Open to learning

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Distance education is gaining popularity in Kashmir as limited seats in the valley’s colleges and universities can’t accommodate everyone. Many opt for Open Learning as they can’t pursue higher education for various other reasons. Syed Asma reports.

Open or distance education, wherein students don’t have to attend regular classes while pursuing studies is picking up in the valley. A few years back open learning was not considered a good mode of education but today thousands of students have earned degrees from distance institutions.

“People were earlier reluctant to opt for this mode of education but today people prefer this, as it does not entail daily presence in class, and gives the freedom to pursue other work too,” says Mohammed Shafi Wani, Assistant Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education at Kashmir University.

Students opt for distance learning for many reasons. Inability to get selected in regular courses, breaks in education, being already employed, living in far away areas, or for some girls marriage before completion of higher education are some of the reasons.

 “I did my graduation (Bachelor’s in Arts) through distance mode from University of Kashmir. I had undergone a surgery and could not attend regular classes. So to avoid break in my academics I opted for this mode and quite comfortably completed my bachelor’s,” says Saba, a management Post Graduate.

The two major universities offering education through distance mode are Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Kashmir University’s Directorate of Distance Education (DDE). There is no age bar for admission in any of their courses.

The IGNOU expresses itself as “the People’s University” and the mission of DDE is to “Reach the unreached and make education available at every door step”.

Both claim to benefit larger section of the society. “More than 80000 students in the Valley have done their graduation and post graduation from IGNOU,” says an official handout of the university.  “Each year thousands of students get admission and thousand complete their degrees”, says Habibullah Shah, Assistant Professor, Education, DDE.

“I couldn’t make it in regular course because of fewer seats there, so (I) opted for distance (education) mode,” says Shazia, who is presently pursuing PG in Mathematics from DDE. Students do not have to appear in any entrance exams to seek admission through distance mode but should have secured at least 40 per cent marks in graduation.

Girls getting married while still studying used to drop out of schools and colleges but many are now pursuing higher education through distance mode without leaving their homes. Shaheen who has been married for last eight years with two kids, one studying in class Ist and another in Kindergarden is doing B.Ed. “I have earlier done MCA from IGNOU and I am presently having a government job but the work schedule is quite hectic. Just to avoid the tiring schedule I want to switch over to teaching, so I opted for Open Learning mode,” she says.

DDE and IGNOU have their study centres in far flung areas like Uri, Karnah, Kargil, Keran etc. IGNOU has about 35 study centers and DDE has about 11 in the Valley.

For most courses in DDE a student has to attend 40 classes in a year and in IGNOU counseling is held every Sunday apart from the practical classes, if required in the subject.

The faculty claims that the standard of the syllabus and that of the course and examination is at par with the regular courses. “In the 40 days of class work we provide a guideline with which we help our students to study well and pass exams easily without any difficulty,” says Touheeda Rasool, a Mathematics lecturer.

This initiative of “learning as well as earning” has its shortcomings too and many students do not seem happy with it and name it as avenues which only helps “to have a degree and no understanding”.

“Distance education is no education”, says Naira, who is presently pursuing Dietetics and Food Service Management from IGNOU. “One who opts for it is actually option-less. I have a job that I can’t leave and I don’t have any future just as a graduate, so I have to add more stars to my qualification”.

The open education institutions provide reading material to the students to make their studies easier. However, some of the students complain of inadequate reading material

“The reading material has no standard, I mean it should have a standard of PG level but I think it cannot even compete with the level of high school. It is high time to revive the content they are providing to the students,” says Shazia.  

Though some of the universities have hourly slots for teaching on satellite TV Channels dedicated to distance education, the students say there is a need of libraries were they could access books material directly.

“We do not have a library which we can access for completing our assignment. We cannot purchase books because then we have to buy a book or two for every topic which we cannot afford,” says Naira, “We should at least get a library card that can allow us to access some of the libraries in the Valley”.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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