By Ananya S Guha
There is a lot of hype about inclusive education. Education automatically assumes inclusion. At least, as per Indian laws, everyone has a ‘Right to Education’. The paradox, however, is that education is becoming increasingly exclusive. How else do we, for instance, explain the ubiquitous cut-off marks ranging from 97-99 percent to get admission in colleges across the country, and especially in coveted colleges in the capital city? The idea of inclusive education is problematic precisely because of its non-inclusion.
Inclusive education entails opportunities and access to education for those forced to live in seclusion and in disadvantaged socio-economic conditions. Inclusion also seeks to address the increasing non-affordability of education, which is further exacerbated by high capitation fees which has earned the stricture of the Apex Court on numerous occasions. In fact, with privatization of education, quality has become synonymous with educational institutions that charge high fees.
In this article I will focus on how Distance and Open Education can make education inclusive by improving access, flexibility, and continuity.
Flexibility and continuity are inter-connected. Flexibility or ‘Open’ness, here, refers to spacing out one’s studies, ease of access, and year-round admissions. Continuity refers to the ability to continue one’s studies after a hiatus or being able to simultaneously work and study. It is precisely these features that enable Distance and Open learning to play a pivotal role in giving education the much needed dynamism. It gives the learner the chance to get back to studies after a break. It addresses the problem of ‘drop outs’ and academic ‘failure’ by giving maximum time to complete courses and programs. It introduces flexible concepts like associate degree and credit transfer, thereby opening up dialogue with other universities for inter-student mobility. It is no wonder then that Distance and Open education in India, free of myopic restrictions, has become very popular with its intake of students accounting for almost twenty-five per cent of the enrollments in Higher Education. Moreover, it subverts a degree bias and places certification and diplomas on a common platform, not meant to be comparable with higher degrees, but standing in their own right as short-term professional or vocational programs.
In recent years, however, the glitches and the stumbling blocks are many. The University Grants Commission (UGC), which is now the apex body for assessing Distance Education, insists on a review every two to three years. This imposes restrictions on introducing new courses and monitors dual body institutions saying that these universities cannot introduce courses in Distance Education other than what they offer in their respective institutions. This is not only duplication but a gross embargo on innovation. True, apex bodies can issue guidelines for academic programs having a heavy practical component, but I do not think that it will be wise to restrict academic programs to traditional graduation or post-graduation degrees.
Education must be innovative and Distance Education, because of its inherent flexibility, can reach a larger target groups such as the young, the young adult, working professionals, housewives, missionary and charity workers, school and college teachers. Such a diverse target group calls for greater and wider selection of courses. Moreover, under their aegis the NCTE, AICTE, Nursing Council of India, and the Dental Council are imposing various restrictions on Open Universities to prevent them from initiating professional programs by means of partnerships and alliances. The collaborative possibilities of education are thus undermined and stifled.
Access and flexibility are becoming myths in Indian Education. To put hurdles in the path of Distance Education is to deny access to education to many deprived learners. Through study centers and mobile learning centers, Distance and Open modes take education to remote areas.
So in this context what is inclusiveness? Inclusion would mean accommodation of education for all. Inclusion will mean related entry norms as well as extension of the classroom through the introduction of innovative strategies like reflexive technology, internet, and free and open source software by means of which students can glean information for knowledge transference. Teachers must use both the synchronous and asynchronous modes, the mobile phone, and the internet to keep in touch with students. E-Learning must be appropriately used for teaching; the use of skype, google/yahoo groups and social networking sites will help to reduce distances and break barriers of isolation without forsaking the traditional effects of education.
Distance and Open Education is not only reinventing teaching and learning but also changing rapidly with the times by adapting the newest in technology and associating education with training as well. The inclusiveness of Distance Learning is that it is lifelong learning, adult education, continuing education, professional training and also education for the young immediately after school. If this isn’t a wide spectrum of inclusion, then what is?
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Intersectional Identities: Disability and the Other Margins’, edited by Dr. Nandini Ghosh, IDSK and Dr. Shilpaa Anand, MANUU.