Learner-centric education redefined through Open Schooling

In an era where every second school and university is busy dishing out dual or triple UK/US degrees and there seems to be beeline of students rushing to lay their hands on these corporate-approved degrees and qualifications, the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) (the largest open School in the world) is one such institution which is silently but steadily making impressions as a quality education provider for many of our out-of school and school drop-out students.

IndiaEducation caught up with Mr. M.C. Pant, Chairman, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) as he spoke at length on some of the USPs of the institute, existing educational scenario and the journey ahead.

MC Pant, Chairman, NIOSExcerpts from the exclusive interview :

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Firstly, please tell us something about yourself and your institution‘s endeavor with respect to open schooling in the country.

Initially I started my career as a lecturer in Physics in government colleges in July 1967. I basically belong to the Uttar Pradesh Educational Service where I served from the year 1973 to 2001 in various capacities including District Basic Education Officer, Principal of Government Colleges, District Inspector of Schools, Deputy Director of Education, Joint Secretary to the Government of Utter Pradesh, Additional Director of Education and the Director of Education (Basic Education). I also served as the Director of Education of the newly created State of Uttaranchal from February 2001 to May 2004.

After that, the NIOS dream of ‘Life Long Education for All’ has been my engagement. AT NIOS, we are different and distinctly different from other ‘commercial degree shops’ as we are genuinely interested in educating the-out-of-school and school drop-outs belonging to socially and economical backward section of our society.

For over many decades, NIOS had been at the forefront of open education in India. Here onwards, what kind of future do you foresee for open schooling in the country?

I foresee a very promising future for open schooling in India. Our role in the coming years would only be strengthened further. The fact that NIOS is recognized by practically every University in the country including the top institutions like the IITs, BITS Pilani, and all Regional Engineering Colleges etc. has enabled us become the largest open School in the world with 1427 Thousands student on its roll. Its attempts to reach out to physically, mentally, socially and geographically disadvantaged groups through suitable learning material and delivery mechanism has always been appreciated. There are thousands of success stories scripted by our students which have been made possible by our flexible approach of learning only. Now, one can come across many cool parents who are not even afraid of pulling their wards out of school and enroll them in ‘Open schooling’ instead, all this to facilitate more time to pursue their passions. Recently, one of our students, Amanjyot Singh, who also received Best child of the Year Award could complete his class 10th and could also play his International Golf Championship due to the flexible time schedule of Open Distance Education (ODE).

Equipped with an open schooling degree, where do students really stand as compared to other students with formal qualification?

Our students are rated at par with any other student who gets education through formal medium. Besides; I truly feel that this age belongs to multi–skilled professionals. In today’s job market, it’s actually the case of ‘survival of the fittest’; hence NIOS feels that we need to build tendencies in students to groom them as multi-skilled professionals. NIOS has been working in this direction by introducing tailor made job oriented programmes among many other similar initiatives. Presently NIOS offers 76 quality vocational programmes.

What are major highlights of NIOS that make it different from CBSE system?

Since its very inception, NIOS enjoys many distinct features, such as:

Choice of Subjects: At NIOS, unlike CBSE, a Student can choose easy subjects and opt out of the subject he does not have an aptitude for. One can choose from both Commerce and Science stream. For eg. A student with Mathophobia(Fear of Maths) can opt out of Maths and choose another subject, while in CBSE; he has no choice, as Maths is compulsory.

Credit Facility: if a student appears in 5 papers, passes in 3 and fails to clear 2, then the student can appear for those 2 papers at a later stage and the marks of the remaining 3 papers are carried forward or credited. He/She does not have to re-appear for those 3 papers in which he /she has passed.

Flexible System of examination:  Students not competent enough to study or write 5 papers at one time can appear for only 2 subjects and appear for the remaining papers later at any other stage. Also one can write his examination in any of the Indian language included in the Indian constitution.

Double Exams: Students can appear for their exams at their convenience, we have Board Examinations conducted 2 times a year, once in October and again in April.

Internationally Recognized Certificate: The NIOS Certificate is at par with CBSE or any other certificate and enables admission in any top University or Institute worldwide. It is an internationally recognized and accepted certificate of repute.

In your view what ails our education system? What NIOS thinks to combat the issues?

I am of the view that due to commercialization of education, the biggest damage has been done to the utility of moral value in our educational system. Historically, India regarded ‘Shiksha’ as a noble tool to eradicate ignorance and help knowledge prevail. But I feel with the opening up of dozens of ‘educational corporations’, we have lost the moral touch in our education.

To undo the damage, NIOS has come up with many community-oriented courses and Life Enrichment Programme on - Education in Human Values, Bharatiya Culture and Heritage, Child Labour Women Empowerment, People of India, Great Personalities of India and programmes on Yoga.

Besides the rigid 9-1 school schedule needs to be restructured. There should also be flexible System of examination and grading system as I feel that just on the basis of 3 hours of examination, we can not estimate a student’s abilities wholly.

How NIOS plans to bring about changes in the vocational educational system?

Gone are the days when nobody wanted his/her child to be a tailor, as yesterdays tailor is today's famous fashion designer. It is only a question of nomenclature. Today, undoubtedly, a good furniture designer (or as earlier termed-carpenter) can earn much more than a bad doctor. Children today are lucky that the world has opened up with so many non-traditional career options. Many of them don't even require any formal qualifications.

NIOS is not only instrumental in generating awareness about the importance of vocational education but also offers quality vocational education keeping in view the needs of the target groups. Presently NIOS offers 76 courses in the broad areas of Agriculture, Engineering and Technology, Health and Paramedical Home Science, Humanites, Hospitality management, Computer and IT related sections, Business and Commerce and Teacher training etc.

What are the highly sought–after courses these days?

Going by the popularity of courses at NIOS, humanites courses and vocational courses such as courses in IT and Hardware Maintenance, beauty courses, TV repairing, web designing, air-conditioning, four wheeler mechanism, secretarial procedure, Radiography and computer applications  are among the most popular ones.

Any suggestion for the future leaders of tomorrow?

Yes, I believe India is home to great talents and our students not only have the desire but also the potential to reach the stars.
I also feel that besides focusing on their dreams they should not let go of their moral and cultural values too.

(As told to Ahmad Shariq Khan)

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