I woke up late that day and as I slowly walked into the study, I found my wife totally immersed in the day’s newspaper. ‘Anything interesting?’ I asked.
‘Not if you aren’t interested in scams and murders and rapes,’ she answered and then added, ‘but there is one small piece of news which is making me restless.’
Now when Specky gets restless, I know that the ‘piece of news’ would not be innocuous despite the space that the paper may have given it. So I asked, ‘What is it that is so serious?’
What I read was an announcement that like so many other subjects, even engineering degrees would now be available through distance education. I must admit that even I was stunned and stung by this. ‘Engineering through distance education?’ I said and then repeated it until my wife beckoned me to keep my calm.
I said, ‘Don’t we already see so many dolts with a distance MBA tagged to them who go around delivering packages door-to-door?’ Yes, I know of MBAs who call themselves executives but in reality are just doing the job of a courier boy. I have talked to a lot of such professionals and found them to actually deserve what they are doing. This is because of the abysmal quality of education that they’ve had… and most of them were either students of distance education or were from colleges that shouldn’t exist at all!
Some may want to argue that management and a whole lot of other subjects from the humanities stream need self-study, common sense, and real-life insights, so even distance education will suffice. I insist that it is a combination of books, meaningful interactions with the peer group, and a daily facilitation by knowledge experts that has the power to convert the ignoramus within us into a reasonably perceptive learner. I admit that not all of us evolve into perceptive learners even after having spent years in formal institutions of learning… but even these students will be more prone to pick up the right signals and analyse situations and reach the right conclusions than those who have missed out entirely on the combination of books, peers, and teachers!
And when it comes to technical subjects, there is the addition of a practical orientation that simply cannot evolve correctly even if there is a contact program woven into a distance education curriculum. Engineering needs more than just a cursory glance at all that can happen inside a lab. Sensibilities are born there. Inclinations and insights come together inside a lab. Words from textbooks take a living form when you perform an experiment. Distance education cannot do justice to engineering surely.
I too have a couple of diplomas and degrees that I have gained by going through the distance education route… and I can tell you that my learning in those subjects is simply forgettable. I am not entirely proud of those pieces of paper that are snugly sitting in my folder that has other well earned degrees and diplomas and certificates to give company.
Life needs degrees but it also needs knowledge and a perceptive understanding of a subject. Our country may not have as many formal institutions of learning but we certainly don’t deserve to have an army of half-baked professionals who may have distance education degrees but cannot decipher the real reasons when bridges and FOBs collapse! It is by far better to have our students opting for skills training and becoming excellent plumbers and masons than being forced by distance education dreams to become third rate engineers.
Our decision makers really need to know the real fiction of education and must keep fantasy away from the truth of a nation that is yearning for an education policy with a vision.
Article written on 26 January 2013
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 28 January 2013