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New Delhi; Vol XXV, No 21 1 NOVEMBER 2005
School of Open Learning of DU: An Academic Slum
V P Jain
With the growing aspirations for tertiary education in a fast growing metropolis like Delhi, the demand for both undergraduate and post graduate courses in Delhi University has been rising over the years. With 14 Faculties, 85 Departments and 82 colleges, the University of Delhi has an enrolment of over two and a half lac students. However, regular colleges admit only about 40,000 students each year, leaving out twice as many disappointed. This residual is pushed to what is, euphemistically, called the nonformal stream, the School of Correspondence Courses (renamed as the School of Open Learning) admitting the bulk of them. It would be worthwhile to ponder over their fate. Campus of Open Learning — The New Education Paradigm It is an irony, that while the late-comers in the field of distance education have graduated into faculties and universities, the School which was a pioneering institution of its kind, has been languishing for want of adequate institutional support. With swarms of students, and no worthwhile academic package and virtually no facilities, the institution has earned the dubious distinction of being termed as an ‘academic slum’. Prof. Deepak Nayyar, when he took over as the new VC, proposed modifications in the structure approved earlier to revamp the dilapidated system. He re-opened the issue by circulating a white paper entitled “Towards Operationalising the Campus of Open Learning”, which was accepted by the AC and the EC. Endorsing the basic philosophy, however, he observed, “As of now, almost two thirds of the students enrolled are through the non-formal stream. While the regular colleges admit about 50,000 school leaving students each year, as many as 75,000 join the non-formal stream. Instituting quality assurance mechanisms in the non-formal stream is therefore of great social significance. It is in this context that we must see the recent initiative of creating a full fledged Campus of Learning, envisioned within multi-campus frame work. The Campus of Learning should be viewed as the third campus of the university, so that it develops into a full fledged constituent unit in the manner in which the South Campus developed in the 1970’s. With the recent initiative of DU, to introduce broadband networking and internet connectivity, it has now become possible for us to explore ways in which technology can be used to make education available to a large number of students while enhancing its quality.” The basic philosophy and the concern outlined in the white paper is, surprisingly, only a reiteration of the underpinnings of the structure approved by the visitor earlier. Then the pertinent question that arises is why this exercise all over again? The only
contentious issue appeared to be the rather peripheral issue of the transfer of the teachers from school of correspondence courses (SCC) to the department of distance and continuing education (DDCE). Both the structures approved by the visitor and the one recommended in the white paper conceptualizes COL as the third campus of the university. It is only being naive to point out (white paper) that the interfaces between COL, Faculty of Open Learning and DDCE had not been worked out by the committees set up earlier in this regard. These linkages, it must be understood clearly, would be the same as for the North and the South Campus and are well codified in the university calendar. The Campus was to provide an open platform for shared academic activities, integrating all the departments and colleges into a faculty network. The COL was structured to involve the seven thousand strong teaching faculty in the university as a networked collectivity as ’resource-pool’, embedded in the virtual campus. The rationale for the conversion of SCC into COL was precisely to entrust the task of teaching two lac distance education students to this collectivity, interfaced through the study centers (like the Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board, for example). Since the task had become too unwieldy to be handled by a college level, stand-alone institution like SCC, which had be wound up, paving the way for its metamorphosis into COL. COL, equipped with broad-band network as e-learning platform, faculty pool comprising all the teachers in the colleges and the departments to address the concerns of the students in study centers, and also to prepare the distance mode learning material in the newly created open learning development centre (OLDC), and the faculty in the DDCE to train and collaborate with the existing faculty in the university and to organize courses for the prospective candidates in distance education pedagogy, would have been a vision realized. The administrative staff of SCC, transferred to COL would have constituted the administrative wing of the campus, like the North and the South campus. The university appointed director COL in the year 2002 and an OSD of the School of correspondence courses in 2003, to give shape and disseminate the new education paradigm. It is an irony that the exercise has only become a sordid tale of missed opportunities, and understandably so. The officers assigned leadership roles had neither the vision nor the perspective, and most of all, had no grounding in distance education technology. It is not surprising that they totally failed to capitalize on the broad-band network facility to launch the crucial e-learning platform for distance education in the university. The ’expression profile’ of the campus, a new education paradigm remains elusive. The physical and organizational entity, the Campus of Open Learning, as the third campus of the university, like the North and the South Campus, is nowhere in sight. Both OLDC and DDCE remain dormant and non-functional. Meanwhile, the VC left, completing his five year term, further compounding the mess by only rechristening SCC as SOL, betraying a total lack of understanding of the underpinnings of the restructured model approved by the visitor earlier, leaving the field wide open for his successor, as usual, to ‘re-invent the wheel’.
Vanishing Faculty-support As per the UGC norms, every teacher in the university is required to work for 40 hours a week of which 22 hours must be devoted to active teaching in the institution. A college teacher takes 18 periods of 55 minutes duration each per week. In addition, he is also required to give 3 contact hours per week to students for counseling. A teacher also corrects, on an average, 100 tutorial assignments per week. Moreover, the teachers in the colleges devote considerable time and energy to various extra-curricular activities. In sharp contrast to this, the teachers of the School, virtually, have no work. Distance education students, who are not required to come to the campus, need access to academic advising services. Faculty members in all distance education institutions, typically observe office hours, during which time they deal with questions and concerns of individual students. The counselor is a vital figure in the institution of distance learning to stimulate the foundation of self help groups: students often get stuck because they come across a conceptual difficulty, for instance, and could not, without a face-to-face tutorial, (should be done on-line in virtual mode) get themselves going again. It is imperative to assign students to specific tutors, the general idea being that the student will stay with the same counselor throughout the course. As per the recommendation of the Academic Reforms Committee, every teacher must be physically present in a college for at least five hours on all working days, which includes contact hours for student counseling. The same work norms apply to the teachers in the school also, albeit with a considerable more weight given to student counseling, for which every teacher has been provided with a well furnished separate room in the school. And yet, ironically, the faculty-support system of counseling, (the primary job of the faculty in the School) which has been eroding over the years, has been completely done away with from the academic session 2003-04. For the fifth successive year (2007-08), the academic schedule of the teaching faculty has neither been prepared nor notified to the students, till date. Every college in the university prepares and implements the teaching schedule from the first working day of the new session, ie 16 July every year, as per the directions of the Academic Council (on the basis of the recommendation of the Academic Reforms Committee). The Staff Council of the School has also not been convened, for the third year in succession, to constitute the mandatory Academic Supervisory Committee to monitor all academic programs in the School. The current academic session started, as usual, on 16 July 2005, and all the colleges started the new session with great fanfare, as reported in the media. The SOL, however, remained closed, as usual, Saturday still being observed a non-teaching day despite the university directive to adhere to a 6-day teaching week. The VC and his ‘team’ members were apprised of the situation in writing, but they did nothing, their pretensions for implementing academic reforms and accountability, notwithstanding. The other student support system, namely, the student response sheet (SRS feedback mechanism), integral to method of instruction, has virtually ceased to exist, and no attempt has been made to revive it. The MC of the school had constituted a fact finding committee to go into the malfunctioning of the institution which has observed: “First thing the committee noted that the involvement of teachers in (SRS) Students Response
Sheet work has been done away with. The committee noted that “a minimum of SRS per week must be corrected by the teachers of the school and this must be considered as their basic task while determining the staff strength." The involvement of teachers in the preparation of the study material is revealing: as regards writing new lessons, the average per teacher per year comes to 1.3 new lessons per year which is equivalent to two weeks of work. As regards the old lessons edited or revised, it works out to be, on an average, 4 lessons per teacher per year, equivalent to anther two weeks of work. The fact finding committee tried to scrutinize the historical record of the creation of teaching posts and whether "the staff council or the MC made any such exercise of calculating workload for the creation of new posts or even justifying the filling up of the vacant posts. This effort of the committee also resulted in dismay and disappointment." The primary objective of SCC renamed as SOL (ordinance XX(8)), “is to serve as an institution of distance education and open learning” and “to organize teaching through the distance mode.” Instead, the entire academic format of sending the study material at regular intervals, followed sequentially by counseling (PCP) and SRS has been derailed, defeating the very purpose of distance education based on participatory and individualized mode of learning. In its place has emerged a grotesque system of ‘coaching classes’ under the guise of PCP. These ‘coaching classes’ are essentially organized on week-ends and is paid work even for the school faculty as an extra source of remuneration, and it is not surprising that, over the years, the component of these coaching classes, as a proportion, has been steadily going up, at the cost of counseling and SRS which are central to distance mode. The fact finding committee has taken a serious view of this development." The participation of teachers in PCP is highly skewed, a pointer to either mal- distribution or grabbing by some teachers or lack of any monitoring system". The fact finding committee has taken strong exception to the system of overtime payment for PCP work to both the teaching faculty and the non-teaching staff which amounts to several lakhs of rupees, as over time payment, every year with the active connivance of the MC. The school collects PCP fee from every student (even though the participation in PCP is optional), over and above the tuition fee, which means that the PCP is not part of the teaching module (tuition) of the school. However, if it is considered critical to the success of students (like the summer schools in British Open University) attendance should be mandatory. With the abolition of SRS (feed-back mechanism to monitor student progress) and counseling, teachers have virtually, no work on week-days and have no motivation to attend the School. Absenteeism being rampant the teachers have no regular schedule or office hours to observe and many of them do not bother to come to the School for months. What is shocking is that the system has been allowed to crumble by the active connivance of the MC and the University authorities. The fact finding committee observed, “It was a disappointing experience of the committee because neither it could have any access to such records nor teachers and other functionaries in the school which showed any enthusiasm as to the adherence of the norms of workload.” “In precise term, one notices a situation of system erosion where governance and accountability tended to be increasingly virtual instead of being real.”
The study material, which is central to distance education pedagogy, also continues to be prepared in the old fashioned non- interactive mode and not in selfinstructional mode as has been emphasized time and again. In any case the dispatch of study material is taken very casually, as no time schedule is adhered to. In case of several courses, the study material is simply not available. Consequently, all kinds of pavement book shops have mushroomed around the School premises, doing a brisk business selling ‘champion guides’, a euphemism for ‘kunjis’ , to fill the gap. It is unbelievable that, until a few months back, the School, an institution of distance learning, did not have a website of its own. A committee had been constituted to create a web-site for the school which has taken more than two years for a task which could be accomplished in a few hours time by outsourcing a professional. Even now the web site in not interactive, and thousands of queries from the students received everyday, in the sub-domain of the university computer centre, remain unanswered. Department of Distance Education The university operationalised the Department of Distance Education by appointing an OSD of the Department three years ago. However, the department ceased to be operative without assigning any reason. The teaching faculty of SCC, with four decades of experience of teaching through distance mode, was to be absorbed in the department of distance education (Chandrashekher Rao Committee report) to achieve the objective. The former VC, Prof Deepak Nayyar refused to implement the faculty transfer, for reasons best known to him. The UGC has not sanctioned any new post for the department in view of the stipulation to transfer the school teaching faculty to the department. It must be emphasized that distance education has its own distinctive pedagogy, and its own philosophy. The school was to be wound up, transferring the teaching faculty, equipped with four decades of experience of teaching through distance education mode, to the DDCE, not to continue to teach the same courses, as in SCC, as misconstrued, but, as members of the new department, to address the larger issue of developing and disseminating distance education pedagogy by assuming leadership role. It is shocking that the Department of Distance Education, which is to play a pivotal role in furthering core competence in the area of distance education in the university, be put in a limbo in this fashion. The Department is expected to offer academic programs leading to Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees in distance education pedagogy exactly in the same manner as the department of education offers courses in formal education pedagogy. It is also designed to develop expertise to help produce courses for delivery through the distance education mode, and also to actively involve in research, training and extension education activities. It should be borne in mind that the Department of Distance Education is not an exclusive preserve of the Campus of Open Learning (as per the new ordinance), and is well within its rights to float its courses in the formal steam also (like the Department of Education). Similarly, all other Departments in the university (five have already done so) are expected to go online and offer their courses online, in the Campus of Open Learning.
Post-Graduate Studies The VC appointed Director, Campus of Open Learning (COL) in the year 2002. With the appointment of the Director of the Campus of Open Learning, the third campus, as a virtual campus is supposed to have come into existence in the university. In contrast to the North and South Campuses, which specialise in the formal teaching mode, the Open Campus has a specific distance learning focus. All the departments in the university conduct post-graduate teaching, either in the North Campus, or in the South Campus, or in both. With the new dispensation, rationality demands that the Departments offering PG courses through distance mode and organise their programmes in the newly created elearning space, that is, the Campus of Open Learning. The decision to continue to use the School as a surrogate for the Campus of Open Learning for post-graduate teaching (where the courses taught are university level courses), is seriously flawed and has rendered the third campus superfluous, a self-defeating exercise. Examination The students of the school have the dubious distinction of having the highest failure rate. Another serious problems with the examination of the students of the School is the inordinate delay in the evaluation of the scripts and declaration of the results. Last year, the university introduced a system of ’internal evaluation’ as part of the examination reforms. However, the system has not been extended to the students of the School, for reasons best known to the university (ordinance VIII E) and, ironically, the Director COL being a party to the decision. It is a matter of serious concern that the students of the school have been kept out of the ambit of the scheme of internal evaluation who need continuous monitoring more than the privileged students in the regular stream. Moreover, the students of the school are required to undertake written assignments (SRS) which are marked by the tutors, and this activity which is a method of monitoring progress can also be used as a method of assessment of performance as part of internal assessment scheme. It is another story, of course, that the scheme has been put in the cold storage. The most sordid tale pertains to the failure to create the much needed e-learning platform which can make the task much easier by making assessment by tutors on-line. The university has, however, constituted a sub-committee to look into the issue of internal assessment which has not submitted its report till date, Consequently, the annual examination of the students of School was held as a separate entity, called category B, and they stand further segregated and downgraded, may be a prelude to, eventually, awarding a separate degree. The new structure which stipulates a separate examination cell for COL on the lines of the facility in the South Campus has not been created so far. It is sad, that the School continues to be treated with disdain, and accorded step-motherly treatment. For years no new course has been introduced, no new facility like the study centres created or regional centres added. It is not surprising that the School has the highest dropout/failure rate in the University. The university continues to pursue policies of exclusion so far as the students of the non-formal stream are concerned. All the reforms enacted so far, be it innovative courses, examination reforms, extra-curricular activities, remain confined to the students of the formal sector only. The rationale for the
conversion of SCC into COL was precisely to remove these infirmities. But, obviously, the, VC and his illustrious team, had a different agenda to implement, and is a classic case of missed opportunities. The university keeps talking of reforms like new courses, decentralization, distance education technology, in the manner of chanting of mantras, only as a mock exercise, but nothing concrete has emerged by way of realization. What is worse is that the academic reforms enacted in the university have been exclusionist and confined to the formal stream only, thus widening the chasm between the formal sector students and the non-formal sector students. Conclusion The school has totally failed in its mission to impart quality education to lakhs of students enrolled in the nonformal stream. What is worse is its propensity to indulge in all kinds of scandals as highlighted by the fact finding committee. Unable to persuade the authorities to initiate corrective measures have impelled teachers to file several cases in the court of law. Unfortunately, the responsibility of governance has been given to people of very doubtful academic credentials with no innovative skills. Consequently, the reform process has been severely vitiated, and not surprisingly, the various legislations enacted for setting up COL, flawed as the are, has only deepened the crisis. Now, the new VC has taken over the command of the university, and we sincerely hope that this will provide the necessary window for course correction. It should be appreciated that COL, as a virtual campus, has a distinct character and can realize its full potential only if the officers in command measure up to the challenge by fulfilling the promise encoded in the blueprint of the campus, to accord a fair deal to thousands of segregated and marginalised students. V P Jain (Retd) Department of Economics, School of Open Learning, University of Delhi.
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