What is Distance Education?
Distance education is non-formal method of education. Students can study anytime and anywhere. With advent of digital tools, students can interact with faculty through various online tools. Students are provided with video lectures, audio lectures and printed notes. Tele-counselling is available for convenience and clarity. Students can interact with the teachers and other participants in real time. Classes can be replayed according to the convenience of the student. The first Distance Education course was offered by the University of London in the year 1858. In India, the Delhi University was the first to open a School of Correspondence Courses and Continuing Education in 1962. Dr BR Ambedkar Open University was first open university in India established in 1982.
Why distance education is in a bad condition in India?
Distance Education programs are less expensive and more convenient than regular programs. But they also pose number of challenges –
Quality of Distance Education
There are many established and popular distance education institutes in the country like IGNOU, NMIMS school of distance and continuing education, SMU DDE, Amity School of Distance Learning, Dr. BR Ambedkar Open University. But there are a large number of institutes that offer programs not recognized by UGC or accredited by any government body. Due to lack of information students opt for these courses without realizing that the degree will be of negligible value.
Insufficient Infrastructural Facilities
Unlike regular courses, students pursuing distance education cannot visit the institute to avail facilities like labs and libraries. For this reason, many technical degrees like engineering and pharmacy cannot be offered in distance mode. But many other programs do have a practical component and due to lack of proper facilities students do not get trained well in these skills.
Lack of Industry Value
Some of the popular distance courses are Distance MBA, Distance MCA and Digital Marketing. While regular MBA programs from IIMs fetch upwards of Rs. 10 Lakh in annual salary, IGNOU graduate is offered ₹1.8 to ₹3.75 per annum. The industry tends to place less value on distance courses since they are considered to be less rigorous than regular courses.
Lack of Quality Faculty
Regular technical courses like engineering and MBA need to be approved by AICTE. The process requires institutes to ensure appropriate infrastructure and adequate number of faculty members. Revision of course curriculum regularly to make students industry-ready is also an important requirement. But institutes offering distance programs do not follow these guidelines and making these courses less valuable than their regular counterparts.
Recent UGC regulation
To tackle these UGC recently came up with a regulation to stop rampant malpractices by distance education universities. UGC have recently allowed private universities providing regular courses to offer distance courses. Private universities like Symbiosis Centre For Distance Learning have already been offering distance program for many years. But these were set up as separate institutes. With new regulation, many new universities have started distance programs. It is mandatory for such universities to get a minimum score of 3.26 by NAAC.
They also need to be ranked in top 100 by NIRF. The university cannot offer a course in distance mode if it has not been offering same course in regular mode for at least 5 years.
While online degree programs are growing in popularity, it is important that they are regulated so that students do not lose their precious time and money pursuing a degree that does not serve any purpose.