Open and Distance Learning: A Boon for Professionals

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Open and Distance Learning: A Boon for Professionals

The new age teaching/learning method at ICA has opened doors for transformation in the education sector of Nepal.

--BY BIJAY LAXMI DUWAL

Resuming a paused video is easy but resuming education after a study-gap is a different matter altogether. Raju Ghimire, a hospitality professional, went through a similar situation. His formal education came to a halt after he passed the Bachelor’s in Hotel Management (BHM) course in 1993 when he found a job and began his struggle to make a career in the hospitality sector. He still had the passion for education and wanted to study further but he was too busy to get enrolled at a college and attend regular classes. “I had to quit my studies for my job back then. I was so busy that I could hardly manage time for my family. So, it was impossible to attend regular classes,” he recalls.

Ghimire became the Food & Beverage Manager at Hotel Radisson in 2004. He joined Hotel Annapurna at the same position in 2005. It’s not that he was dissatisfied with his job but he harbored an unconditional zeal to pursue his higher education. Luckily, he came across a billboard about open and distance learning (ODL). “As soon as I came to know about ODL method in Nepal, I joined the Master of Tourism and Travelling Management (MTTM) at International Center for Academics(ICA) in 2007. Thanks to ODL, I could resume my studies after a gap of 14 years without having to quit my job.”

There are many people like Ghimire who are compelled to put their education on hold because of their jobs. The ODL system is a good option for such busy people who want to study without quitting their jobs. “I used to study online at my workplace during the breaks and at home I used to go through the course books,” recalls Ghimire.ODL is a flexible educational model which helps anyone to continue their education and profession together at the same time. With ODL, anyone can study from anywhere anytime. Such flexibility is not possible in other methods of education.

ICA
International Center for Academics (ICA) is the pioneer of ODL method in Nepal. “There were no policies for ODL in Nepal when we established ICA in 1997. There was this misconception that ODL is a second grade learning system. It was difficult to convince people as well as the policy makers about ODL in Nepal. Then, we went to India and submitted all the required documents for running ODL courses in Nepal. We received accreditation from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 2002,” shares ICA’s CEO Amit Giri. ICA with its slogan of ‘Work and Study at the Same Time’ has been offering various courses of international university INGOU since 2002. The students, without sticking to any educational institutions can acquire broad knowledge from their course through ODL. IGNOU’s degree is recognized by Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University, and University Grants Commission of Nepal while it has international recognition in 15 different countries.

ICA has also been providing various training, value added courses, capacity announcement courses etc. There are several sister organisations under ICA including ICA Professional Studies and ICA Education. There are around 50 academic counselors at ICA approved by IGNOU.“We are providing flexibility in the educational system to those people who are deprived of higher education because of a busy life schedule or those who have paused their further education,” shares Giri adding, “Nothing can obstruct people from getting access to education in this system. So, we are offering people an opportunity to study and learn at their own place, pace and time.” 

Pedagogy
The learners can study theoretical courses at their homes or any other place. But for practical courses, they have to reach ICA. Giri explains, “Self-learning materials are provided by IGNOU to the learners after their admission through e-mail. The study materials are self-explanatory and enable the learners to understand the concepts of the lessons.” ICA publishes its schedule on its website following which learners can come and participate in ‘Academic Counsel Sessions’ on Saturdays. Learner Ghimire recalls his ODL classes, “Yes, self-learning was difficult for me. For that I consulted with our course counselor, Amar Mani Adhikari at ICA during the Academic Counsel Sessions. I used to interact with him whenever I had any doubt or confusion.”

If they cannot attend the Saturday sessions, the learners can go to ICA on regular days before 10 am and after 5 pm. If even that is not possible, then they can use different online platforms like Skype, email etc to interact with the counsellors, or get information from the TV channel-‘Gyandarsan’, Youtube etc. “We just guide and advise the learners about the required resources on websites. They themselves access those resources,” shares Giri adding, “For the learners’ convenience, we also make available the study materials in printed form.”

Courses
At present ICA offers nine ‘market-relevant’ courses.There are four bachelor’s degree programmes namely Bachelor of Tourism Studies, Bachelor of Computer Application, Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Sociology and Major English under Bachelor of Arts (BA). Likewise, Master of Business Administration (MBA),MA in English, Master of Tourism and Travelling Management (MTTM), Master of Computer Application(MCA) are the four master’s degree programmes.“The bachelor’s degrees are three-year programmes whereas the Master’s degrees are two-year courses.”Bachelor’s Preparatory Programme (BPP) is another course which is different from other ordinary courses. It is a six-month course for which the learners can enroll without having to produce any academic certificates which they need to study general bachelor’s and master’s degree courses of IGNOU. But one must be above 18 years old. “In the early days, we offered 16 programmes which are now reduced to nine after the government’s new directive on ODL in Nepal,” says Giri. 

Evaluation
According to Giri, all these courses are equivalent to regular courses. Evaluation of the courses is done based on assignments and written examinations. Assignments cover 30 percent of the evaluation while the remaining 70 percent evaluation is done through written examinations. Learners should give at least 120 hours for each subject in a year. The written examinations are held in June and December.

ODL Scenario 
The concept of open and distance learning was first introduced in the world 50 years ago when teachers were trained through the radio in rural areas. All the SAARC countries except Bhutan have recognized the ODL mode in their education system. In Nepal also, Nepal Open University was formally opened just a year ago.

Ten learners of ICA have been awarded IGNOU gold medal so far while two have been honoured with Nepal Bidhya Bhusan Award. Kirtan Shrestha, a learner at ICA is one of the gold medalists and Bidhya Bhusan awardees. Despite her nursing job at Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular Transplant Centerunder the TU Teaching Hospital at Mahargunj, Shrestha had scored 84 percent in the bachelor’s degree in nursing programme in 2013. “I had never thought that I could secure such high score by studying and working at the same time. I was among three international toppers who were awarded the Gold Medal by INGOU in 2014. I was even happier when I was conferred with the Bidhya Bhusan Award in 2016 for my hard work through ODL. Yes the degree is equivalent and recognized by TU. I am very thankful to ICA’s ODL system which let me continue my bachelor’s degree in three-year nursing programme in 2010 without quitting my job," shares Shrestha.

Admission Criteria
Since ICA is under an open university, it admits even a single learner. However, there is no seat limit for admission. Generally, ICA takes in around 150 students in all courses in each intake. To study a bachelor’s degree course, one should have passed the intermediate level except for BPP course. And for master’s level, one should have passed a three-year bachelor’s degree. For MBA, the learners should secure at least 50 percent in aggregate in their bachelor’s level education. Till date, more than 65,000 learners have passed out from ICA.  

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