That education provides the foundation for development of individuals and nations is now an accepted theory. Thus education has a tremendous emphasis while planning the growth of nations . Governments all across the world and especially in developing countries are combating important issues such as equitable access to education, reach of education to remote corners,ensuring inclusive growth by using education as a growth driver. The education that developing nations desperately need,and constantly seek,is one which equalises opportunities for the poor, the disadvantaged, the women in particular, and those living in rural and remote areas.
In developing as well as developed countries, distance education has gained tremendous significance . Policy makers across the world are seriously considering the potential of distance education for achieving their objectives of access, equity and reach in education.
Distance education being a more flexible and cost effective system, has emerged as a formidable system of higher education in most of the developing countries. While one must admit that the conventional education system has played an important role in expanding education, particularly in the urban areas,one must accept its limitations as a means of mass education and especially, quality education in the rural area. The costs of infrastructure (personnel, buildings, materials) necessary for the traditional type of education have gone up tremendously, while most of the governments (in developing countries) are suffering from resource crunch. This fact coupled with the high drop-out rates have resulted in net additions of millions of illiterate people from decade to decade in the developing countries including India.
New technologies can help distribute education from the world's best sources to all the people irrespective of age, sex, creed, religion, socio-economic status,who are in need of education wherever, thus crossing all geographical and social barriers. Innovations in ICT have played an important role in distance education especially to improve quality and reach of education. Through the use of new communication technologies, access to good educational programmes can be greatly extended to large audiences especially in rural and remote areas with tremendous flexibility in subject matter content and in locations served.
Changes in education paradigm with use of technology
Education in general and more specifically distance education have benefitted tremendously from various technological advances. The fast growth in the use of computers, especially the Internet and websites, in the last one decade or so has virtually revolutionised educational delivery through distance. It is envisaged that the structure of education will be such that the majority of students will be learners out-side the four walls of the class-room .Education will not be something to be completed before entering the job market; on the other hand,it will be life-long occupation.Place of work will be the place of learning. The pace with which these changes will take place will depend upon the pace with which information and communication technology will be put into operation to the cause of education, especially in the developing countries.
There are 378 universities, 18064 colleges, 4.92 lakh teachers and an estimated enrollment of 140 lakh students making the Indian higher education system one of the largest in the world. Despite this,the country also has the maximum number of illiterates . Distance education in the higher education sector contributes to about 24 per cent of the total enrollment. The Indian Government has ambitious plans of increasing this to 40 per cent by 2012. India has only one central open university, namely, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Each state also has a state open university set up by the respective state governments. Considering the need of educating a huge population , many private, un-aided distance education providers have mushroomed in the country . Due to lack of a proper regulatory framework in the distance education sector, Indian students tend to face issues related to quality and credibility of distance education.
The writer is director, Symbiosis Center For Distance Learning