By Ali Arshad
LAHORE: Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) Regional Director Rasool Baksh Behram has said that distance learning programme can help change the education landscape of the country and provide education to the marginalised population of the country. This year, the enrolment of AIOU is 1.7 million, in which 64% are female students. In Punjab, our ratio of female students has increased to 67%.
Rasool Baksh Behram is the Lahore’s regional director of Allama Iqbal Open University and he sat down with The Educationist and talked about education, distance learning programmes and the importance of education.
The Educationist: Please tells us about yourself, your career and AIOU?
Behram: I did my BSc from DG Khan College and my MPhil in physics from Punjab University, Lahore. I started my first job at the Federal Ministry of Education; there I worked with renowned scholars Ashfaq Ahmad, Amjad Islam Amjad, Zafar Iqbal and Kishwar Naheed. I joined Allama Iqbal Open University as Regional Director in 2001. Later, I was transferred to AIOU Sahiwal. The basic idea of distance learning education comes from a European philosopher. Distance learning helps individuals who are unable to continue their regular education due to personal or economic issues. In 1959 the very first distance learning university of the world came into being. AIOU is the first distance learning university of Asia and it came into being in 1974 with a parliamentary act “Peoples Open University” by the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In 1977, the university was renamed after the ‘thinker of the century’ Allama Muhammad Iqbal. AIOU started its academic activities in 1976 with an Arabic course. First campus of the university was in Multan, later, another campus was established in Lahore. Now we have regional campuses all over Pakistan, including in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA. We have a total of 42 regional campuses, 200 co-ordination offices and 1,400 academic centres which are working to support students. When Allama Iqbal Open University started its activities there were only 50 students. Now, almost 35 years after its establishment, over 1.4 million students are getting education through AIOU.
This year, the enrolment of AIOU is 1.7 million, in which 64% are female students.
In Punjab, our ratio of female students has increased to 67%. We conduct workshops after every 6 months for 18 days, in which attendance is compulsory for all students. In the Lahore regional campus, the total strength of students is 150,000. We also have a FM radio station, and our TV studio is in the pipeline. We are well-equipped in the IT department; our 14 centres out of the total 42 are interconnected with Islamabad by video link classes.
TE: In your opinion what are the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning programmes?
Behram: Distance learning programmes are totally different from regular education. They have the opportunity that there is no age limit and anyone can study through our programmes. AIOU provides education at the doorsteps, this way anyone – people who are working and don’t have time – can also get education. We offer two semester, spring and autumn for graduation-level and post-graduation level. AIOU guides its students regarding admissions throw print advertisements, and we also provide books at their homes free of cost. We have our own printing press and we are publishing 1.8 million text books. Our books play a very important role and these are designed in a way that these books provide complete information. These books are also packed with exercises so that students could practice what they learned. Distance learning programme can help change the education landscape of the country and provide education to the marginalised population of the country.
TE: What are the biggest challenges faced by AIOU?
Behram: In my observation, the biggest challenge faced by AIOU is the lack of infrastructure. To compensate, we have borrowed buildings from the Punjab government. We have demanded from the government the Pakistan to provide us with land required to open new campuses.
TE: In your opinion how can the distance learning programmes improved?
Behram: Everything needs to improve according to the needs of the time. In this regard, we are improving our curriculum and infrastructure. We have constructed a new building and it is equipped with a digital library, video conferences halls and tuition halls.
TE: What is the role of technology in distance learning programmes?
Behram: I think distance learning programmes are only successful with the help of technology. Student can benefit from electronic, print, audio and video sources in distance learning programmes.
TE: Has Allama Iqbal Open University made any innovation for education?
Behram: Well, Allama Iqbal Open University’s academic system is unique if compared to traditional learning programmes. This programme, itself is an innovation.
TE: There is a perception that teachers can be approached for better marks or grades?
Behram: We have over 75,000 tutors in various discipline; we have hired teachers, universities professors on a part-time basis from the four provinces of the country. We have a check-and-balance system and regularly take feedback from students. Assignments carry 30% marks and written papers have 70% marks. Students have to clear both, assignments and papers to pass the examinations.
TE: As an educationist, how do you think the country’s current problems can be solved?
Behram: Well, if want to improve the country and make it successful, then education should be the first priority and our literacy rate should be increased. The era of swords and guns is bygone, in today’s world education is the only measure of success. Unfortunately, in our county we need to improve the condition of education.