C.P. Gopinath and K. Ramachandran

Blog Saturday, April 11, 2015 - 05:30
First, some facts about Indian Higher education system: • No: of universities / degree granting institutions : 700• No of colleges: about 37,500• No of full time students in these institutions: 21 million• No of students in Open and Distance Learning: Over 4 million.• Population of people in 10 – 19 years age group : 225 million (2011 census) India’s Human Resources Development Ministry’s stated ambition is to ensure that at least 30 per cent of its youth in the 17 – 24 year age group population enters higher education by year 2020.  In other words – going by present population growth trends – the country needs to create a capacity of 36 million to 38 million seats: meaning nearly doubling the existing capacity. Doing it conventionally would mean sinking billions of rupees in infrastructure and systems for teaching – learning processes. Still there is no guarantee all the money can be found. Even if done, will the providers be able to find the right teaching talent to teach and manage the massive system.  Look at another dimension: Almost all students who complete school education in India, and who can afford it, enter higher education. Still lakhs of seats remain vacant in colleges. So, even if seats are available, millions of Indian youth are not attending college or university because they cannot afford the same. Or they cannot gain access. Thus, the biggest challenges to combat are cost, access, and transparency in enrolment and education delivery. And more importantly, can we provide the right education at the right quality so that the graduates who come out of the portals of higher learning have the right set of skills, attitude and measurable competencies for taking up fruitful careers?  Fortunately today, a host of technologies provide the right answer to most of these questions. And if applied in the right spirit, these technologies can help India create millions of high quality graduates.  Massive open and online courses (MOOCs) created by the best universities globally are one set of answers, but if we go by present statistics, MOOCs is more of a broadcast model. Its utility is yet to reach first generation college goers even in the most developed societies. So a MOOCs plus model that is informed by the local challenges of access, quality and cost is best suited for India. Again technology can ensure that the adult learners entering higher education are given the right kind of courseware tailored to their need and capability. A two hour video lecture, even by the best of professors, can hardly attract or engage a rural youth in India. Our experience shows that every adult learner pursuing a formal degree program or a skill based certification course has his or her own way of learning.  What such a disparate group of adult learners require is a combination of media, more engagement points such as quizzes, polls, chat, project or group work, practical lessons, besides a host of supporting tools and mentorships. Only an ideal combination of all these make the learning process not only engaging and qualitative, but can also meet the aspirations of the learners. Some learners would work for only a qualification, a few others to further their career aspirations, several others enter higher education to gain social respect, and quite a few to get better jobs. The best part is today’s technologies show that all these can be done, and done at disruptively low cost. A high quality teaching resource can be used to create the courseware or deliver the same to thousands of learners across several towns and cities. Still, the teacher and providers can track the engagement levels of each learner, interact with each of them personally or in groups; customize the learning to suit the learning style of different sets of learners. Virtual coaches and mentors can provide highly engaging support to the learners. Students can raise queries by audio or video or by chat and get answers in real time. The college or the education provider can bundle in skill based or vocational certification courses as part of the formal degree program. The provider can ‘pull in” virtually a practising professional or an industry leader to supplement the class by video or audio to add value to the lessons. All this requires is a little imagining from the Human Resources to Ministry to create virtual colleges and universities and frame the right set of academic standards for formal virtual education in India. Once done, it is eminently possible to deliver a high quality B.A or B.Com degree that will cost less than Rs.1000 a student as the provider will be able to reach tens of thousands of learners in real time simultaneously using the best of technology and learning science. The authors C.P. Gopinath and K. Ramachandran, are part of 361 Degree Minds, a technology oriented education and learning company based out of Chennai, India.  Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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