India's Distant Education System
The concept of distant education has taken a while to be accepted in the popular imagination in India where it has been traditionally accepted since Independence that the State will pay for higher education irrespective of the market, merit or even financial status. But the pinch is now being increasingly felt in the job market where virtually "unemployable human resources" equipped with almost useless graduate or postgraduate degrees are being churned out year after year by our colleges and Universities. India is a welfare country where subsidies [non-merit public expenditures] more or less benefit the privileged middle classes and higher education is considered to be a tool that facilitates proliferation of democracy. But "democratization of education" [read proletarianization of meritocracy] can never be a solution to the problem of unemployment and a stagnant job market.
Add unemployment and youth discontent to a serious population growth scenario and you get an explosive combination where the entire nation happens to sit on the top of a dormant volcano, apparently idling away time watching the World Cup of Cricket, while permanent employment and social security are fast becoming obsolete in a society where a job is supposed to be like your mother in terms of security and sustenance.
However, the open school or University system can address this simmering tension and disturbing state of affairs in an effective manner only if more professional courses are designed by professionals to accommodate our educated generalists, that is students with degrees in the humanities, literature and social sciences. One such option can be social work where the catchment area may cater to students from sociology, history, political science, anthropology, public administration and the like. The job market here is specific: the NGOs who sponsor third actor intervention, public action and civil societal advocacy.
Science and commerce graduates may even be taught entrepreneurial and microcredit financing skills so that they may also contribute to the nation's self-help movement in the professional services sector. Netaji Subhas Open University, Calcutta is one of the foremost Indian educational institutions in this area, according to Professor Asish Guha, Director of Study Centres, NSOU.
The University Grants Commission's sponsored teachers' training programs like refresher and orientation courses for college and University lecturers are more or less like academic picnics where precious public money is wasted in a meaningless manner over a period of three weeks or so. As such our generalist colleges and Universities produce man power that is often not employable without any further skill enhancement in areas like computer literacy, management or any other technical training. But India's tax payers have to still bear the brunt of an expensive higher education system that almost entirely runs on subsidies and without any material returns to produce in exchange. Doctors and engineers and management professionals join the country's bureaucracy after their professional attainments, thus resulting in huge losses in terms of human resource management.
The UGC should seriously rethink its system of awarding scholarships, funding seminars, symposia, workshops, travel grants, book and equipment purchase and so on and so forth. Refresher and orientation courses are almost entirely useless as after completion of these programs the only people who happen to benefit are the teachers themselves so far as their Career Advancement Scheme is concerned and nobody else. High theory is flaunted at these programs with no regard to the UGC's guidelines that undergraduate courses should primarily be brought into focus. Let's face it: the commonplace and average student doesn't really need to read about Plato or Aristotle - he or she is much better off studying how commodities are produced for and exchanged in the market. This may sound unduly harsh but students or trained human resources are, in the very last recourse, commodities in the market to be bought and sold against a value defined and determined by forces of demand and supply.
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Dr. Prasenjit Maiti
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