Enhanced learning

Open Distance Learning: Promise of Improved Learning for the Future – I

The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) is set to host a historic event in Sri Lanka’s education sector: AAOU 2021, the annual conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU), which is the biggest and most influential Asian Open. and the Distance Learning Forum (ODL).

With three days of debates, deliberation and reflections on the ODL and its future set to ignite from June 1 to 3, the time had come to ask relevant questions to the Vice-Chancellor of the OUSL, the Professor Anbahan Ariadurai on ODL, OUSL and its impact on Sri Lankan people for 40 years and most importantly, how AAOU would translate into something noticeable for Sri Lanka.

Question: In the midst of a pandemic, the OUSL is organizing a conference whose central concerns could offer us a way to manage teaching and learning in Sri Lanka. Could you detail?

A. When the decision was taken in 2018 to host this prestigious conference in Sri Lanka, there had been no pandemic. In fact, we were to hold the conference last October at one of the five star hotels in Colombo. We expected to welcome around 300 international delegates. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we postponed it until June of this year, hoping that the pandemic would subside and that we would be able to bring international delegates to Sri Lanka. However, that was not to be the case, so we decided to convert the conference to be fully online.

Vice-Chancellor of the OUSL Prof. Anbahan Ariadurai

In fact, when we chose the theme for the conference two years ago, “Opening Minds for a Sustainable Future: Reorienting ODL to Overcome Challenges,” we never imagined how appropriate it would be for. the present time. Today, not only traditional open and distance learning institutes (ODLs) such as the Sri Lanka Open University, but all educational institutions around the world, whether they are primary schools , upper secondary schools, universities or even individual teachers speak online and distance education. However, frankly, the context of online or distance learning that we talk about is often very restrictive. We ODL practitioners believe that the online learning or distance education we are talking about now is what we call Emergency Distance Education (ERT) which is just a small distance education component. This is why this conference, where researchers from various parts of Asia, who have practiced open and distance learning for many years in specific local contexts, share their experiences through the presented articles is a learning opportunity. important to all of us.

Question: In light of what you said, can you now introduce AAOU to us?

A. AAOU or the Asian Association of Open Universities is a non-profit association of more than 45 institutes of higher education in Asia as full members and nearly 20 institutes from Europe, Canada and d Australia as associate members. The organization was established in 1987, with seven founding members, including the OUSL, and is one of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to open and distance learning (ODL). AAOU is primarily concerned with distance education and strives to expand the educational opportunities available to all peoples of Asia and improve the quality of institutions in terms of education management, teaching and research. AAOU promotes education through distance education systems, as well as professional and ethical standards; develop the potential of open and distance learning; cooperates with official bodies and other persons directly or indirectly interested in distance education, and facilitates cooperation with other similar regional and international bodies.

Question: According to you, AAOU is an important event for teaching and learning in Sri Lanka, and indeed in the world. Why is OUSL the host?

A. As I have already mentioned, the OUSL is one of the seven founding members of the association. We hosted the fourth AAOU conference 30 years ago in Colombo in 1991. With the increase in membership of the association, the annual conference was held in many countries in Asia. About three years ago at OUSL we thought it was time for us to bring the conference back to Sri Lanka. We have therefore decided to bid to host the conference in Colombo in 2020 coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the OUSL. We were fortunate enough to win the nomination and now we have the 34th annual AAOU conference being held in Sri Lanka.

I think it is also very timely, as the President and Government of Sri Lanka have put more emphasis on distance education and are seriously considering ODL as an important mode to develop the higher education sector. in Sri Lanka. In fact, the government has dedicated a separate state ministry for the expansion of open universities and distance education.

Based on numerous studies, it is well established that the growing demand for higher education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and countries in South Asia, cannot be met by building or expanding new brick universities. and mortar. In Sri Lanka, if we are to absorb all the students eligible for university entry, we need to build at least 140 additional universities the size of Uva-Wellassa University by now. However, this expansion is not at all possible due to the scarcity of resources, with a very limited pool of intellectual and physical resources and the lack of funds. This is where we believe OUSL and distance education can play a revealing role.

In economic terms, the impact that OUSL can have in providing quality educational opportunities to an increased number of students must be very attractive to political planners. Indeed, the amount of investment required to extend the service of the OUSL in order to have an impact on a greater number of students is much less than that required for a conventional university.

Question: The OUSL is 40 years old. Can you detail the contribution made by the OUSL to the nation?

A. Without a doubt, the OUSL has made an enormous contribution to the higher education sector of this country during its existence for the past 40 years. This university has made significant inroads in the field of higher education by providing alternative avenues of education to working adults and young adults who have chosen the opportunity we have offered. In addition, the OUSL democratized the higher education sector in the country, which was limited to the privileged few due to the scarcity of places in conventional universities, by opening our doors to all citizens of this country aged from 18 years and over. With the establishment of our regional and study centers in every district of this country, we have provided all of our students with learning opportunities almost on their doorstep.

As all of the programs we offer undergo the same vigorous processes as those adopted by other conventional universities in Sri Lanka, when it comes to quality, our programs are comparable to any course or program offered by conventional universities. According to our statistics, 80 percent of OUSL graduates continue to be gainfully employed. At OUSL, students are offered a ladder of opportunities to advance their education and achieve their academic and professional advancement goals to become responsible citizens who could contribute to national development. We have heard many positive remarks from employers of our graduates, especially when it comes to ancillary skills such as self-motivation, independence in problem solving, etc. Many of our graduates have excelled in their chosen fields and have made significant contributions to their communities. and the world around them. We have many stories of our students who succeed in excelling in their postgraduate studies at the best universities in the world. These stories prove that OUSL has fulfilled its mission of providing access to high quality, affordable and relevant education through ODL methodologies and ensuring lifelong learning opportunities for our citizens to do facing the challenges of a knowledge-based society.

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