Engineering education in distance mode a disaster - The New Indian Express

Engineering education in distance mode a disaster

Published: 16th June 2013 07:47 AM

Last Updated: 16th June 2013 07:47 AM

The student enrolment in the conventional education system has increased to about 1.36 crore in over 650 universities and 35,000 colleges in India. At the same time, open and distance learning (ODL) has been evolving in parallel with the arrival of newer technologies.

Currently our ODL system consisting of IGNOU, state open universities and education programmes offered by other universities has 36 lakh learners. When it comes to technical and professional courses, the enrolment in the ODL system is less than 10%. Of late, a contentious issue has arisen regarding offering technical degree programmes through distance mode.

Before considering this demand, let’s look at the scenario of distance education in general. With tremendous pressure for expansion of higher education, there is an emerging need to bank upon an alternative system to achieve higher enrolment ratio. Understandably, ODL is promoted as an effective tool for expansion and also to impact education, especially for disadvantaged groups, to the neo-literates, and to the rising aspirants for higher education. This would require effective transformation of ODL system to be evolved as a reliable means of education and training.

However, a majority of the ODL system, with some exceptions, is in a shambles. Most rely on sending few lessons in printed form. Students are expected to digest them and submit assignments by mail and give examinations. Very few programmes have migrated to latest course delivery methods like the Internet, streaming video, virtual labs, instructional design, interactive content, on-the-job training, etc., to create a learning experience. There is also no system of assessment and accreditation of ODL programmes.

Some ODL institutions have become ‘degree mills’ offering sub-standard education, eroding the credibility of the qualifications awarded. This at a time when there is considerable pressure on individuals to earn degrees mainly for career growth, tempting some to take the easy route through the degree mills. A few unscrupulous open universities, deemed universities and some fake universities even offered PhD degree by distance mode. Several thousand gullible students were registered in them prior to the UGC banning it.

Under such a climate of poor standards of learning, induction of engineering degree programmes will be a disaster. Technical education programmes through ODL was initiated in late 1970s and early ’80s by a few deemed and technical universities. Soon, more institutions joined the bandwagon. In July 2009, the government banned offering of BE/BTech degrees through distance education. Some universities continue to defy it. 

Despite the large-scale expansion of technical education during the past decade, there are still takers for ODL engineering degree due to ignorance of its worthlessness. Most employers do not recognise such degrees. Yet another danger is that of ill-equipped ODL engineering graduates occupying expanding job market for teaching positions in colleges, further eroding the quality of engineering education.

Hence, it is necessary to provide clear guidelines like permitting only those programmes which do not involve extensive practical and field work through the distance mode and mandating approval by a statutory regulatory body. A system of accreditation should be evolved to determine their quality. A great deal of research into learning methods and pedagogy through distance mode is also needed.

There is a significant section of the society which is seriously interested in acquiring technical education qualifications for upgrading competence, accessing knowledge of new developments in their profession and seeking new career options. Technical education in distance mode can more appropriately cater to this demand.

However to achieve this objective certain minimum enabling conditions have to be fulfilled by way of curricular content, seamless delivery methods, learning facilities, exposure to professional practices and above all rigorous quality control.

The writer is Chairman, Board of Governors, IIT-Kanpur

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