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«Learner Support Services in Open and Distance Learning : Issues and Evidences from the State of Assam Bhaskar Sarmah, KKHSOU & Dr. Kandarpa Das, ...»

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Learner Support Services in Open and Distance Learning :

Issues and Evidences from the State of Assam

Bhaskar Sarmah, KKHSOU


Dr. Kandarpa Das, IDOL, G.U.


Distance education in its organized form, is one of the path breaking innovations in the

field of education of the Twentieth century. The period between “1960-1985” has

witnessed remarkable growth of distance education all around the world (The

International Scene -1, 2001). In our country as well, correspondence education started in as early as 1960s. However, with the establishment of the B.R. Ambedkar State Open University in 1982 and the IGNOU in 1985, distance education has emerged as a distinct educational system. In fact, governments in all around the world and in the developing countries in particular today have accepted ODL (Open and Distance Learning) as a legitimate means of meeting educational goals. For example, Government of India (GOI) in its Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007) aimed for wide expansion of the ODL institutions with an aim to enroll 40% of all tertiary students in such institutions by 2007.

The governments of Namibia and Ghana declared their national policy to be of dual mode instruction. Similarly, national open universities have been established in other SouthAsian countries viz. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, and Bangladesh to meet respective national policy objectives (Raza, 2008).


This paper is at attempt to trace the evolution of distance education in the state of Assam.

It also tries to evaluate the effectiveness of LSS adopted by these providers of distance education in the state. The prime focus has been laid on Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL), Gauhati University and Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University (KKHSOU), Guwahati. This has been done keeping in view the geographical belongingness as well as their overall contribution towards the spread of ODL in the state.


The present study utilizes both primary and secondary data. Primary data have been collected from the Feedback Forms of learners of KKHSOU. It is worth mentioning here that the Centre for Internal Quality Assurance (CIQA) of KKHSOU has collected feedback from its learners to evaluate its Learner Support Services. While more than 3,500 Feedback forms have been received, the present study has utilized 200 randomly drawn feedback forms from the lot. Secondary data have been utilized from two major studies. Dutta, A.R. et al. (2009) conducted a study among 807 learners of KKHSOU from 12 districts of Assam, which sought to evaluate the overall access and performance mapping of the University. The second study referred to is the study conducted by Sarmah, B. and K. Das (2008). This study was conducted among the past learners of IDOL, Gauhati Univesity. In that study, data were collected from 50 learners and it aimed at gaining some feedbacks with regard to its LSSs.

We begin with the growth of distance education in the state of Assam in the recent years.

In this section, we shall look into the figures of enrolments of the different the Open Univesities and the ODL Institutes in the state. In the fifth section, we shall focus our discussion on the aspects of LSS. This section begins with a brief theoretical discussion on LSSs, and then highlights some of the issues and evidences of LSSs with reference to the Guwahati Regional Centre, IGNOU. The prime focus has however been put on discussing the issues of LSSs especially drawn from the feedback of the learners of KKHSOU and IDOL, Gauhati University. The paper has been finally summed up in section sixth.


While distance education started in India way back in the 1967, it started in the Northeastern states of Indian in 1988, when IGNOU established its first North East Regional Centre at Shillong, Meghalaya. Initially, it looked after the educational needs of the entire region. Later, in 1996, the Regional Centre of IGNOU was established in

-2Guwahati to look after the education needs of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim more attentively. By the year 2001, IGNOU had established one Regional Centre in each of the North-eastern states of India. Now, apart from IGNOU, the state of Assam has two Directorates of Distance Education in two state universities, viz., Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University and one State Open University (Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University).

4.1 Enrolment of IGNOU: Guwahati Regional Centre: The cumulative enrolments of the Regional Centre of Guwahati, IGNOU has been shown in the following figure 1.

Figure 1: Cumulative Enrolment of IGNOU: Guwahati Regional Centre The above Figure 1 shows the growth of enrolments of the Guwahati Regional Centre of IGNOU. These figures however represent cumulative enrolments (both the new and the old students getting enrolments into subsequent semesters/years of all the programmes under its jurisdiction in the particular years). At present, the Guwahti Regional Centre of IGNOU is offering around 100 Academic Programmes at the Certificate, Diploma and Degree levels. There are around 50 Study Centres spread across various districts of Assam. In recent years, IGNOU has taken special drives in formulating short-term Skill based programmes with a view to equip the youth of the states with necessary skills, who

–  –  –

The following figure 2 shows new enrolments of the Guwahati Regional Centre of IGNOU into its various academic programmes. It shows steady increase in enrolments of students.

Figure 2: NewEnrolment of IGNOU in Recent Years: Guwahati Regional Centre

4.2 Enrolment of IDOL, Gauhati University:

The Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL), Gauhati University was established in the year 1998-99. It was then known as Post Graduate Correspondence School (PGCS).

Initially, it started with the Correspondence mode of education. By the year 2002, it transformed into an ODL institute by establishing study centres across the state. At present, it has 11 study centres and 91 contact centres across the state. Counselling classes are held at the study centres. At present it offers 12 Post Graduate Degree Programmes, 8 PG Diploma programmes and 1 Certificate programme. Examinations are held in 15 centres across the state. The following figure 3 and 4 show new and

–  –  –

Figure 3: New Enrolment of IDOL, Gauhati University in Recent Years Figure 4: Cumulative Enrolment of IDOL, Gauhati University in Recent Years

4.3 Enrolment of KKHSOU, Guwahati:

Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University (KKHSOU) was established in the year

2005. The University started its activities in December, 2006 and launched its first

-5Academic Programme (Bachelor Preparatory Programme – BPP) in January, 2008. At present (till January, 2010), the University is offering Ph.D Programme, 3 Master’s Degree Programme, 4 PG Diploma Programmes, 5 Bachelor’s Degree Programmes (BA, BBA, B Com, BCA and BMC), 6 Diploma Programmes, 3 BPP programmes (BPP Arts, BPP Commerce and BPP Computer Science) and 11 Certificate Programmes. At present the University has 218 study centres across 27 districts of Assam, including 3 Jail study centres. The enrolments of learners into the Under-graduate programmes of this University in the last two years (2008-09 and 2009-10) have been shown in the following Figure 5.

Figure 5: New Enrolments of KKHSOU into the Under-graduate Programmes

From the figure it can be easily seen that the spread of ODL has received a major boost, especially after the establishment of this University in the state of Assam. In its first two years, the total new enrolment into all the above under-graduate programmes has reached nearly 30,000. It is expected that if enrolments for the year 2010 (January and July), are added to this total, the figure of cumulative enrolments in the first three years would reach near the 50,000 mark.


By the term Learner support services (LSSs), we mean any other services provided to the learners other than the SLMs. Thus, complementary services like: personal contact programmes, counseling, organisation of resource centres, library facilities, telephone teaching, interactive teaching through TV and Radio, and other similar activities form the components of LSS (Chander, 1998; Venkaiah, 1998). In general, the objectives of LSS are: first, to provide all information learners need; second, to encourage students to fully utilise the available facilities; third, to motivate learners to assimilate what they learn;

fourth, to provide necessary counselling; and fifth, to create a friendly environment among students, the faculty and the administration (Chander, 1998).

Conceptually, in the distance education system, it is generally argued that frequent faculty-learner contact is desirable on the assumption that such experiences contribute to the growth and development of the learners (Shivanna, in K. T, 2001 in K. Murali Manohar, 2001). Learners get the chance to clear their doubts in such counseling sessions.

Studies have shown that counseling sessions, which include presentation in interactive audio-visual media, are more interactive and effective. There is no doubt that an ODL institute/ university should take utmost attention for attaining higher degree of effectiveness of the counseling sessions. Similarly, other components of LSS like, library services and others also facilitate the art of self leaning among the distance learners.

We have already mentioned in the above that with respect to LSSs, we shall primarily focus on the evidences of IDOL, Gauhati University and KKHSOU. Before discussing these cases in detail, let us quickly glance at some of issues and evidences related to IGNOU with regard to its LSSs as is offered to its learners of its Guwahati Regional Centre.

–  –  –

The above facts have been gathered from the presentation slides of the Guwahati Regional Centre at the Regional Directors’ Meet of the 8 states of the North-East, held on 13th November 2006, at Shillong. Let us consider some of the recent statistics.

• Study Centres equipped with EDUSAT equipment has been increased to 7.

• The number of Examination Centres at present is 21.

• So far, it has 18 Study Centres and 7 Special Study Centres in Assam and 25 Programme Study Centres (Programme Study Centres are meant for programmes with practical component i.e., programmes that require laboratory experiments.) In general, at an IGNOU study under the Regional Centre, Guwahati, the following

facilities are extended to the learners:

• Subject-specific academic counseling by part-time academic counselors.

• Audio and visual viewing facilities.

• Library facilities.

• Participation in Teleconferencing, and

• Information services related to rules, regulations, proceedings, schedules, etc. of the University.

5.2 LSSs of KKHSOU: Issues and Evidences

The model of LSSs of KKHSOU:

Apart from the SLMs, the University has undertaken the following measures to enhance

its LSS:

• Subject-specific academic counseling by academic counselors at the Study Centres.

• Practical lab classes for the practical oriented courses.

-8 Library facilities. KKHSOU has supplied books and store wells to form libraries at the Study Centres at selected study centres, based on enrolments.

• Computers have been provided to study centres having enrolments into the programmes relating to computer sciences.

• Phone-in-programmes are telecast on through All India Radio on every fourth Sunday of the month at 11.30 am. In this programme, the Vice Chancellor of the University and/or other Senior Officials solves the queries of the learners from various parts of the state.

• A free SMS service has been launched. Students can enroll into this service and receive important updates.

• The University has already set up a sophisticated Recording Studio for the development of Audio-Visual materials.

• Trial-run of the FM Station of the University has already been done. It is going to be operational within weeks. Lots of Audio-Visual materials have been already been prepared to telecast through the FM Channel.

• Selected study centres are to be equipped with LCD Television, FM Radios along with DVDs to enable them to run the Audio-Visual materials developed by the University.

Evidences from Earlier Studies:

We have already mentioned that Dutta, Dr. A.R. et al. (2009) conducted a study among 807 learners of KKHSOU from 12 districts of Assam, which sought to evaluate the overall access and performance mapping of the University. Let us consider some of the important findings of this study.

Satisfaction over courses: The study tried to rank the satisfaction of the learners of KKHSOU over the courses of their enrolments.

• The study derived the conclusion that within all age groups above 90% has reported to have got the courses of one’s own choice. The highest percentage, however, belongs to the age group above 35 years.

-9Mapping performance of KKHSOU: For mapping the performance of KKHSOU, the study raised different types of questions to its learners. The study initially tried to draw a general perception of their happiness over getting admission into the course as well as over the courses that they had opted for. Let us consider the level of satisfaction over the course opted by them. This aspect contained four scaling: very good, somewhat good,

somewhat bad and very bad. The study found that:

• More than 73 percent students ranked the courses to be very good. More than 25 percent students ranked the courses as somewhat good. Only.5 percent students ranked the courses as somewhat bad and very bad, while 1 percent students did not mark any response.

The study tried to cross-examine such high level of ranking by analyzing their responses with reference to the four basic components of ODL, raised in the context of KKHSOU.

The four components included in the study are:

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