India can help others in Rural Development

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    As an educational institution IGNOU is known to all. But from your viewpoint, what is this institute all about?
    The ODL system in the country is aimed to facilitate redeem the promise of providing access to higher education to all segments of society.  For a majority of Indians living in villages and small towns, just reaching a centre of higher learning was and is a challenge and the ODL system has to facilitate access to education. We should not wait for learners to come to seats of learning. Instead, learning seats would have to reach out to them wherever they are across the length and breadth of the country.

    If you ask me, it’s an open and distance learning institution. To me it is a modality that provides immense benefits not only to the learners but also to the society as a whole. It also makes appreciable unconventional interventions for example, let us have a look at regional scenario the Open University in Thailand (STOU), is offering programmes on village administration and land and Property Laws which no conventional university will do.  Similarly,  Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) in Pakistan offers programmes on Plant protection, Soil problems, Tractor repairs, Poultry farming again a very unconventional approach.  We have also made lot of unconventional educational interventions keeping in view emerging demands. It will not be fair to compare IGNOU with any conventional University. We are there to democratize higher education, reach unreached with quality educational interventions at affordable cost.  In India, we presently have IGNOU and 14 other state open universities. We also have more than 220 Directorates of Distance Education based in conventional universities. .
       It is, therefore a fact that education through ODL is certainly cost-effective in comparison with face-to-face education for obvious reasons. Additionally, learners can remain economically productive even as they study to acquire qualifications. A learner may take time to earn for him/herself in between the courses; be in Dubai or Hyderabad and yet continue his/her studies; achieve his/her degree by cumulative credits over a period of time; or may come for studies at any stage of his/her life without necessarily having the standard entry qualifications. We are also focusing on job oriented courses, which are enabling courses for the learners to equip them with basic qualifications required for the job market. These unconventional job oriented courses  among others include:  areas like Tourism Studies, Hospitality & Hotel administration, BBA (Retailing), Social Work Counselling, Nursing, Special Education( Hearing & Visual Impairment, Mental Retardation); HIV and Family Education; Women’s Empowerment & Development; BPO Finance & Accounting; Paralegal Practices; Meat Technology; Diary Technology and many more.

    What new initiatives IGNOU proposes to undertake to teach their students in a more effective manner?
    We offer 228 programmes conceived and developed by 21 academic Schools of Studies through the vast network of 67  regional centres across the country and through overseas study centres abroad.  The University constantly seeks to multiply and diversify its programme/course offerings. At the same time it acknowledges the need for engagement with the challenges of sustainability and maintenance of quality standards.We take pride in the fact that we continue to innovate and break new ground in programme offerings. In addition to new programmes at postgraduate, undergraduate and research levels, the University has made major advances in launching vocational and professional programmes. New programmes launched focus on diverse, crucial areas of study. . The following new programmes have been launched during the current year:

    Master of Social Work (Counseling) (MSWC)
    Post Graduate Diploma in Urban Planning and Development (PGDUPDL)
    Post Graduate Certificate in Information and Assistive Technology for the Instructors of Visually Impaired (PGCIATIVI)
    Post Graduate Certificate in Geoinformatics (PGCGI)  

      We are the only university having Jail inmates as our target. We operate in 58 Jails across the country and provide them free education. 

      To what extent IGNOU has the reach to the students living in rural areas?
      Here I would like to share something. We had a convocation held on 12th of April when the president came. We distributed 158,000 certificates. I got an analysis of 158,000 students – primarily where from they are coming?  And the findings furnished very interesting trends.  67% of students were from the hinterland and 45% of them were women. The tribals comprised .1.54 per cent of the mentioned number. Now can any other university claim such a wide ambit?
    IGNOU has been mandated to reach out to the marginalized sections of our society. We have responded to the need to initiate special measures to attract learners from the disadvantaged groups. An estimated 690 Special Study Centres address specific educational needs of disadvantaged learners. The major steps envisaged to increase access, equity and quality in the XII Plan include: enhancing access by spreading the network of Study Centres from District to Block level; networking with State Open Universities and Directorates of Distance Education using ICT in a proactive way in difficult terrain and inaccessible regions; strengthening the University’s presence in low-literacy and educationally backward regions with special focus on regions in the North-East, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput in Orissa, Jaisalmer and Barmer in Rajasthan; conducting special drives to enroll marginalized groups (scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, differently abled, women learners) in the niche-market programmes; ands cloning best practices from successful models of technology-enabled education to expand access and opportunities. 

    Tell me from your experience, what are those interesting trends you have noticed emerging in last one decade in the Indian education system?
    There is a paradigm shift in education in India. Today no one opts for a P.h.D or M.A to become a Scholar or philosopher. They are interested in these degrees to get employed. So why don’t we accept this paradigm shift? I am giving direction to my university that I don’t want simple B.A degree for my students. Students ultimately need to get employment and for that some specific skills is a must. I have no doubt in my mind that the focus for our education should be on employability. On the other hand, this has to be balanced with encouraging students to get engage in serious research and also creating interest in taking up fundamental subjects like physics, chemistry and biology. 

    According to you, which is the most powerful tool which can upgrade our status from an emerging economy to a developed country? 
    Education is the most powerful tool for change. Nothing can be as strong and powerful tool as education is. At the same time in order to materialize this we need consistency, sustainability and a strong realistic ‘Higher Education Policy Framework’.

    How do you see the overall contribution of this university especially in teaching rural people and in the overall rural development?
    I am basically a professor of Rural Development. And, therefore, I know that this area qualifies for a  special attention. In 1992, we had started a course  Diploma in Rural Development . It was upgraded to Post-Graduate diploma in 1996. From 1992 till this programmes consistently attracts an annual enrolment of about 300- -4000 every year.. In 2005, we also introduced Masters in Rural Development. It is surprising that this masters programme is also fetching about 3000-4000 enrolment every year.  We know it for sure that we have to produce rural development professionals in abundance. 

    What is your ultimate dream for IGNOU?
    I would like to see this institution as Centre of Excellence in Higher Education of which not only India should feel proud of but it should attract international attention and that we should be able to play leadership in helping those countries who need it.

    Finally, how do you analyse the state of rural development in the country? Inclusive growth is a very popular buzzword these days. But is it getting converted into some concrete action?
    If we have to analyse the rural development in terms of policies and programmes adopted so far, one critical point that comes to my mind is the lack of consistency in our rural development policy. I believe that unless we have a consistent and focused approach, rural development in India is not possible. We have the capacity and capabilities to not only materialize our rural development goals but also to play a significant role in helping other developing countries. Honestly speaking the prescription based my 35 years of experience in the filed is “Detach Rural Development from politics” coupled with change in mindset.