Thursday, April 9, 2009

Learn through your handsets

Learn through your handsets

Indira Gandhi National Open University is aiming to promote mobile education in a major way. G. KRISHNAKUMAR outlines IGNOU’s plans in this regard.

HANDY MEDIUM: Indira Gandhi National Open University is planning to use the mobile platform for the delivery of educational content.

The prestigious Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is exploring the concept of M-education (mobile education) to take its academic programmes to the nook and corner of the country.

Aimed at fulfilling the country’s 11th Five-Year Plan motto, ‘Education for All’, the move is an effort to take education to the marginalised and disadvantaged people of the society.

According to IGNOU Vice-Chancellor V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, the use of mobile handsets for education delivery will help in the strengthening of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which is extensively used by the university for its various programmes.

“The concept is novel, when the call is democratising education. Even as a number of ICTs have been pressed into service in the country for the same goal, expert educators and mobile service providers rightly think, it is always advantageous to boost the existing ICTs with an additional line of service for education delivery at the learners’ best reach,” he told The Hindu EducationPlus.

The university authorities had already initiated talks with service providers to deliver educational content through mobile phones. The plan is to deliver content in the form of text, audio and video to students.

The idea for tapping the potential of the mobile education concept was discussed in detail during a round table conference held in New Delhi during November last year. IGNOU had received the full support of the Communications and Manufacturing Association of India (CMAI) in this project.

Experts from the telecom and academic fields, who attended the programme, had suggested stepping up rural connectivity for capacity building of students and learners. The event had also recommended identification of other cost-effective communication technologies for education delivery that are best suited for distance education.

Prof. Pillai said that the CMAI was looking forward to build up on the opportunities which this new medium of M-Education has created by providing IGNOU study material. “When connectivity is combined with the contents of study material, access to education can become massive. The access to course content and class-room dissemination of lessons also can be developed into providing and taking of examination papers through mobile telephony,” he said.

Stating that the mobile medium would help students study at their own pace, Prof. Pillai said that they can do it from home. Students can have access to the most advanced learning infrastructure and at the end of the course corporates will be waiting with dream job offers, he said.

Bridging distance

According to CMAI, M-education can cover far-flung areas in the country and assist to bridge the physical distance using wireless technology. It will help make mobile phones a great leveller in the society.

Contents can be easily accessed though handsets, no matter wherever are you or whenever you want. A number of tests can be immediately identified. Besides reaching out to the rural marginalised people, a number of competitive tests—CAT, JEE, GATE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL among a slew of others—can be taken using the medium, it said.

ICT platform

IGNOU is also stepping up its ICT-based educational services offered across the country. The latest project is to set up study centres at 3, 000 railway stations in the country in association with the government-owned Railtel Corporation of India Ltd.

Prof. Pillai said that the university would offer its academic programmes through these study centres. IGNOU will utilise Railtel’s high-speed optic fibre cable network (OFC) to provide educational content. The project’s trial run had been successful. An academic programme in this mode was offered from Thiruvananthapuram for the Nagaland University.

Students can interact with teachers using the university’s distance-learning modules and online tests at these virtual colleges. The move was part of IGNOU’s efforts to extend its reach to the interiors of the country, Prof. Pillai said. The university will set up study centres at railway stations in rural areas, apart from tier II and tier III cities.

Railtel has laid about 30,000 km of OFC network. For the project, it will offer land, bandwidth and data centres to IGNOU.

Enhancing technology

Prof. Pillai said that the rapid expansion of education had necessitated several steps involving decentralisation and enhancing the available technology at the regional centres and study centres. Steps are being taken to provide broadband connectivity to all study centres.

IGNOU’s educational programmes are reaching over 8 million homes through the Gyan Darshan Channels, via the DTH (Direct-To-Home) platform and webcasting, he said.

The university also acts as a national resource centre for expertise and infrastructure for the open and distance learning (ODL) system. It has developed e-gyankosh, a unique digital repository giving open access to all its materials.

Steps toward strengthening research in the area of ODL and enhancement of the domain knowledge in all the core disciplines of humanities, social sciences, arts and basic sciences, using the technology-intensive ODL, are being given top priority now.

Convergence scheme

Prof. Pillai said that the convergence scheme was a major initiative of IGNOU with a great impact on the conventional system. “This brings together the strengths of technology-augmented conventional face-to-face education and the open and distance learning to enhance the quality of the teaching-learning process and to expand the reach of education with social inclusivity. The response to this new scheme is enormous.


Other new schemes related to improving educational access include community colleges; strengthening other available rural and urban resources; creating special study centres; and training and certification of several thousands of in-service school teachers.

Prof. Pillai said that the community colleges, more than 100 such across the country, were re-accredited to award up to two years of tertiary education. IGNOU plans to offer conditional recognition to the certification of these colleges, as well as offer its own associate degree programmes through them.

The university will also offer courses on school leadership management for senior and middle-level teachers in schools.

Short-term orientation and training programmes based on regional needs, offered independently by the regional centres, are some of the other significant highlights of the activities initiated recently.

IGNOU has also created several new centres towards fulfilling its role as a capacity builder for the nation. These centres are IGNOU Institute for Vocational Education and Training; North East Centre for Research and Development; IGNOU Institute for Professional Competency Advancement of Teachers through ODL; IGNOU Centre for ODL in Research and Training in Agriculture; the Advanced Centre for Informatics and Innovative Learning; and the Centre for Corporate Education, Training and Consultancy.

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