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Online Education

As online education gains momentum, can India tap its full potential? Insights from U.S.-based professor Hari K. Rajagopalan.

I work in a small public university in South Carolina, U.S., and we pride ourselves on providing an excellent liberal arts education. The School of Business is accredited at the highest level by AACSB, an international accreditation body, for both its Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes. The 2008 recession and the resulting slump in the economy caused enrolments in the MBA programme to drop. By 2011, we had to take a call about continuing with the MBA programme.

The first thing we did was take a survey of our former students and companies in our area who pay for their employees to do an MBA. The most important feedback was that attending classes from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. after a full day’s work was not convenient for them. Online programmes, they pointed out, were convenient and more suitable for working adults. Many colleagues in public and private universities who don’t offer online classes believe that online education courses do not have the same rigour or value as the traditional style of education.

Rising popularity

However, I believe that this attitude is wrong. Online learning is here to stay and I believe it will revolutionise the education industry. It will make learning more accessible, cheaper and might enhance the learning experience for students if done properly. It is important, however, to ensure that the learning experience is legitimate and implemented correctly.

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Even before counselling for admission to engineering colleges under single window system begins this year, over 24,000 seats are up for grabs.

While 1,78,917 seats are available under single window admission, Anna University has received only 1,54,238 applications as on Monday.

While this is the status of seats under government quota, self-financing colleges have so far surrendered 21,741 seats from the management quota. Anna University officials expect another 5,000 seats under the management quota to be surrendered before general counselling begins on July 1.

With the number of engineering colleges in the State climbing up steadily in the last decade, engineering admissions hit a plateau in the State in 2013-14 when the number of vacant seats crossed the one-lakh mark. Last year, there were 1.36 lakh vacancies. This year the number of first graduate applicants has also fallen. Only 80,446 first-generation learners have applied compared to last year when 92,000 candidates had sought admission. A total of 3,104 applicants will seek admission in the vocational category and 1,51,134 candidates will be admitted through academic counselling.

Random numbers

On Monday, the 10-digit random numbers were generated for the 19th counselling session in the presence of Higher Education secretary Apoorva, Vice Chancellor M. Rajaram, registrar S. Ganesan and the media, with each providing two numbers.

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Look beyond your low scores to explore a world of opportunities and develop your true potential.

It was a joyous day for Asha when she received a doctorate for her study on mythology and classical dance. At a celebration dinner held that night, all her close family, friends and her many disciples gathered to shower her with flowers, praise and gifts. It was a moment of triumph for her, but her thoughts flew back in time, briefly, to dwell on her school days, when she got her Class XII mark sheet. She had been devastated — her total marks were dipping a bit, just low enough to ensure that it would be very difficult to get the B.Com. seat in a popular college that she had set her heart upon. At that moment, it had seemed like the end of the road for Asha who could only imagine a career in commerce and business. It would have been a terrible time for her, if only her teacher Alison had not noticed her crying in a corner and started talking to her.

New horizons

As she talked to Alison, Asha’s fears subsided. From being convinced that she was good for nothing, she came to see that she had many talents and capabilities, and even if she did not get a B.Com. seat, there would be a million possibilities available to her, if only she would open her mind’s eye and see them. As she received yet another bouquet of flowers, Asha’s mind jerked back to the present, but not before dwelling on the numerous bharatanatyam shows she had done, her huge network of rasikas, her dance school which had about 150 students and her latest achievement, a doctorate. In every sense, she had found success all because of her teacher’s guidance to seek new horizons, and because she had seen beyond the boundaries imposed by scoring low marks in one subject.

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There were times when academic institutes used to go with traditional methods of school administration but that has started to change. Cloud-based technology has entered the world of education making school management fast, convenient and effective for all academic institutes thriving to flourish in the education industry.

It’s a huge responsibility for any school admin to maintain the school’s overall productivity. Everything in an academic institute is inter-linked. If schools and colleges have a well-organized administration system, the teaching staff won’t have to be bogged down with hectic work schedules. This will automatically improve the student’s productivity to a greater extent.

All schools and colleges no matter what size or academic curriculum have to manage and control multiple areas such as student attendance, enrolment, examination, accounts and so on. In order to organize all such departments, the admin feels the need to bring cloud-based technology into the system. It not just improves the entire administration system, but also saves the admin a fortune.

Students and teachers are the most important asset of any academic institute. Good teaching staff helps maintain a better learning environment which improves the student productivity in the long run. That is why schools have started to take extreme measures regarding administration. Admins have realized that the administration network of any school works as a foundation and if the foundation is weak, the entire academic institute may end up collapsing.

How Is Cloud-Based Technology And Education Gelling Together Effectively?

As mentioned above, student productivity depends on the quality of teaching and the quality of teaching can only improve if the teaching staff is being provided with stress-free working environment…

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Online learning and its pedagogy have to be engineered in a specific manner to meet the aspirations of a range of learners.

States of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh see a strange conundrum. While almost all students who complete class XII and all those who can afford to pay, end up getting into some higher education programme, tens of thousands of seats go vacant every year in professional and arts/science colleges in these States. Very few youngsters, who can afford it, choose not to enter college.

So, although seats are available, lakhs of students do not pursue higher education as they cannot afford it. Alternatively, the problem may lie in not having access to a college or university. Or the learners feel the quality of education is not up to the mark.

Enrolment crisis

Look at the other side. The Union government wants to increase the gross enrolment ratio to at least 30 per cent in the next five – six years. (Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is the ratio between youth population in the 17 – 25 age group and the number actually enrolled in higher education institutions). Overall, only about 20 per cent of the relevant age population in India is enrolled in higher education. Tamil Nadu is relatively better off, as its GER is already 30 per cent.

A GER target of 30 per cent translates into bringing 35 million young people within the higher education ecosystem — a mammoth task in terms of cost of infrastructure, systems, processes and recruiting the faculty. Still, there is no guarantee that the education that’s delivered will be affordable and accessible for all rural students, or be of reasonable quality.

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கோடை விடுமுறை குழந்தைகளுடைய சுதந்திர காலம். ஒவ்வொரு ஆண்டும் ஜூன் முதல் ஏப்ரல் வரை தினமும் முழுமையான தூக்க மில்லாமல் அவசரகோலத்தில் எழுந்து பாதி வயிற்றை மட்டுமே நிரப்பிக்கொண்டு பள்ளிக்கூடங் களுக்கு சென்று பாடங்கள், தேர்வு, டியூஷன், வீட்டுப்பாடம் என வீடு முதல் பள்ளிவரை குழந்தைகள் ஓய்வின்றி உள்ளனர்.

இந்த குழந்தைகளுடைய மூளைக்கு சற்று ஓய்வு கொடுக்கக்கூடியதுதான் இந்த கோடை விடுமுறை.

ஆனால், பெரும்பாலான பெற் றோர்கள் கோடை பயிற்சி, அடுத்த கல்வியாண்டுக்கு முன் தயாரிப்பு என மீண்டும் குழந்தைகளுடைய சுதந்திரத்தை பறித்துக்கொள்கின்றனர்.

அதனால், குழந்தைகள் மன அழுத்தத்துக்கு ஆளாகி அவர் களின் மூளை நரம்பு செல்கள் பாதிப்படையும் அபாயம் ஏற்படும். அத்துடன் நினைவாற்றல், கற்றல் திறன் குறையும் என திண்டுக்கல் காந்திகிராம கிராமிய பல்கலைக் கழக கல்வியியல் துறை பேராசிரியர் ஜாகீதா பேகம் தெரிவித்தார்.

இதுகுறித்து அவர் `தி இந்து’ விடம் கூறியதாவது: ‘‘மூளைக்கு ஓய்வில்லாமல் தொடர்ந்து வேலை தரக்கூடிய அறிவார்ந்த பாடங் களைப் படித்து குழந்தைகள் சலிப் படைந்திருப்பர். கோடை விடுமுறை குழந்தைகள் மூளையை புத்து ணர்ச்சி செய்ய உதவுகிறது. மூளையில் `நார் எபி நெப்ரின்’ எனும் வேதிப்பொருளை அதிகளவு சுரக்கச் செய்து மனதையும், உடலை யும் உற்சாகமாக வைத்துக்கொள்ள உதவுகிறது.

மேலும் படிக்க…

Learning to work as a team is essential for an individual’s overall development.

Imbibing the right attitude and the skills required to work in teams is an important part of education. In college curriculum, besides knowledge testing through examinations, group projects and presentations form a core part of the evaluation process. These may either have two individuals working together or groups of four to five or more members. Such work demands sharing mental space and communicating at multiple levels.

The initial enthusiasm` to work together begins to fade as one gains some experience of working in groups. It isn’t uncommon to find students expressing their disillusionment with group projects. But, while working alone may allow the autonomy to shape one’s work according to one’s will, it does not expose one to multiple perspectives which are necessary for growth.

K. Seshadrinathan, adjunct faculty member, Department of Management Studies, University of Madras, points out the significance of group work in the development of a student’s personality. “In a group, a few members may be highly involved, a few others may be less involved and play supporting roles, yet others may be just observers. An important purpose of assigning group projects is to help and motivate shy individuals overcome their inhibitions and interact with and learn from each other,” he says. But several times, as many students would testify, things take a sour turn.

Strike a balance

Differing motivations, commitment levels and temperaments of individual members give rise to different problems. The group may have lethargic members who are perceived as taking a free ride on others’ efforts. Then there may be those who try to do the entire work by themselves and consider the presence of others in the team to be a mere formality. Neither of these two extremes is right for the smooth functioning of the team. “What we have observed over a period of time is that people build several barriers within themselves and in relation to others.

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The US’ prestigious Harvard University is set to open its international offices in India…


The US’ prestigious Harvard University is set to open its international offices in India, China and South Africa to facilitate research and academic work for its affiliates in those regions.

Harvard is awaiting approval from the Indian government for its School of Public Health to open an office in Mumbai, a report in the college newspaper The Harvard Crimson said.

Apart from Mumbai, Harvard has authorised the formation of new international offices in Cape Town and Beijing and each office is in a different stage of development, Vice Provost for International Affairs Jorge I Dominguez was quoted as saying.

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“The Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones. It ended because it was time for a re-think about how we live.” – William McDonough

“Someday you may tax it” – Michael Faraday’s response to William Gladstone when asked to comment on the utility of his blue-sky research into the newly discovered phenomenon of electricity.

“.. this new knowledge has all to do with honour and country, but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.” RR Wilson in response to a query as to why USA should spend money on pure science.

The above three quotes make an interesting case study about the need for pure science in the development of a society. While a Nobel Prize may add to prestige etc. a lot of research is more fundamental in nature providing an incremental improvement in society. Most of it is a result of a faceless scientist in a laboratory because the final step that produced the technology was based on a lot of earlier work and hence it is difficult to credit a single individual. Typically, controversies that surround the awarding of a Nobel Prize highlight this issue with great precision.

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Participation in activity without reference to outcome is key to learning


As long as we look for reasons not to learn, education will elude us.

Recently my daughter asked me, “How come we never thought about bunking classes at our school?” She observed that it would have been really easy to skip out on some of the extra-curricular sessions, particularly music or craft, which were handled by part-time teachers. The structure and layout of the building also would have made it relatively easier for truant students to go undetected.

This made me stop and wonder why it was that so many students in college routinely look for reasons not to attend class.

“Well,” said her father, “Maybe that’s because you enjoyed the classes, or that you had a good bunch of friends you were happy to be spending time with — in class or outside.”

Hmm, I thought. So did that mean that in college, students did not enjoy their classes? Or that the nature of the peer influence is different? (I admit both are true to a large extent.) But it was also something more than that. It was that the school had fostered a culture of respect for learning spaces of different kinds, a culture where even if a child was bored or uninterested, she/he was never disdainful. All this was done without the usual preachy righteousness that often accompanies the imposition of “discipline” in schools.

Shanta Rameshwar Rao

One person who was had nurtured such a culture was educationist Shanta Rameshwar Rao, who passed away last month. This column has not usually been about people, and even less about institutions. But Mrs. Rameshwar Rao’s influence on the children who spent their childhood in her school has been significant in ways that have transcended those years. Unpacking the nature of this influence tells us something about how attitudes to learning can be built.

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