Staff Development: Potential and Use of Distance Mode Among People with Disabilities in India

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Ramanujam, P R
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
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PCF1 // One of the strongest and the most emphatic statements about the 'openness' of distance and open learning (DOL) is the one that affirms its potential to break the traditional barriers obstructing educational access to disadvantaged groups, including people with disabilities. Ironically, it is the same potential which is actually used by the already privileged groups to enhance their educational and career opportunities much more extensively than by the disadvantaged. While the expansion of the DOL system is identified with the increase of educational access to the disadvantaged, the actual advantages which reach the disadvantaged through DOL is questionable. Whether in the developed world or the developing world, it is the urban middle class, which is educationally, and socially privileged, that reaps maximum benefits from DOL (Perry, 1976; Mathewson 1995). While the slogan about DOL's equity principle helps the privileged to gain more, the potential to reach the really disadvantaged remains either neglected or poorly addressed. The case becomes stronger if one looks at the education of people with disabilities. // Take a quick look at the content pages of the proceedings of the two major regular conferences of DOL - the ICDE world conference and the AAOU annual conference. The hefty volumes of the World Conferences of the ICDE 1995 and 1997 do not contain a single paper on the contribution of DOL to the education of people with disabilities. Similar is the case with the AAOU Annual Conferences of 1997 and 1998. The general literature survey too shows that the journals and the books on DOL do not have much to offer. With considerable difficulty one comes across papers or chapters on disability issues vis-à-vis DOL in journals and books which otherwise deal with an array of relevant issues and themes. Judi Walker (1994), Rainer Ommerborn (1995) and Tom Vincent (1995) are a few noteworthy exceptions who have addressed the issues related to the education of the disabled in depth. Heather Mason and Carol Miller (1991) recognised the need and the possibility to train special educators through distance mode but did not elaborate on how the training can be effected. In the developing countries, though special education has made some impact; the potential of DOL to meet the educational and training needs of the disabled is hardly touched. Certainly in India a meaningful engagement, if not a wedding, is yet to take place between DOL and disability issue. The present paper attempts to build a care to effect such an engagement or marriage at the earliest. //