The Vir­tual Class­room

On­line ed­u­ca­tion is rapidly grow­ing in In­dia but is it truly ben­e­fi­cial?

Southasia - - Education - By Suha Jafri

The past decade has wit­nessed break­through ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­niques. In to­day’s world, the in­ter­net has be­come a ne­ces­sity for sur­vival and knowl­edge. While the world ex­pands its tech­nol­ogy driven gad­gets and en­hances com­mu­ni­ca­tion, South Asia un­for­tu­nately lags be­hind due to poor in­fra­struc­ture, lack of in­no­va­tion and in­ad­e­quate in­vest­ment in the IT sec­tor. How­ever, In­dia’s econ­omy has been grow­ing and the IT and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­dus­try has pro­gressed im­mensely. In­dia has suc­ceeded in com­bin­ing the ad­vance­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy with an­other ba­sic re­quire­ment: ed­u­ca­tion.

Even though dis­tance-learn­ing meth­ods have ex­isted since the 1980s, the real break­through emerged when com­mu­ni­ca­tion and tech­nol­ogy ex­panded, some ten to fif­teen years ago. The idea of on­line ed­u­ca­tion is to share knowl­edge with those who do not have easy ac­cess to it. The tar­get au­di­ence are chil­dren and young adults who re­side in re­mote ru­ral set­tle­ments far away from ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions or are fi­nan­cially un­able to af­ford the in­creas­ing cost of good ed­u­ca­tion. In coun­tries such as In­dia and Pak­istan, par­al­lel ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems pre­vail with pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards con­sid­ered bet­ter than pub- lic school­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, few are able to af­ford such lux­u­ries.

On­line ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods on the other hand are not only af­ford­able but are also con­ve­nient for peo­ple who have com­menced a fast-track pro­fes­sional ca­reer. With an on­line de­gree, pro­fes­sion­als can fo­cus on their jobs and utilise evenings and week­ends to pur­sue grad­u­ate-level ed­u­ca­tion.

Dis­tance-learn­ing ed­u­ca­tion has made it pos­si­ble for a larger num- ber of peo­ple to earn an ed­u­ca­tion thus in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion in the job mar­ket, since earn­ing a grad­u­ate de­gree is now much eas­ier. Crit­ics ar­gue that on­line ed­u­ca­tion has also de­creased the true value of ed­u­ca­tion. Most peo­ple who en­roll in an on­line ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram get a de­gree. They do not, how­ever, get the same life ex­pe­ri­ences as com­pared to those who at­tend a col­lege or univer­sity on a daily ba­sis. A se­ri­ous draw­back of on­line ed­u­ca­tion is also the lim­ited tu­tor sup­port, forc­ing stu­dents to rely on self-teach­ing. The pur­pose of re­ceiv­ing an on­line ed­u­ca­tion is to cre­ate a vir­tual class­room en­vi­ron­ment how­ever the sys­tem fails when stu­dents are un­able to co­he­sively par­tic­i­pate, en­gage in dis­cus­sions with their peers and ask ques­tions to clar­ify con­cepts.

A coun­try like In­dia is deeply di- vided by so­cial class al­low­ing only a hand­ful of young peo­ple to not only re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion from one of the top pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions within the coun­try but to go abroad to achieve a higher de­gree. It is there­fore highly plau­si­ble that em­ploy­ers short­list their em­ployee choices based on aca­demic back­ground. In such sce­nar­ios where numer­ous can­di­dates are vy­ing for one role, em­ploy­ers are less likely to pre­fer some­one who has a de­gree from an on­line ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. Dis­tance­learn­ing ed­u­ca­tion is ben­e­fi­cial when it com­ple­ments a pro­fes­sion or a tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion back­ground. A busi­ness or fi­nance grad­u­ate will ben­e­fit greatly if he/she chooses to pur­sue a dis­tance-learn­ing pro­gram to en­hance the un­der­stand­ing of a par­tic­u­lar jo­bre­lated sub­ject.

The cred­i­bil­ity of on­line ed­u­ca­tion has a long way to go be­fore it can match the cred­i­bil­ity of tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods. Em­ploy­ers re­main scep­ti­cal about hir­ing peo­ple with on­line de­grees and pre­fer stu­dents with the ex­pe­ri­ence of gain­ing ed­u­ca­tion in a tra­di­tional en­vi­ron­ment. Hail­ing from a cul­ture that re­mains fam­ily ori­ented, gain­ing in­de­pen­dent, real-world ex­pe­ri­ence is crit­i­cal be­fore en­ter­ing a spe­cific pro­fes­sion. In to­day’s world, global ex­po­sure and ex­pe­ri­ence is in­dis­pens­able and is of-

The cred­i­bil­ity of on­line ed­u­ca­tion has a long way to go be­fore it can match the cred­i­bil­ity of tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods. Em­ploy­ers re­main scep­ti­cal about hir­ing peo­ple with on­line de­grees and pre­fer stu­dents with the ex­pe­ri­ence of gain­ing ed­u­ca­tion in a tra­di­tional en­vi­ron­ment.

ten a cri­te­rion for se­nior po­si­tions in numer­ous in­dus­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by the Press Trust of In­dia, In­dia’s on­line ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket size is likely to dou­ble from the cur­rent $20 bil­lion to at least $40 bil­lion by the year 2017. Not only is this ben­e­fi­cial for In­dia’s econ­omy but it also means that more stu­dents are opt­ing for on­line ed­u­ca­tion. The rea­son for this rapid pop­u­lar­ity is that not only are the coun­try’s top univer­si­ties ex­pen­sive but since com­pe­ti­tion has in­creased, they have tough­ened their ad­mis­sion process as well. From a large pool of stu­dents, only a se­lect few are ad­mit­ted to pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions.

The rise of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions across the globe has also meant the demise of good qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Most stake­hold­ers are more con­cerned with in­creased rev­enues and prof­its, com­pro­mis­ing the true ben­e­fits of ed­u­ca­tion. The phys­i­cal state of many in­sti­tu­tions is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and stu­dents suf­fer from a lack of ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties. In or­der for th­ese facil- ities to be pro­vided and main­tained, in­sti­tu­tions charge stu­dents sky-high prices that not ev­ery­one can af­ford. The pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket in In­dia ac­counts for only 5% of the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor but is es­ti­mated to be worth ap­prox­i­mately $70 bil­lion in 2012. Be­sides that, fe­male ed­u­ca­tion rates re­main at a dis­mal level and many strug­gle to ob­tain qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion due to a cul­tural bias. Some fe­males are not al­lowed to at­tain tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion and re­sort to on­line ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods in­stead.

On­line ed­u­ca­tion is a grow­ing mar­ket and is in­creas­ingly ben­e­fi­cial to those who have lim­ited re­sources. How­ever, if com­bined, tra­di­tional and on­line ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods can achieve ex­cel­lence in ed­u­ca­tion, pro­mote mass learn­ing and en­hance the stu­dent ex­pe­ri­ence. Suha Jafri holds a BA Hon­ors in Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions from the Univer­sity of Manch­ester. She is cur­rently pur­su­ing stud­ies in pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism in the UK.

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