It is told that there are six types of You Tube interfaces which adjust automatically according to the gadgets and connectivity speed. With such mind boggling provisions in the internet) and the availability of cheaper smart phones and tablets, the education sector is undergoing tremendous transformations in the recent times.
Many years ago, the focus in most of the developing countries was to enroll maximum number of students to college going level so that the growing economy of these countries will have direct benefits out of it. With the opening up of the borders, trade and services, the requirement of the skilled and trained manpower facilitated the mushrooming of the higher education institutions in India. Even though the move to allow private and self-financing educational institutions to operate in the higher education level was welcomed, the quality of the education imparted dented many of their chances to establish and brand themselves as the institutions of excellence in the recent past.
According to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), more than 1.5 million engineering graduates are trained in India. But the recruitment’s from many of these institutions are very poor and sometimes zero leading to the strains in the socio-economic milieu of many of the families across the country. With the mushrooming of these institutions, irrespective of the income levels and the social back ground, parents bet on their children by sending them to these institutions thus hoping for both social and economic liberation sometimes from the murkier social past.
It is not only the unemployment but also the under employment sending out the worrying signals in the sector. Recent studies show that it is not only confined to Engineering field, but covers the entire education sector. India produces around 5 million graduates every year. Here also, the under employment is the dominating factor as majority of the graduates are poor in their subject understanding, analytical skills, English speaking abilities etc. India has a rotten system of learning concepts with prominence to theories and has less relevance to practical and interdisciplinary approaches. Teaching lacks the exposure to the functional skills that would be deployed in the industry. It is heard that, while they select faculty for Engineering colleges, qualified people with more experience in the industry are less preferred to those without any industry exposure at all, but having prior teaching experience. How can one get acquainted with the practical issues and industry standards, if not at all exposed to the industry? How can such a faculty impart knowledge on practical wisdom and industrial standards to his/her students?
Degrees and certificates are issued for the sake of giving it.
While the industry education tie ups are encouraged to overcome these challenges prevailing in the education sector, questions are raised about the improvement in teaching. The faculty improvement programs/quality improvement programs are doubted for their quality and seriousness. The teaching aids and methods are not updated for many years. In the modern wireless world, sometimes students are having superior knowledge denigrating the position of the teachers causing embarrassment to the institution and the management. At the same time, given the poor quality of the education offered, many of the self-financing colleges are under threat and fear the shutdown. To complicate the situation, parents are not willing to shell the amount of money that these colleges demand for the fear of unemployment and underemployment of their kid.
It is in this context, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) offered by the top universities from Europe and America shall be looked upon. The idea behind MOOC’s is to bring education to the masses, enabling anyone throughout the entire world with access to the internet, the opportunity to study college or university level courses, gaining a quality educational experience. In one of the review reports published by UK Government on MOOC in the recent times describe MOOC as “They see opportunities for brand enhancement, pedagogic experimentation, recruitment and business model innovation”. Famous MOOC platforms include Coursera, Udacity and edX. There are many Indian players are also testing the water who are successful at the school level. Though these courses started generating interest not only among the college going students, it has become popular among the employees in order to improve their skill sets on various aspects of job competitiveness.
As in every case, MOOC has also not escaped from the critics of traditionalists. Learning is a complex social and emotional process that promotes Critical Thinking, say MOOCS critics. How can MOOC replicate the class rooms while they offer Online course; they ask. They are simply an advanced form of the distance learning of the yesteryears, they claim. But in the limited time period MOOC started operating, most of these platforms were able to encourage meet-ups and group learning among the students from the same city. While some of these courses are offering Certificates subject to the successful completion of the assignments and pass in the online written exam, many others prefer to opt for MOOC platforms to improve the learning and understating of the subject they pursue for their career development. Unlike the system in India where the syllabus updation takes ages, MOOC syllabus are updated regularly and peer reviewed thus giving the participates an unique opportunity to access the pool of reading materials and other toolkits to enhance their subject learning and processing. They report positively on learning experiences and innovative formats of pedagogy, and spotlight themes such as access, empowerment, relationship building and community among the participants and academicians. Though it is positively discriminated in favour of the net savvy participants at present, it is anticipated that improvements in online technologies would reduce the disparity among the participants in regard to access, content, quality, accreditation, pedagogy, poor engagement with weaker learners, and exclusion of learners without networking skills.
MOOC may not replace the education institutions very soon. But the message and intent are welcome. This not only demands the improvements in class room teaching with the better aids and content improvement. Both the teachers and students can avail MOOC to benchmark their learning and understanding on the subject taught and graduated. It also offers the students the opportunity to address their doubts and go beyond the class room oriented reading lists. For the management of the institutions, MOOC gives avenues for innovating, maturing, deepening leading to expansion of the courses they offer. They can also build business models where the industry tie ups and support for certain courses using online platforms learning from MOOC experiments. May be, the industries can also be encouraged to list the successful completion of the courses by the job applicants on MOOC platforms along with the certificates from the colleges given some weightage in the job recruitment’s.
From the policy perspectives, MOOC opens up plethora of innovations in the Indian context. Availability of free education materials could challenge the conventional establishment practices in the sector. This could alter the nature and type of the educational institutions and their capital investments. This could be also be modified to provide better avenues for millions of college going students to raise their hopes in their careers who otherwise may not get any opportunity of experience the fruits of education. May be its high time to tweak the discussion on ‘Education is Mass Industry’ taking the advantages of the online platforms such as MOOC while designing the future policies of the education sector.
* Author is Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research
This is a reproduction of Article which appeared in Pallikkutam, published by Rajagiri Media Publication (Volume 1 Issue 10 March 2014)