[Fsf-friends] INDIA: Text books are on the Net in Kerala... for the asking

Frederick Noronha (FN) fred@bytesforall.org
Tue Mar 16 05:49:43 IST 2004

[Thanks to i4d for pointing to this link. FN]

Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications                      
Monday, Mar 15, 2004                                                      

Open courses and e-learning 
K.G. Kumar                       
SOMETHING revolutionary is happening in Kerala's education sector. From the
next academic year (2004-05) onwards, all textbooks for students of Class 10
will be available on the Internet.  Textbooks for students studying in
Kerala where Malayalam or English is the medium of instruction are already
available online.
Students and teachers can download the textbooks free of cost, provided they
are used only for educational purposes. The textbooks can be downloaded from
either www.keralaeducation.org or www. education.kerala.gov.in in Adobe's
portable document format (PDF), which allows for printing.
As more and more States and universities put up their resources on the
public domain via the Internet, it is worthwhile paying tribute to one of
the pioneers of the movement to make knowledge freely available to whoever
desires to acquire it the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In 1999, MIT Provost Robert A. Brown asked the MIT Council on Education
Technology to provide strategic guidance on how MIT should position itself
in the distance/ e-learning environment. The resulting recommendation led to
the idea of MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW), which made available on the Net
materials from virtually all of MIT's undergraduate and graduate courses.

MIT OCW's goals are to (a) provide free, searchable, access to MIT's course
materials for educators, students and self-learners around the world; and
(b) create an efficient, standards-based model that other institutions may
emulate to openly share and publish their own e-learning course materials.

The latter objective has been partially echoed in Kerala as well, with the
Technopark-based Indian Pick-up truck segment Institute of Information
Technology and Management-Kerala (IITMK) putting its course materials on the
Internet too.

OCW is in line with MIT's stated mission to advance knowledge and educate
students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship that will
best serve the US and the world in the 21st century. It is also true to
MIT's values of excellence, innovation and leadership.
Since it opened to the public on September 30, 2002, users from more than
215 countries, territories, and city-States around the world have visited
the MIT OCW Web site. They have around 500 courses to choose from, in
disciplines ranging from Aeronautics and Astronautics to Earth, Atmospheric
and Planetary Sciences to Women's Studies, to name just a few.
The reactions from users have been more than enthusiastic. A New Zealander,
usually anti-American in sensibi- lities, said: "I am a New Zealander and
must confess I do not generally have a very high opinion of the influence of
America in the rest of the world. At times it can make one quite angry...
However, projects like this bring home the fact that there are some pretty
fine people over there, and that it is easy to judge a nation (or entire
group of people) on the failings of a few. Keep up the good work, and thanks
for restoring some faith in the US of A."
One crucial element to the success of MIT OCW was the wholehearted backing
of the faculty. MIT says it could not have published these courses, and the
OCW will not succeed long-term, without the support of MIT's world-class
faculty. That is something Kerala's educators need to ponder. In a State
where teachers are more keen on taking private tuitions than in honing up on
their knowledge, the tendency is often to hoard notes and lectures, fearing
that competition from other tuition providers will draw away potential
paying students.
The real competition today, ironically enough, is from the Internet. Who
needs to shell out precious rupees and walk long distances to attend a class
in a cramped room when you can get all the knowledge you need in the comfort
of your own room?
If e-learning comes of age in Kerala - developing from online textbooks only
to entire courses and lectures freely available to anyone with access to the
Internet - tuitions may well become a thing of the past.
The writer can be contacted at kg@tug.org.in Article E-Mail :: Comment ::

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