Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kashmir Embraces Open Education

Success with the State Open School in collaboration with the National Institute of Open Schooling is encouraging the state to seriously consider establishing a State Open University in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)

Dr. Abdul Gani (Regional director, IGNOU, Srinagar)

With about 360 universities and 18600 colleges, Indian system of higher education is one of the fastest growing systems in the world. However, in spite of tremendous expansion recorded in its higher educational system, even now one-third of its adult population is illiterate and only about 10% of the eligible age group get enrolled in higher education.

Access and equity, vocationalisation of education, pedagogic reforms still remain major issues of concern. The conventional higher education is not flexible enough to cope up with the scale of educational challenge and respond to the need-based education and training. Lack of resources is one of the major impediments in realizing the national goal of universalization of elementary education and vocationalisation of secondary education. Therefore, the technologies of different kind need to be harnessed to supplement the conventional teaching and learning process.

It is in this context that Open Distance Learning (ODL) is being seen as a means for ushering in a revolution in delivery of quality education in a cost effective and need-based manner. As of today, the open and distance learning system in India comprising, besides IGNOU, 14 state open universities and 140 distance education centres in the conventional universities account for 25% of the total higher education enrolment in the country. Several established institutions like IIT’s and IIM’s have also started distance education programmes. Distance education has been particularly helpful for women. In India, women make up 40% of distance education students compared with 28% in the conventional face-to-face mode.

The overall higher education student enrolment in the country is projected to grow at 10% per annum while as the ODL System enrolment is expected to grow at 20% per annum during the Eleventh Five Year Plan period (2007-2012). Accordingly, by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan, 29 states in the country are expected to have one Open University each with a plan to cater to about 40 percent of higher education learner population in the country and account for an enrollment of around 7 million students. By the year 2015 more than 85% of the universities of the world are expected to provide a dual system of education i.e. both formal and open learning.

As one of the leading mega universities of the world IGNOU’s reach now extends to over 2 million students in India and 33 other countries of the world, offering 175 programmes through a network of 59 Regional Centres and about 2400 study centres. It accounts for over 15% of the total enrolment in higher education in the country. That means every 4th student of higher education in India is in distance mode and every 8th student of higher education in the country is the student of IGNOU.

On the recommendation of the task group on Education set up by the MHRD in 1998, to identify the educational requirements of the State of J&K, Srinagar Regional Centre of IGNOU was established in February 1999 with jurisdiction over Kashmir Division including Leh and Kargil. It started its journey from just one room of the Department of Commerce of Kashmir University, with the help of one part-time clerk, with just four centres, 14 programmes and around 1000 students. With only 10 years of its existence, IGNOU Regional Centre at Srinagar has already enrolled well over 60,000 students. It is a matter of great pride for us that with the average admission figure of over 8000 students every year we have recorded one of the highest per capita enrolments in the country.

At present IGNOU is operating practically in every nook and corner of Kashmir Division through a network of 29 centers, comprising 9 Study Centers, 15 Programme Centers and 4 Special Study Centers. Almost every district of Kashmir Division including Leh & Kargil has presence of IGNOU learner support centers. In an attempt to reach the unreached we have already established special study centres for women and masses living in remote areas and are in the process of establishing similar centres for physically challenged, people belonging to far flung areas.

For the capacity building and strengthening of the conventional education system, a new convergence scheme has been conceived jointly by UGC, IGNOU, Distance Education Council and AICTE under the guidance of the Ministry of Human Resources Development. Its objective is to achieve the projected target of the 11th Plan of increasing higher education access rate to15th % by 2012 from the current 10%, by making the optimal use of the strengths of the conventional and ODL systems. Under this scheme so far 359 conventional higher education institutions have enrolled over 10,00 students. In Kashmir 2 partner institutions are already operational under the scheme, which include the College of Education and the Women’s College, MA Road adjacent to it. A number of other institutions of the valley are being covered under this scheme.

To provide a gateway to on line education, online admission and free of cost internet facility at the doorsteps of the students, the university has launched an ambitious project of providing state of the art kiosk facility with latest computing, and broadband internet facility with adequate power back to our study centres. At the regional Centre and Amar Singh College the facility is already in place. At Degree College Kupwara and Degree College Kargil it would be operational next week. Very soon the facility would be extended to other centres also. Ultimate plan is to link the entire IGNOU network in the valley with our Hqrs. at Delhi.

Our recent initiates of walk in admissions and online admissions are showing encouraging results. We are soon introducing on line and on demand examination facility for our students. The educational system in the valley is going to witness the dawn of new era as a full-fledged FM radio station is being set up very soon at Srinagar exclusively for education, training and development in Kashmir. It would be used to broadcast programmes not only for IGNOU students but also for those pursuing school, higher, technical and professional education in valley. The entire equipment has already reached Srinagar. The station is scheduled to be become operational by April this year.

The indications are that a culture of distance and open education has started developing in the J&K State. Realizing the potential and significance of ODL in the State, the government has already established the State Open School in collaboration with the National Institute of Open Schooling. The State is seriously considering the establishment of a State Open University for which the technical and financial support is being provided by IGNOU, being the statutory of Open and Distance Education in the country.

(Kashmir Images)

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