Distance learning is expected to rise manifold

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Distance learning is expected to rise manifold

As far as educational plans are concerned, lets take them one at a time; the Eleventh Five Year Plan hopes to hike the gross enrolment ratio (GER) to 15 percent. For the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2017), the objective that has been set is around 20 percent. In the ministry, we are also trying to fix a more ambitious targetGER of 30 percent, by the end of the decade (this 30 is really quite the ministrys target). But then, if you dont aim high enough, theres no way that you will increase the pace of things. The first focus of the government of India is inclusion. The 374 districts in the country that are considered educationally backwardplaces where there are no degree colleges or institutes of higher learning will get new institutions. To get to our goal (of setting up institutes where there are none)the state and central governments will work together. The college or institute will be approved by the Centre and will be set up or run on a sharing basis especially as far as the cost is concerned.

The governments could rope in private players as well. It could be purely public, or it could be based on the public-private partnership(PPP) model. Then the Centre will be undertaking another schemepart of the Eleventh Planto cover districts that has a GER percentage less than 15 (around 12.4 or less). We hope to take all our plans to stakeholders and see how we can chalk out an incentive model together. We have worked out a draft, but details need to be worked out further. We plan to dot the landscape with institutions. We also plan on increasing students intake by increasing the number of shifts that a college building may be allowed to run. A structure can be used in two shiftsmorning and afternoonthus allowing more students per building. For now the plan has received the AICTE approval. If the shift system stands approved as a policy, then institutions can go ahead and implement but the factors - such as existing faculty strength and existing infrastructure will have to be considered as well.

A fourth dimension to the GER plan will be technology. The National Mission on Education (through ICT) is trying to rope in a majority into quality education. The mission has already approved technology education and science material (helped by the faculty of the IITs). The faculty-developed quality teaching and learning materials have been put up on official websites for everyone for free (like the MIT project). The three components of the mission are:
Content development
Connectivity
Low-cost computing

We are trying to ensure that not only are institutes connected, they have quality content and low-cost computersa holistic approach to computing and access. The final element in this plan is distance learning (DL). DL is something that is expected to increase manifold in the countrybut a strict eye will be kept on the question of quality. The rise in DL doesnt mean that states or Centre will allow just any sort of teaching-learning practice. The ministry believes it will remain extremely particular as to who will provide the oversight and what the distance education council will be doing in terms of ensuring programme quality and seeing that there is a certain rigour to them. We are trying to reduce our dependence on physical teachers. Under the technology mission, we are trying to create more and more content. The process follows a four-quadrant approach. One can talk to a teacher, consult the net, or a tutorial to solve all manners of students issues or problems. That is a way of trying to reduce dependence on physical teachersby creating virtual teachers.

Other ways in which the government is trying to address the lacuna:
Increasing the retirement age in central institutions. We are approaching state governments and explaining to them that an increased age of retirement will be supported by an 80 percent reimbursement package (thanks to the Sixth Pay Commission).
Attractive remuneration packages for teachers should make the profession desirablealso from the research and overall governance points of view.

The states and the Centre have to ensure that teachers are provided a positive ambience to work in. At the same time, the ministrys trying to see how it can fill up the vacancies in institutions; as fast as possible. In terms of quality, I think the emphasis on research is important. Research has not been attracting the kind of attention we wish to see. As per the new UGC regulations, the committees in charge of assessing research performances will have a definitive guide allowing them to assess papers similar to a peer performance review. It will enable institutions to take a look at what a teacher is doing in terms of not only teaching, but also co-curricular activities and research; we hope the evaluation will turn out to be holistic. And, the quality will have to be benchmarked in all sectors, whether teaching, research or extracurricular activities.

The Mission 2020 is full of projects that are slated to encourage a technology-driven (education) sector. The mission will focus on how to develop methods of improving access, infrastructure and quality in educationfor instance, we have a software that is freely downloadable; it does not require equipment or hardware, just a camera. Any and every institution will be able to afford it. I use it.

Well, the Eleventh Five Year Plan raised the budget by 10 times. The budget for the higher education sector has seen a large rise. Furthermore, the ministry plans to raise the number of IITs from seven to 15, have 20 new IIITs, and add so many new IIMsthere are several more plans. The investment thats coming in from the Public Exchequer is fairly substantialand nearly seven percent of it is going into the HE sector. Now, what we need to do is to incentivise the private sector a lot more. Between 65 to 75 percent of professional education is financed by the private sector. However, since we need to grow further and so substantially, we need to have a larger canvas. We are trying to see how the government reforms come in. We see more institutions coming in, but no fly-by-night operators. We need to ensure that whoever comes in, students remain the first and foremost concern, not profit. Those are the concerns that we are trying to build into the system and we are proposing to set up an education finance corporation for students and institutions, which will enable both the parties to seek loans for their needs. We need to have long-range education-finance programmes. Educational finance and its loans cannot be short-term (five years), because, institutions will have to charge that money from the students to make up. We need to create a situation where institutes are able to tap into funds that last over a long time and can be repaid over a longer time.

Vibha Puri Das took over as the secretary in the Department of Higher Education under the Ministry of Human Resource Development in September 2010. A 1976-batch Uttaranchal cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Das, is a postgraduate in political science from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is more than excited about what lies ahead