Overcoming Barriers to Access and Success: Some Strategic Issues

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Ramanujam, P R
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
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PCF2 // The physical spread of Open Distance Learning (ODL) has caused a kind of giddiness of success in many of us to the point of confusing access with success. // The increase in the number of institutions, programes. Courses, enrollment etc. has certainly been impressive in the last three decades. The present scenario on of ODL clearly shows that this trend is likely to increase and eventually may lead to the creation of new forms of teaching – learning, environment where many of the essential features of campus based face to face teaching and the present forms of ODL may blend into a new high-bred variety which will make the present distinction between ODL and the face to face teaching – learning archaic and even irrelevant. Many of the issues affecting ODL negatively in terms of quality, parity of esteem, recognition etc. in comparison with the face to face education will be resolved when a synthesis of both the systems becomes actually a synthesis of the two approaches and philosophies of education as such. This being a future possibility, the present focus of distance educators will be more on the expansion of ODL system and a comparatively less emphasis may be on the process of quality assurance. // The more we expand ODL system without adequate safeguards for quality assurance the least likely is the success of it, when rigorous criteria are applied to judge the standards and quality of ODL in comparison with face to face education. But, then, the expansion of DOL with all its present weaknesses can not be stopped since it has become a socioeconomic imperative in the developing countries, as it is a democratic right in the more developed countries. However, the present weaknesses ODL could easily be transformed into its strengths, provided some of the strategic factors are given due attention. // The strategic factors which need to be considered seriously are: the objectives of ODL systems/institutions; recruitment of staff (particularly the quality and the commitment of the staff); academic policies related to the choice of programmes; admission policies, vis-à-vis increasing the access of education to disadvantaged sections; the quality assurance mechanisms, support services, evaluation schemes, staff development, etc. In all these, the role of information technology (ICT) will be very crucial. Though distance teaching institutions are fast adapting themselves to ICT, the key factor in making ICT a successful tool in assuring both access and success is to be seen in the ways in which it is combined with sound pedagogic principles. In other words, both access and success of technology based growth of ODL will depend on the quality of decision making with regard to the choice and use of technology. This paper considers some of the above issues which have strategic importance in the context of DOL in the developing world in general and India in particular. //