NIOS is revamping distance education with the help of technology. The institute’s chairman Chandra Bhushan Sharma discusses with Ankita Saxena why vocational courses should be encouraged at par with academic curriculum
The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) has emerged as a unique learning platform which allows students to learn at their own pace, anywhere at any time. The on-demand examination system along with its various unique courses on offer, have made NIOS a popular choice among students who did not fit the bill of formal education structure. C B Sharma advocates the importance of vocational courses to be in tandem with academic courses, which he believes will pave the way for entrepreneurs of the future. Here are excerpts from the interview:
How is NIOS different from CBSE?
The Central Government has two Boards — Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the National Institute of Open Schooling. As a Board, we have been given the authority to identify courses, develop the structure and also certify them. Thus, we combine both the roles of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and CBSE as a single organisation. We also design courses and offer proper curriculum in areas which are not offered by the CBSE.
For example, dancing, painting and Vedic studies. Our system caters to the students who could not get universal education, the drop-outs who could not keep up with the pace of the formal structure, the underprivileged and targeted groups.
How have you used ICT to further open schooling system?
Recently, we made our admission procedure completely online where there is no currency exchange. We have used the television medium to reach the remotest areas with five channels. We are one of the largest partners with the Swayam portal with 25 lakh learners pursuing our online courses. An initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources Development, it is an effort to take the best teaching learning resources to all, including the most disadvantaged and bridge the digital divide for students who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution. Most of the courses offered by the institution are available in regional languages across the country. Since India has a wide reach of smart phones, we have used mobile technology to offer distant education. Through the app for Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed) course, more than 10 lakh teachers have downloaded the course material. We are not only using technology to reach out, but also making sure that the students using the new ways of communication become digitally literate. We have assessed and evaluated nearly 55 lakh national digital literacy mission candidates.
Have vocational courses been given enough importance as compared to regular academic courses?
We have not paid adequate attention to vocational courses. These courses are very lucrative and have immense job opportunities. Unfortunately, we have been looking at Government jobs as a means to stability but have not considered being self-employed.
As an institution, apart from offering academic courses, we focus on fostering entrepreneurship among students. This could also reduce the pressure on the Government to provide jobs to a large population. For example, young girls pursuing courses in the field of dance do not seek formal jobs.
They have found livelihood through their performance. Similarly, tailoring courses have helped many add a source of income to families; courses in agriculture help learners combine not only new techniques of farming but also fisheries and bee-keeping to make them more affluent and diverse.
What changes do you envisage in the education system?
There is need for a revolutionary change in the education structure and it has to be brought in right from the grassroots. The students have to be confident that they can pursue their interests which will be worthy of employment. It is a notion that students with good academic schooling will be successful and be respected. This has to change because not everyone needs to be an engineer or a doctor. There are other avenues as well beyond the academic education. Students have to be introduced to vocational courses right from Class 1 to nurture them. Though we talk about the finished model of schooling and the Kothari Commission recommendations, but enough has not been done to teach life skills and the likes to students to prepare them for relevant opportunities in the future.
Tell us about the international linkages formed by NIOS to boost its outreach globally?
We have received requests from foreign countries to introduce our centres of learning. We already have centres in eight countries. There is a demand from Nigeria, Oman, and East Asia among many others and we are devising a framework to work towards global expansion. We have signed a few memorandums of understanding with various universities to further this agenda.