My Experiences in Distance Education

In memory of late Professor Riyaz Punjabi, former Chairman Faculty of Non-Formal Education and Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir
Representational Image
Representational ImagePixabay [Creative Commons]

The Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir was established way back in 1976; thousands of students have passed through this alternative cost-effective system of education. While serving students our concern is not only academic, we ensure their holistic development.

During this growth trajectory we register many case studies to our memories. These case studies are the learning experiences for future teachers who will run our institutions. A young lady was enrolled for BEd programme, session 2010, and aspired to become a teacher.

Attendance in contact classes was mandatory. In the first semester she attended classes everyday but she started struggling when her daughter was born. She was very happy to be a mother but she was alone and it was getting complicated to attend contact classes in third semester. Her parents lived far away, she did not have enough money to hire a maid and nobody else could help her to manage a baby.

She was desperate and thought about giving up her dreams; post counseling by the coordinator she whisked away such thought and reassured herself that she could do it. Exams were fast approaching and the young mother could not afford skipping her classes. So one day she decided to take her daughter along to attend the contact classes.

The little one was nervous and she had to go in and out of the room many times thus causing minor disruptions. All this wreaked havoc amongst her mates and somebody frowned upon her but she had no options to carry on with the classes. The matter was brought into the information of then Director Professor Shafiqa Parveen.

This young mother received a sealed envelope from the Director. She was certain it was an official warning for taking her daughter into the class. But when she opened the envelope she saw the content and her expression changed. The letter had been written by her Director and read “I gave a serious thought to your situation; you should not be embarrassed if you are going through hard times.

It is wonderful and exemplary to see how you care after your baby without giving your dream of becoming a good teacher. This is why I spoke to the Dean Academic Affairs, he is kind enough to arrange remedial classes for you and has directed the Coordinator to provide you, computer assisted summarized version of study material as a supplement for your exams.” The girl was relieved when she read these encouraging remarks.

This story reminds us that there are many administrators who serve selflessly with their hearts. Working behind the teacher’s desk obviously means sharing notions, but also empathizing with distance learners while guiding them in a pathway which is not exclusively academic but rather a life journey. I remember a 72 year old lady had enrolled for our BEd programme session 2012.

She attended her contact classes religiously at our Study-cum-Information Center Government College of Education M.A Road. She was very lively and charming figure in the class. Her thirst for knowledge and teaching the poor children free had brought her to distance education.

One of the distance learners saw the reflection of mother in her. He was enraptured by her stories as if he was reading the best book of his life. The old lady became so famous that at the end of the contact classes she was requested to share her life experiences.

Her classmates organized a party in her favor and she gave a memorable speech in in the auditorium of Government College of Education on 23rd September 2012. This speech still reverberates in my ears. She started her speech:

“We do not stop playing because we are old. We get old because we stop playing. To keep young we have to refresh and feed our thoughts with seeds of optimism. There will always be problems but we should not let them bring us down. Our life is a voyage against tides, we have to keep going. Everybody must cherish a dream in his life and pursue it fearlessly. One should have an unpunctuated faith in the mercy of God and one’s own abilities. The goal in our life is to have no regrets; we should never complain or grudge and remain contended with what Almighty Allah has provided us. We should not boast of our material goods but try to be empathetic. Life itself is an examination and those who take it seriously succeed in it. Education teaches us with what little we can manage our lives.”

Recently I met a teacher from that batch, 2012, in an Urdu workshop; during an informal tea break the first question he asked me about that old lady. He recalled each line of her advice. I had one retired veteran principal of SP College and former Controller of Examinations Central University of Kashmir Prof Nazir Ahmad Gilkar enrolled for my BEd programme in distance education. He was a role model for students.

He keenly attended the contact classes, maintained a reflective diary and read source texts in Education in addition to the study material. He was a strict disciplinarian and a man of ideas.

He treated himself as an inquisitive learner. I shall quote one example of his humble nature. I peeped through the window frame of my chamber and there was a long queue of students for receiving a study material.

I saw Professor Gilkar in the queue waiting for his turn to receive the material, it was raining and he was holding an umbrella. I quickly moved from my chamber and requested him that I will collect it on his behalf.

He declined the favor and waited for his turn; here I realized Education is taught through behavior of a good teacher.

A poor, visually impaired girl had applied for BEd programme in the Directorate. She could not submit her selection form on time due to financial constraints; link for admissions was closed. She wrote a direct application to the then vice chancellor Prof Riyaz Punjabi.

The Vice Chancellor called the girl to his chamber and paid 50% of her fee from his own pocket and wrote on her application that she will deposit the remaining amount in four equal installments.

After two months Prof Riyaz Punjabi came to Directorate of Distance Education, interacted with non-teaching staff and enquired from the then Assistant Registrar Late Khan Sahib about the progress of that poor visually impaired girl.

In this meeting he impressed upon the non-teaching staff of the Directorate to be courteous and nice with students coming from far-flung areas. Once their issues are addressed promptly with minimum hassles they go as good ambassadors.

I remember an episode that we had to go for inspections during contact classes or practice of teaching to far flung areas. A Mazda van or SUV car was procured from transport section of the University just to ferry two or three officials.

The driver reported at 11 a.m, due to traffic jams and due to late departure we could hardly inspect one or two contact centers. I felt it was futile exercise and waste of university expenditure.

I wrote a note to Director and moved to targeted schools in a train early at 7.00 am and could inspect max number of schools with an expenditure of few hundred rupees. This exercise helped me to frame a detailed inspection dairy day-wise.

Later during the screening of the remuneration bills of resource persons these inspection dairies helped me to filter and retain objectionable bills, thereby saving lakhs of rupees of the Directorate. This exercise earned me more enemies than friends but I did my duty to the best of my consciousness.

I remember at the initial stage of my career I was provided a branded desktop worth forty thousand rupees., but a stabilizer was not provided.

My conscience did not allow me to operate it directly on the mains connection, with the apprehensions it will get damage. I brought the stabilizer from my home, operated the equipment on it for almost two years till a stabilizer was provided.

I took the challenge of enrolling thousands of students for BEd programme and worked out an indigenous Socio-Metric Model of Open and Distance Learning on the basis of which we could accommodate maximum number of students without sacrificing the essence of quality. This model was based on the creation of ICT backed micro-study-groups based on the technique of Sociometric Research.

I have mostly observed during my career that we do not preserve the good work done by our predecessors in our University and whatever comes from UGC we take it as a Bible. IGNOU/ STRIDE prepared manuals for writing of lesson scripts in self-learning format in nineties.

We take it as a Bible. I transformed the BEd lesson scripts into self-learning format in 2005 on the basis of an old document, How to prepare a lesson script published by then Institute of Correspondence Education University of Kashmir in July 1985 when IGNOU had not taken birth. Today we are subservient to IGNOU and DEB, they give us dictations.

Our past good work has been a road map for them and we have lost the treasure due to our callous approach. I was reading a book by N Jose Chander “Management of Distance Education”, Sterling Publications, from which I learnt Distance Education University of Kashmir was the first institution in the country that voiced, and justified the need for autonomy of correspondence institutions.

Quoting page 69 from this book “The Directorate of Kashmir University Srinagar has set up a Faculty of Non-Formal Education to deal with course making for distance education.

A workshop organized by National Institute of Education Planning & Administration, New Delhi in October 1987 and attended by Directors and other distance educators from several universities recommend the formation of such faculties to cover preferably the departments of distance education, adult and continuing education.”

These benchmarks set by University of Kashmir way back in 1987 are reflected in the form of recommendations in New Education Policy 2020 where focus is on creating inter-institutional-linkages. We need to dig into, and revisit these shelved documents; a serious work already done by our predecessors.

Today our new education policy 2020, ODL regulations 2017, different curriculum frameworks recommend collaboration and networking, constitution of clusters/complexes for pooling of resources, still there is lot of confusion and ambiguity about its implementation.

Our forefathers were men of vision. Prof Shah Manzoor Alam former Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir, while addressing the audience in a workshop organized by Correspondence Education on July 4th 1985 said that we are setting up different centers in the University like center for computer sciences and center of educational media and it is expected that distance education will make full use of these resources.

What Prof Alam had suggested way back in 1985 is reflected as one of the significant recommendation in new education policy 2020. I have experience in many institutions that sometimes students submit feedback in the newspapers and other forums which is genuine but authorities play defensive, and ignore it altogether. Students need a patient hearing.

While attending many conferences and seminars I have observed institutions projecting themselves through their strengths and hiding their weaknesses.

If we want any structural and visible change in our institutions we need to project both our strengths and weaknesses. To conclude every experience educates. We have to learn from our past mistakes and build on our strengths.

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Coordinator Institute of Correspondence Education, University of Kashmir

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Coordinator Institute of Correspondence Education, University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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