Thumbs up for blended learning, but with riders

Consultative meet expresses reservation in draft guidelines

The University Grants Commission (UGC)’s endorsement of blended learning for wider use in higher education institutions found considerable support by educators at a consultative meeting organised by the Kerala State Higher Education Council (KSHEC) on Thursday.

However, many participants expressed reservations in the UGC draft guidelines that recommended teaching 40% of the syllabus of each course through the online mode.

Inaugurating the discussion to evolve the State’s response, Higher Education Minister R. Bindu advocated a gradual process that involved ushering in the reform in a phased manner. Pointing out blended mode of teaching provided immense possibilities, she feared its wide implementation threatened to sideline marginalised sections further. The existing digital divide coupled with the differential access to technology in urban and rural areas could push towards elitism in education, Ms. Bindu said.

While backing the UGC’s push for blended learning, the Vice Chancellors of universities including Kannur, Calicut, Mahatma Gandhi, Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), Cochin University of Science and Technology, and National University of Advanced Legal Studies called for restricting the learning mode to ‘on-site’ teaching.

Gopinath Ravindran, Vice Chancellor of Kannur University, said blended learning could enrich the quality of education, provided it was first provided within the campuses of universities and later, colleges. He also stressed on the need for a curriculum overhaul and steps to ensure no teacher would be laid off while ushering in online classes in a major way.

M.K. Jayaraj and R. Chandra Babu, Vice Chancellors of Calicut University and KAU respectively, both called for enabling the universities to decide on the proportion of syllabi that had to be taught online. Mahatma Gandhi University Vice Chancellor Sabu Thomas emphasised on the need to train teachers in techno-pedagogy before embarking on the blended mode. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technological University Vice Chancellor Rajasree M.S. said the change would empower and not replace teachers. The mode was a shift towards outcome-based education (OBE), she said.

Kerala State Planning Board member B. Ekbal called for replicating the [email protected] project in the field of higher education. Additional Chief Secretary (Higher Education) V. Venu said the approach could spur transformation in the State which has set its sights on becoming a knowledge economy. Teachers organisations, including AKGCT, AKPCTA and KPCTA, bemoaned the lack of a study into the effectiveness of online classes in the State.

KSHEC vice chairman P.M. Rajan Gurukkal and member secretary Rajan Varughese spoke on the occasion.

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