Introduction The name of an organization that is present in the Education space for school children is one of the most advertised organizations in India. However, this organization has announced losses and is now restructuring itself to face the many challenges. If this can happen to a famous organization that has tremendous scope in terms of numbers, what can happen to State Universities that offer the most traditional courses in the most traditional manner, can very well be imagined.
Yes, every single University offering distance education courses is now facing the problem of rapidly depleting enrolment figures and this is a pan-India phenomenon. For example, at least six different Universities in Tamil Nadu, all of them State Universities, are offering the MBA distance education course. Today, the figures for enrolment are so less that a few Universities are now contemplating closing down the course. Even the mighty Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is said to be having far fewer candidates than ever before for its courses.
It is not a volume game. The administrators and academics have not understood the message of value addition. They have totally misunderstood what it means to run distance education courses. The changing dynamic world of business knows many things. They have templates for action. They are good at customization, and expectations from employees have correspondingly increased. It is for the academics and administrators to understand the ground realities of the industries and then structure their educational distance learning opportunities.
It is in this context that distance education universities a) Transform each course into a digital course b) Redesign each course to reflect industry needs c) Provide compulsory weekend classes d) Make internship compulsory for each course and keep on updating the syllabus every four months.
Transform each course into a digital one Times are changing. Even the tiniest of villages now have internet connection or the students of distance education can avail of internet services from the nearby towns or bigger villages. Hence, students can be given pen drives that would contain the entire study material. And when online material is available to the student, learning becomes very quick. For example, there are many who just walk into an internet center and view their entire study material. The reach of the internet and the ease of online meetings are bound to create a good impact in the years to come. To create IT infrastructure, State Universities can rely on manpower through their own alumni and funds can be mobilized through alumni as well. We need a large number of initiatives to help organize the IT infrastructure at different places, based on demand. And when that happens, it becomes easier to make online education work. Furthermore, the cost of online education is bound to come down; the elitist orientation that is now seen will be gone and the lower costs will enable a massive number of trained manpower who can further add tremendous value to the manpower requirements of the IT industries.
Redesign courses to reflect industry needs The BA (History) course should be gone; in its place, there should be a new four-year Degree Course on BA (Applied History) and Tourism. The first year may have subjects in History. The second year should have compulsory History of all social developments in the particular State, with particular reference to different aspects of culture and the tourism industry that gets organized around the culture of that particular State. Today, it is not known if a person from say, Kerala, can confidently speak about the historical significance of the Onam festival and the boat races of Allepy. What is significant about these? Surely, foreign tourists will be very curious to know the full details. In the name of the conventional courses, we have totally destroyed everything good about many cultures in India.
Hence, if Madurai Kamaraj University were to introduce this course, for example, it can cover the History of Tamil Nady as well as Kerala. The logic is simple: Kerala is a big neighbor and the number of hours it takes to touch Kerala via Theni is very less. Similarly, other State Universities of different States should also conduct similar courses and cater to the demand for trained manpower in their States and surrounding States.
Let the potential of the course enable gainful employment for each of those who register for the course. Furthermore, a travel agency that operates in more than two States should be involved as a travel partner for an internship, and those who want a career in tourism should be appointed as travel guides and so on; similar collaborative efforts should be thought of for each course and all traditional courses should be redesigned.
Provide compulsory weekend classes When the courses become totally online, the concerned Universities should organize a massive number of "Training the Trainer" courses. Such a training schedule will ensure that the weekend compulsory classes provide the required support and that the students also become seriously involved in the learning process. This is vital. At the moment, the academic orientation is prominent and the net result is that distance education courses are not treated on par with regular courses. We need tremendous effort, planning, and execution skills to change this situation. Only then will the enrolment in distance education courses increase.
Make internship compulsory and update the syllabus As outlined above for the proposed new four-year Degree Course in Applied History and Tourism, a course leading to a Bachelor's Degree or Master's Degree should have a compulsory internship requirement. This is in the interest of the student and the internship can even happen in the same organization where the student is employed. Similarly, the regular updating of the course on a very regular basis is a must. Thus a Master's Degree Course in Capital Markets, organized as an online program for two years, should now reflect the changing global dynamics where the US dollar is getting strengthened and the global capital movement is likely to take a hit when demand in specific markets slows down and China as a huge consumer reduces its spending.
The appropriate case studies should be prepared by the domain experts and included as part of the learning material. Unless this happens, the gap between regular courses and distance learning online programs will continue to widen and the net result will be the same - non-recognition of the degree as equivalent to the regular degree.
Conclusion Some thoughts on how Distance Education courses can be converted into result-oriented online courses have been discussed in some detail. Hopefully, there will be some action to enable a larger number of learners to become more skilled through online education, in a variety of new courses.
During the COVID times and afterwards there was a mushrooming of online teaching platforms. Some of them are very reputed and are delivering good courses as well as helping the students in many fronts. But all are not like that and are only bothered to mint money in this online phase of education. The author has given some good suggestions for improvement of these online courses so that a good practical knowledge is imparted to the students who have enrolled in various such platforms.
An important thing is that these platforms are competing with each other and that is the only thing which will help in making their courses more and more appealing to the students and help them in carving out a successful career. The point to be noted here is that there is no regulatory body or monitoring agency which can check if any of these online agencies are cheating their students.
There is a need these days to make some changes in the education system for students. Simply teaching them some theory and asking them to reproduce them in the examinations and awarding degrees is not sufficient. That is why many organisations will not give preference to the candidates who completed their studies through distance education mode.
As mentioned by the author, making digital courses may be very helpful in this process. More than that, the students studying through distance mode should also be asked to have some practical on hand experience in some related organisations so that they will have a piece of better knowledge and they will become more useful to the industry. All the candidates should be asked to complete at least one or two internships before they are awarded the degrees. That will add value to the degree they obtained. The industry will also absorb such people keeping their hands-on experience in view.