WHEN the first correspondence course was launched by the University of Delhi in 1962, no one was sure of its fate, although a need for such a mode was long felt - need for a less expensive, efficient form of education for students who couldn’t afford or qualify for regular programmes.
The University of Delhi‘s experiment in the ‘60s met with stupendous success. Soon offerings under this mode became wider, from degree programmes like BA, BCom, BSc, BEd and MEd to certificates and diploma courses and professional courses like MBA, computer applications and so on. As on date, the success has led DLP programmes to move on from knowledge-based education to skill-based tutoring as well.
Printed course material forms the backbone of any DLP, therefore its academic standard is expected to be high. An upgraded course structure is what students look for. Delhi-based Mayur Das*, a PR professional who is pursing MBA from Pondicherry finds his course content dated. “It is primitive,” says the MCom graduate, who is much cued on the current market trends through his professional status.
The reading materials is further expected to enable a student to self-learn. Therefore students prefer content in a simple, comprehensible language. A text-book format is unhelpful, they say. The text should be aided by examples, illustrations, graphs, figures and diagrams, self-explanatory in nature. Mayur says that some of the concepts in his material were not clear to him. “And so I had to buy other books to understand those concepts.” Typing errors in the material is another challenge that he had to deal with.
Another student, Yogesh Buchake, a pass-out from TASMAC, Pune wishes that his course material package consisted of CDs as well. Yogesh who completed MBA in e-business from TASMAC and obtained the degree from New South Wales University, Canada says, “The syllabus lacked pictorial representation.” Aryan Dubey*, a student of GJU, Hisar, didn’t get the material on CD but as a soft copy on email, which was helpful. But the content was very basic, he says. The need for a relevant curriculum is felt strongly.
The despatch system
The pace of receiving study and assignment material is of high consequence. If the study material is not received sequentially by students or is given at one go to them at the time of admission, it is a burden on students. Sujata Limaye*, a language coordinator and a pursuer of BA programme from IGNOU says she doesn’t get assignments on time. “You have the option of downloading it from the website but they are constantly in the process of updating it so sometimes you find all the assignments, sometimes you don’t,” Sujata describes the conundrum.
Ideally, students should receive the last instalment of reading material at least three months before the exam so that they have ample time to prepare but here, institutions like IGNOU also falter. However, many private institutions release study materials once the student registers and pays the fees.
It should be recognised that DL as a system faces a different set of challenges vis-à-vis regular programmes, the key test being bridging “students’ isolation”. Online learning was supposed to take care of this yawning deficiency but students still grapple with the deficit. But a few institutions have successfully achieved the same. Mayur, for example, rues his university’s (Pondicherry University) apathy. It seems ironical to him that in an age of technological advancement, mail sent to the University’s website to sort out some query bounces back to him. He gives another attempt, fishing out other listed mail ids from the institution’s website redirecting his query but even two days later, he gets no response. Mayur can’t help but feel isolated from the very institution from where he is about to obtain his MBA degree. He doesn’t like this treatment as he has been regular with his payments. Less said the better about online Learning Management System (LMS) that many universities have. While some like Sikkim Manipal and Symbiosis have very effective systems which are proprietary, most State universities have none.
Dr. S.K. Singh,
M.P. Bhoj Open University
With a meager fee of ' 1200 per year, we strive to provide affordable education
to the masses”
This serves the exclusive function of allowing students to sit in the final exam or for giving weightage of marks to be added to final results (while the larger goal remains enhancing the learner’s knowledge). As Sujata of IGNOU shares, assignments are compulsory and form a part of the final marks. “It is good to submit assignments because that allows you to go through the course at least once,” she says.
But Mayur and Sujata both wonder about the subjective questions in the assignments and in the exam papers. A mix of both, objective and subjective, is what they would prefer. While essay type answering is ‘boring’ for the latter, Mayur says a blend of the two would help in scoring better marks. Yogesh grappled with the issue of assignments being out of syllabus. “That decreases the score,” he says.
Students also look for ease in submitting assignments. IGNOU accepts assignments only on third Saturdays, says Sujata. A wider window would have been more convenient she feels. How bulky are the assignments? If Sujata is able to download assignments or receive them on time, then it doesn’t take her too long to prepare it. On an average it takes her 2 -3 days to finish the work per subject. Earlier, there were two assignments. “But now there is just one assignment per subject,” she says relieved with less load.
Keeping the larger goal in mind, one wonders what happens to assignments when students have completed them? It turned out that most students don’t bother going to the study centre to collect their tasks after it’s been evaluated. And institutes usually don’t send corrected copies to students who merely receive a list of the marks scored. There is no system of adding constructive comments by evaluators in most DLPs. “I would really have liked such a system so that I could have improved my learning,” says Yogesh. This thought resonates with many others.
A provision of online submission of assignment is what Aryan preferred. Sujata’s concerns are on similar lines. “Assignments are scattered all over at IGNOU,” she says. An online submission, timely corrected and duly commented copies would facilitate their learning, they feel.
The Personal ContactSystem (PCPs)
In DLP, PCPs allows a window of face-to-face interaction between students and tutors. DL providers have study centres to facilitate PCPs. And it requires tutors to be available at fixed hours where students can come and clarify their doubts.The NMIMS study centre at Connaught Place Delhi, is open all Saturdays and Sundays at fixed hours and has three full-time faculty members and several part-time tutors. Classes are held on weekends. “A 50 percent attendance is mandatory without which students are barred from sitting in the exam,” apprises the study centre head Lalit Khungar. Lalit, an MBA from IIM Calcutta, 1969 batch, personally supervises the classes, sometimes sitting in the classes to assess teacher’s delivery. His personal supervision goes a long way in clinching students’ attendance as well.
“If I see less attendance, it means that the teacher is not doing his/her job properly,” he says. A follow-up discussion with the teacher is then done. But that is not the case with all study centres. Yogesh says that TASMAC study centre had no fixed schedule for PCPs and therefore he couldn’t attend most classes. The working professional eventually lost interest in classes which were not mandatory in any case.
What do PCPs do?
The main aim of PCPs is to allow formal teaching sessions where learning difficulties of students also get addressed.This is in addition to permitting students to use centre facilities like library and computer terminals. Poor attendance at some study centres attests the fact that a lot of centres are not really involved with students’ academic needs. PCP is just one of the many aspects central to DLP. What are others? How do students view and rate them?
Are there any guidelines?
DLCI doesn’t mention specific guidelines to its providers, but committees and DL experts have. They have mentioned some parameters that serve as the yardstick to evaluate academic credibility of a DL programme. However, unless those are followed, the existing perception that DLPs are a poor substitute to formal education, will continue to be there.
Study Centre Support System
Normally a study centre should be equipped with library facilities with relevant books, reference material, journals, periodicals, and course reading material. It should also house multimedia support like AVs and computers. Barring a few, most DL providers don’t invest in all these support services at their study centres. Rakesh Sharma* of AIMA says that his study centre had some very good teachers but the library was not well stocked. His centre’s venue was located at a comfortable distance. But this may not be the case for all students. E-learning has evolved from the DL concept, which seems to be more popular among students who want to access knowledge from a convenient place at a convenient timing. But will that truly end the student’s isolation? Or is it that students don’t mind as long as the degree is at reach?