africa; Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE) and Mauritius College of the Air (MCA), Mauritius; Payame Noor University (PNU) Iran; National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Nigeria; Tanjania Open University (TOU), Tanzania; Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya; University of Fiji (UniFiji), Fiji; Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), UK; Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Pakistan; Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), Sri Lanka; Bangladesh Open University (BOU), Bangladesh; Wawasan University College (WUC), Malaysia to mention a few.
Another dimension of the use of technology in Open Distance Learning for capacity building is the change in the face of distance education from poor cousin of mainstream classroom education to an independent system, endowed with tremendous capacity and capability to cater to the needs of education for all at reasonable cost. That is, it has capability to address all the vectors of Nigvekar Pentagon (Daniel, 2004), provided some basic conditions are met. In India, having enrolled about three and a half million learners, the ODL system caters to every fourth student in higher education. In the period 2007-12, the nation targets to double its total enrolment in higher education in order to realise Mission 2020. To meet the challenge, ODL system is being mandated to increase its share to about 40% and accommodate the flux arising out of universalisation of elementary education. That is, we are going through a time of greater expectations and need to give impetus to open learning based knowledge revolution. Though catering to large numbers brings associated challenges, education for more students from our system means greater contribution towards national development. The fact that every tenth student seeking higher education in the country is studying with IGNOU is a great motivating factor and source of satisfaction for us.
It is now well known that use of ICTs provides advantages of greater flexibity in the location of educational experience (home or workplace), wide choice of market-centric, inter-disciplinary courses/programmes, global curriculum, best practices and experiences, on-demand admission and examination and value addition in the education of the disadvantaged (physically, socially, economically geographically, gender inequality). We can educate or train even visually impaired by using speech software and communication disabled by using visual software. We are developing MBA materials for the visually impaired in collaboration with National Blind Association, New Delhi and hearing impaired with All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore. IGNOU offers 130 programmes spread over 1,100 courses using front-ended technology like video-conferencing and Internet. Special centres have been created (for jail inmates, minorities, females, physically challenged and rural poor) to harness technology for imparting, assessing and accrediting skills and competencies. With 1.43 million cumulative learner population and an annual intake of more than four hundred twenty nine thousand, we cater to about 10% of total students enrolled in higher education in the country through a network of 64 Regional Centres (RCs), six Sub-Regional Centres (SRCs), 1400 Learner Centres (LCs) and Forty One Partner Institutions (PIs) in 35 countries. The RCs, SRCs and majority of the SCs have been equipped with video or teleconferencing facilities. The University is in the process of providing broadband connectivity to all its LCs so as to bring the vast e-resources within the easy reach of its learners and facilitate faster interaction.
One of the most striking shifts introduced by the use of ICTs in education is the change in the role of teachers from being ‘repertoire of knowledge' to ‘facilitator for access to and comprehension of learning resources' as well as of institutions from ‘ivory towers' in four walls to ‘globally distributed' classrooms. In fact, campus based institutions are likely to fast become ‘obsolete and unsuited' to present day requirements and pave way for virtual universities, which can provide rich-computer simulated learning environment where difficult to visualise phenomena can be demonstrated convincingly and the latest findings can be shared synchronously as well as asynchronously with value addition. Other important characteristics of virtual universities shall include year round operations, inter-disciplinary market-driven courses on demand anywhere on the globe. Moreover, the student, as customer, shall be at the focus of all operations. The knowledge society shall create a new paradigm powered by capacity for innovations.
Though technology mediated learning has capacity to cater to vast numbers efficiently and in-expensively without any incongruence, it is important to appreciate that technology alone cannot ensure quality; in this ‘gold rush', man behind the machine occupies a prominent place. Therefore, to support advances in ICTs, impart instruction and transact curriculum meaningfully, it is absolutely necessary not only to possess a critical mass of highly motivated and trained human capital, but also to continuously upgrade their skills. Taking its lessons from the offer of Internet based programmes, such as Bachelors and Masters in Computer Applications, IGNOU put appropriately trained personnel in place before taking the lead and responsibility to train learners through its virtual campus initiative for national and international markets by putting on offer its Bachelors of Information Technology and Advanced Diploma in Information Technology programmes. Post-Graduate Diploma in Library Automation and Networking, Post Graduate Certificate in Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Certificate in Food Safety, Certificate in ICT Applications in Library among others are on offer on-line for capacity building. However, such programmes are also influenced by institutional culture and societal practices.
National Human Resource Needs for Knowledge Economy
Knowledge is known to double every five to ten years. It means that knowledge increases by a factor of 2 3 to 2 6 in the active professional life (of about 30 years) of an individual. This brings forth the additional requirement for life-long learning for continuous professional development through training and re-training in all areas for integrated and sustainable national development. In India, the numbers are very large and the capacity of face-to-face (F2F) system is comparatively limited. As of now, the higher education system caters to less than 10% of the 17-23 years age group. So it fails to quickly accommodate requirements arising out of new governmental policies. Lack of adequate funds for education sector and non-availability of intellectual resources further add to their problems. In view of such constraints, New Education Policy (NPE, 1986) and Programme of Action (POA, 1992) and subsequent Five Year Plan documents laid particular emphasis on the use of ICTs to meet human resource requirements for knowledge economy.
Consider the scenario where about 3.6 million primary school teachers are to be trained to improve quality of classroom transaction but without being withdrawn from work. The existing F2F institutions cannot meet this demand in 100 years. Obviously, we have no option but to use ICTs. IGNOU trained several thousand teachers in the North-Eastern States of India by creating ICT infrastructure comprising Direct Reception Sites, and videoconferencing centres. In the last two years, 27,000 primary school teachers in Jharkhand, 8,000 teachers from Chhattisgarh, and 15,000 teachers from J&K were registered as sponsored candidates from their respective State Governments. About 200,000 teachers are likely to be sponsored by the State Govt. of Bihar. The same is true for newly created states as well as educationally backward states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal etc. We are also using radio for academic counselling (on week days) and interactive radio counselling (on Sundays). In the last decade, the University provided education and training to nearly 150,000 students in Masters level programmes in Computer Applications and IT (Dikshit, 2006). The point we wish to make is that ICT powered ODL system is particularly suited for human capacity development. Our argument is supported by Evans (1994): “One feature of contemporary societies is the increased demand for education and training on the part of employers. Degrees are now becoming – formally or informally – the basic entry qualification for many public and private sector organisations, and for those already within such organisations, a degree is often seen as a necessary – although not usually sufficient – qualification for promotion. The pressure is thus applied to employed people to enter into the ‘qualifications chase' and what better way to do it than through open or distance education?” Such priorities are also reflected in our Vision Statement:
Indira Gandhi National Open University, the national resource centre for open and distance learning with international recognition and presence, shall provide seamless access to sustainable quality education, skill upgradation and training to all by using innovative technologies and methodologies and ensuring convergence of existing systems for massive human resource required for promoting integrated national development and global understanding.
India successfully used radio and TV to bring about Green Revolution and White Revolution by creating awareness among the farmers. ICTs are now being used to bring about second green revolution by providing information about improvement in agricultural practices. Focussed groups are being empowered through training to process and market their produce, develop entrepreneurship and cooperative movement and making land records available through community tele-learning centres.
Khan (1999) argues that with unfolding of knowledge society, every country, particularly in the developing world, will have to consider a new framework for ODL system based on emerging realities such as transition in work, lifelong skilling/re-skilling of knowledge workers, convergence of information and communication technologies for dissemination of quality education and creation, accumulation and harnessing new knowledge for economic growth. The key elements of technology driven approach are: conformity to the demands of pedagogical considerations and availability, accessibility and usability of appropriate technologies (Visser, 1999) for equity in the share of learning resources.
To develop appropriate strategies for meeting such unfolding requirements of knowledge economy and generate national consensus, GoI appointed National Knowledge Commission in June, 2005 with the task to suggest steps that will enable India to “leapfrog in the race for social and economic development.” The Commission is revisiting Human Resource Planning and Development Policies and working out strategies for consolidating the competitive edge enjoyed by the Indian IT sector (and knowledge workers engaged there-in) and mapping new areas of R&D and segments of economy that would require knowledge based inputs to occupy centre-stage in foreseeable future. A sub-group is working on Open and Distance Learning as well. The educational institutions would then have to design appropriate curriculum and training programmes for human resource development and capacity building. Looking into our diversity and heterogeneity, we will have to share best practices, materials and experiences, forge multi-dimensional collaborations and partnerships in a networked environment with national as well as international educational institutions/organisations, corporate and industrial houses, particularly in new fields. IGNOU signed an MoU with WIPO to develop a Post-Graduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Rights. WIPO Academy officials interact with learners through video-conferencing sessions, which are very well received by the learners.
The Services Sector is fast evolving in India but the provisions for preparing human capital for a globally competitive market are fairly limited. Though a beginning has been made at IGNOU in this direction in collaboration with governmental agencies, a lot needs to be done to develop high quality certificate, diploma and degree (Bachelors and Masters) level programmes for generating managers as well as frontline skilled workers. The same is true for design, tourism, banking and insurance sectors. These efforts have to be innovative and different. For international offerings, the materials should be contextualised in collaboration with partner institution(s). However, the ‘economies of scale', better efficiency and learner satisfaction are pre-requisite for sustainability of the endeavour.
Systemic and Institutional Intervention Strategies
The demand for quality higher education is so large and the growth of specialised knowledge is so fast that it is extremely difficult for any single educational institution to meet the demand for relevant and just-in-time education by designing, developing and delivering programme on its own. In the present educational scenario, the institutions have to offer what learners need. This requires wide expertise and calls for systemic and institutional intervention strategies by way of
- sharing expertise to pool wisdom for imparting best education;
- sharing course materials, both print and electronic, even offering joint programmes, with other institutions. The partnering institutions can adapt materials as per local requirements or adopt as such or translate into regional language;
- facilitate development of conducive environment for distance education and share technical know-how to create in-house capacity building through faculty exchange;
- sharing infrastructure – SCs, DRS, VCC and intellectual resources (counsellors, coordinators, evaluators);
- designing frameworks for emerging needs such as Food Security, Health for All, Universalisation of Education, Gender Equality and Eradication of extreme poverty; and
- bringing new target groups, particularly the challenged and destitute within the scope of educational provisions.
At the institution level, IGNOU has a very rich and reassuring experience of forging bilateral and multilateral national, regional and international collaborations. We are sharing FM radio stations, EduSat supported Interactive Terminals Network, expertise for capacity building and making our programmes available to all other institutions through common pool of best materials created in Distance Education Council (DEC); the apex authority to support and regulate offer of distance education. DEC is also collaborating with National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), University Grants Commission (UGC), Dental Council of India (DCI), to mention a few. At the systemic level however, seamless convergence of all systems (conventional, ODL, public and private, organised and unorganised) for facilitating learner mobility is yet to be achieved in spite of many initiatives of MHRD. This is essentially because of lack of appreciation of mutual strengths and weaknesses. For a system short on funds, it is imperative to reach such consensus and sooner it is done, better would it be. At the regional level, under SAARC Consortium for Open and Distance Learning, we are cooperating with open universities and institutions of distance learning. Under international partnerships, we are collaborating with mega universities and international agencies (COL, ComSec, World Bank, WHO, UNICEF) with the sole purpose of improving the quality of education.
ICT led Initiatives (Open Source, Digital Repositories, Open Education Resources, etc.) in vogue
ICT led initiatives have enormous implications for ODL system to meet the challenges of the societal change as a result of globalisation and development of the knowledge economy. Appropriateness of technology for educational purposes depends on two important principles: the economics of sustainability and adoption of innovative practices (Moore, 2002). In this context, open source applications have major implications. From the economic point of view, exhorbitant price of license and maintenance of proprietary course management and learning management systems hinder their mass adoption by ODL institutions. Earlier the institutions had the option of either to go for proprietary software or develop their own applications. Both involved high investment in terms of hardware and human resources.
Open source applications based on community source model have now opened up a third option, which is revolutionizing the education scenario. Open source applications in the educational context can be categorised as knowledgeware and courseware (Wheeler, 2004). On the knowledgeware front, LMS and CMS applications like Moodle, ATutor etc. are becoming very popular and many ODL systems are adopting them. In many cases, popular applications, like BlackBoard or WebCT, are being replaced by open source applications. On the courseware front, the concept of open access is gradually gaining ground. It is gradually being felt that to facilitate and nurture flexible learning communities, education system needs to draw on the collective intellectual capital and wisdom (of educators). Based on this premise, many innovative projects like MIT's OpenCourseWare or the MERLOT projects were initiated. Many ODL institutions are also developing their own digital repositories of learning objects and resources. IGNOU is developing national digital repository eGyanKosh as an open resource with facility of videostreaming. It is being hyperlinked to the Sakshat portal of MHRD, GoI, mentioned earlier.
Open source applications based on free exchange of ideas and collaborative creation model can revolutionise ODL scenario and pave a way for innovative models for teaching and learning. Many ODL institutions are now adopting open source applications as a major part of their development strategy. However, it is pertinent to have a deeper look into their interactivity aspect; simple digitisation of print material may not be of much use. Moreover, sustainability of these applications in the long run is another issue of concern. Some educationists and practitioners are also concerned about the IPR and other related issues. For longer lasting impact, it is important to garner community support for the open sources and open access movement (and harness cost and quality factors).
Attracting, Nurturing and Retaining Talent in ODL
It is now widely accepted that use of ICTs in education has enabled ODL system to reposition the objectives of educational institutions and redefine priorities of educational planners. With phenomenal growth and significant contribution to dissemination of knowledge, we have to make academic offerings at the cutting edge of technology. This tremendous role necessitates attracting the best talent with experience, expertise, commitment, dedication and capability. Since most of them are products of the conventional F2F system, the inertia persists and they find it difficult to adjust at least initially. Therefore, to retain them in the system, it is absolutely necessary to reorient them and nurture their talent. This requires every institution to put in place human resource skilling mechanisms for continuous professional development. Therefore, it would be prudent to apprise the new appointees at the time of their induction in the system of their role and responsibilities as a multiskilled professional who cares for the ‘customer' to achieve institutional goals. Organisation of brainstorming sessions, workshops, roundtables, conferences etc. at regular intervals should enhance their sensitivity towards learners as well as research capabilities, particularly in interactive multimedia and on-line teaching-learning. Allowing the faculty to participate in exchange programmes and facilitating interaction with eminent experts invited as visiting/adjunct faculty could be used as a part of motivating strategy. IGNOU, through Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education (STRIDE), Inter-University Consortium for Technology-Enabled Flexible Education and Development (IUC-TEFED) and Electronic Media Production Centre (EMPC) and National Centre for Innovations in Distance Education (NCIDE) conduct such programmes for all categories of staff periodically.
Emerging Applications for Capacity Building
Direct to Home (DTH) platform was introduced in India in 2005 by Prasar Bharti, the apex governmental agency to monitor and regulate the use of TV. It included one of the six channels of our GD educational TV free of cost. This provided as an excellent opportunity to expand our reach to the remotest regions of the country. Now it is likely to carry four channels of GD, including Distance Education, Technology and Higher Education. An emerging but very powerful technology is based on the mobile devices. We know that mobile devices can be used as pocket radio and pocket PC for Internet connectivity, remote television, SMS, e-mails etc. This technology promises to be very cost-effective. Dikshit (2006) has reported that ‘as of now, about 760 million mobile users across the world are being added every year. In India, nearly 24 million people buy mobile phones every year, i.e., five mobile phones are being bought every minute. It is estimated that by the end of the current year, about 70 million Indians will have mobile phones. In IGNOU, we intend to deliver programmes to our learners by using mobile technologies soon.
In the ICT led educational sector, there is a need to consider convergence of all systems of education and collectively work towards raising the quality of transaction. As educational providers, we have to offer what learners need in view of contemporary societal requirements and put in place adequate mechanisms for attracting, retaining and nurturing talent. As teachers, we have to facilitate learning (as multi-skilled professionals) rather than acting as monolithic repositories and transmitters of knowledge. Today learners have access to vast resources of knowledge through Internet. So, we continuously innovate and work as catalytic agents for bridging the digital divide. We have to harness the power of multiplemedia for delivery of education, by integrating technology and media into overall teaching-learning process with appropriate instructional design and knowledge inputs.
A word of caution at the end: ICTs seem to provide solutions to all our genuine concerns by equalisation, decentralisation and liberalisation of various provisions for breaking isolation and improving learning motivation. But many nation states are struggling to keep up with the momentum, essentially because of lack of availability of technical knowhow, professional managers and intensive initial investments. As a result, initial enthusiasm and excitement for and vast promise of these highly rewarding technologies has remained largely un-translated into practice by those who need ICTs the most.
Daniel, John (2004). Initiatives on Online Learning and Educational Multimedia, Inaugural lecture in International Workshop on Interactive Multimedia for Distance and Online Learning, IUC-DEC-COL, New Delhi.
Dikshit, H.P. (2006). Knowledge Revolution through Satellite based Education, Four Decades of Distance Education in India: Reflections on Policy and Practice (Ed. Suresh Garg, V. Venkaiah, Chambi Puranik and Santosh Panda) New Delhi: Viva Books.
Evans, T. (2004). Understanding Learners in Open and Distance Education, London: Kogan Page.
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Jokivirta, L. (2006). The Tele-Trail to Africa, Economic Times, Aug. 14, 2006, New Delhi.
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Visser, J. (1999). Lifelong Learning in an Environment of Distributed Resources, http://www.unesco.org/education/iuf.
Wheeler, Brad (2004). Open Source 2007: How did this Happen? Educause Review , July/August, 2004, pp.12-27.