By Nicky Collins:
A lot of things are underrated in India. Housewives, for instance. Or the Fiat Palio for that matter, if you are a car lover. However, a little bit of research and asking around has convinced me that in the context of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, ‘underrated’ gains a whole new meaning.
The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), established by an Act of Parliament in 1985, has continuously striven to build a knowledge society through inclusive education. The statistics in this regard are most impressive. The University began by offering two academic courses in 1987, i.e., Diploma in Management and Diploma in Distance Education. It offers about 490 certificate, diploma, degree and doctoral courses today. What began with 4528 students now serves the educational aspirations of over 4 million students in India and 36 other countries.
Innovation seems to be the buzzword around IGNOU. Apart from establishing India’s first Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, it has launched an innovative Bachelor of Arts course in Applied Sign Language in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire, which is first of its kind in the world. With the launch of EduSat (a satellite dedicated only to education) on 20th September, 2004 the University has ushered in a new era of technology-enabled education in the country. Today, there are 134 active two-way video-conferencing centres and it is probably the only university to boast a satellite earth station.
True to its vision, IGNOU has made education more accessible. Earlier last year, IGNOU entered into a pact with the Indian navy to launch the ‘sagardeep’ project to facilitate higher education for naval sailors. It has also signed a similar MoU with the IAF to help 100,000 serving men in the air force to earn a bachelor’s degree. Free of cost education is being provided to all jail inmates across the country.
Of course, the fact that most of the courses are reasonably priced at about 1000 to 14000 rupees per year is also a step in the same direction. It is also perhaps the only university in India which has opened its doors to students who have not finished high school with its Bachelor Preparatory program, which is an acceptable replacement for 12th class results. Today a degree is not just a piece of paper, it is a passport to better income and reputation and IGNOU has made achieving it much easier. The flexible duration and exam timings also help attract more students who might otherwise not be able to juggle between studies and earning a livelihood.
The courses in themselves also happen to be quite interesting, especially in their diversity with subjects ranging from sericulture to ophthalmic technology to special education in mental retardation. It is a misconception that IGNOU is renowned only for its distance courses; the regular courses also match up to the excellent standards that we have gradually come to expect from it. Emphasis is now being laid on developing interactive multimedia and online learning, and adding value to the traditional distance education delivery mode with modern technology-enabled education within the framework of blended learning.
The 36 year old University is thriving and how! But then nothing in this world comes in black or white. IGNOU, in recent times, has come to be known as ‘a world class institution with no customer care’. The delivery of results, some claim, are erratic and inconsistent with the reputation the university enjoys. The website is known to be vulnerable to repeated snags. In fact, shockingly enough, 3 year courses are sometimes known to stretch up to 5 years simply because of delays in upgrading the assignments. However, these are tiny specks in the armor of an otherwise excellent institution which, I am sure, will be resolved in the near future.