Imperatives of the ‘Information Society’: A Critical Perspective on ICT Policy and Practice in Indian Distance Education

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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

PCF5 Sub-theme: Cross-cutting Themes // The ‘information society’ or the ‘knowledge society’ are terms used by sociologists to describe post-modern societies that are affected by, amongst others, explosive technological changes and economic globalization. Open and distance learning has also been impacted by these changes and every discussion on it subsumes a technology component. A meta-analysis of the relevant literature will reveal the alarmist rhetoric, nebulous objectives and technological determinism that characterize the discourse surrounding the positioning of ICTs in distance education in India. // Distance education accounts for 25 per cent of the total enrolment of higher education in India, of which the share of students in dual-mode universities is around 8 per cent. This paper will attempt to present an overview of the discontinuities and imbalances between policy and practice in India, with the focus on the dual-mode universities. A historical perspective reveals a recurrent pattern of investment in ICT-based initiatives but little improvement in the quality or quantum of education. This does not imply a rejection of the potential benefits of ICTs, but the necessity for a creative approach that is not shaped by western models of distance learning and does not shy away from adopting low-tech solutions. What is needed is a more pragmatic and context-specific approach so that the social mission of higher education is extricated from what is fast becoming a technicist one. In a developing country, where only 9 per cent of the population in the relevant agegroup receives tertiary education, policy makers and academics need to steer clear of goals that are a drain on the limited financial resources set aside for extending access to higher education and rearrange their priorities. // Paper ID 565