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A novel initiative in education

The State government recently announced the setting up of a Kerala Open University. G. Mahadevan spoke to Ram Takwale, the Chairman of the three-member committee that conducted a feasibility study on the scope of establishing such a university in the State.

September 08, 2009 06:22 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 06:54 am IST

Prof. Ram Takwale . Photo: S. Mahinsha

Prof. Ram Takwale . Photo: S. Mahinsha

The government has announced the setting up of the Kerala Open University in the coming academic year. Ram Takwale, the founder of the open university in Maharasthra was the Chairman of the three-member committee that conducted a feasibility study of such a university and recommended its establishment. Soon after submitting the report, Professor Takwale discussed with The Hindu-EducationPlus his vision of an open university, the need for the KOU to have a ‘Future Now’ model of operations and the need for setting up a separate body to run that university.

•The committee mainly considered the following points while finalising the report:

•The poor quality of learning support to distance education and to private students.

•The unmet demands of those who have cleared high school and of those who have dropped out of school.

•The need to complement the restructured courses initiated by the Kerala State Higher Education Council

•The need for continuing education for all youth and adults to provide a life-long learning linked with living, working and development.

•Need for quality and relevance, learner choices and capacity building in education.

•The need for translating the core values and principles of social organizations given in the preamble to the Indian Constitution

•‘Massification’ of programmes along with personalization of education through offering a level play field to all and by empowering the disadvantaged.

Excerpts from the interview:

Could you elaborate on the ‘Future Now’ model of the proposed Kerala Open University?

It is better not to establish a KOU if it is going to function in the traditional governmental mode, files, bureaucracy and so on. It has to have a ‘Future Now’ mode, a 21st century style of functioning. The committee has told the government that the cyber infrastructure of the university, the e-platform on which the university would conduct all its operations needs to get established first.

The cyber infrastructure should be such that it can easily absorb any developments or changes in technology. Only then can the university deliver the requirements of an information society.

The KOU is going to use the process of the information society—virtualisation, digitisation, mass-personalisation, mass collaboration, the open resource movement and so on. The idea is to link education with development so that eventually there is social transformation.

The new university should have a minimal bureaucracy. It would be good to set up a separate body to run the university.

In Maharashtra, the government set up the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation. Kerala can find its own model. But a separate body that can take quick decisions is needed to run the university efficiently.

In Maharashtra, the government gave just about Rs.2 crore for the nascent Open University. The content delivery was by private providers. But because of the way the university is run, its operational culture which is not a traditional government culture, it is able to run profitably without charging very high fee.

How would the KOU function in the connected community mode?

Initially the content for KOU courses would be created by serving teachers in state universities. Eventually anyone, through wiki-processes, can become a contributor to that store of knowledge.

The services of those teaching in private tutorials now can also be considered. Anybody who feels that he or she has some knowledge that the society can use, is free to put up that knowledge in an open format.

These course teams would put the content they develop as Reusable Learning Objects and create a meta-database of Learning Objects.

They would also deploy these courses in the Learning Management System of the KOU. Already there are bodies of open resources and these would also be used.

The KOU would have study centres which would facilitate connected and distributed classrooms. The mentors at the study centres would be the teachers-in-contact of the university. While the KOU tutors would be connected virtually with the students, the mentors would be in face to face contact. Learning would take place in small groups. In fact KOU would seek to nurture cooperative learning—production learning and service learning-beginning from a small group to learners leading up to mass collaboration. The KOU’s evaluation would be two-pronged. It would be based on the performance of the individual and also that of his group.

How would the university partner with all sections of society?

We would propose an advisory committee to oversee the functioning of the University. The Vice-Chancellor should function in the mode of a CEO. The nine or ten members in the advisory committee would be drawn from all walks of life and would include the Chief Minister, the Education Minister and so on.

There is no point in the KOU giving students mere theoretical knowledge. Mere theory would be insufficient to link education with development.

The practical, work-experience part of the KOU courses would be drawn from agencies that work in the field.

The units of the Kudumbashree for instance can provide vital inputs on how a certain theory translates into practice and in which places a theory needs revision or correction.

All government departments would need to collaborate with the KOU. So, if a person wishes to do a course in fisheries, he would know whose expertise he can rely on.

Something on the vocational front can be provided by the ITIs… any person or organisation who would be able to provide inputs for that vital link between education and development. Even the private sector can be roped in for this.

On the funds of the new university, its teachers and on creating ‘wealth’ for the community.

The committee has recommended Rs.100 crore for five years so that the KOU can be up and running. Considering the educational requirements of our society, this is hardly a big sum.

We expect the central government too to pitch in for setting up the open university. As I have already indicated, the serving teachers would, in the beginning, start fashioning courses.

Later, whoever joins in the process of creating the open database can be paid on a performance basis. There would be a fixed, assured, retainer so that there is security for the teacher.

Any further payment would be on the basis of the demand for that course and that teacher from the student community.

The development of resources — either for an individual and his group or for the community and society—should be the outcome of a learning process.

Each student of the university should have in his or her name an ‘account’ in a ‘bank.’

The resources or the wealth he or she created should be put in that account as credit. This credit bank would be an important aspect of the KOU and its system of education.

Eventually this can lead to the micro-exchange of credit from one individual or group to another group or a community. This, hopefully, would shift the emphasis away from money as the sole unit for transaction and valuation of wealth or resources.

On the gap that KOU would seek to fill.

We have always measured education as something related to the outcome of examinations. Education in essence is the process of teaching-learning. Open and conventional universities have for long neglected this process. Open universities in particular have developed good learning material but have failed on the delivery front.

They pass on this material to students and then have no control over the transaction part, the interaction between students and teachers.Even teachers do not value this interaction all that much. But in the KOU, this process would be at the core of its operations.

This would be based on the “one for all and all for one’ principle. Education would be made qualitative and relevant to each individual.

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