ANITA RAMPAL *
Distant Learning and Distancing the Learner
The National Policy on Education-1986 (NPE) eulogised the role of technology in communication and in the same breath equated communication with education. 'Modern communication technologies have the potential to bypass several stages and sequences in the process of development encountered in earlier decades. Both the constraints of time and distance at once become manageable. In order to avoid structural dualism, modem educational technology must reach out to the most distant areas and the most deprived sections of beneficiaries simultaneously with the areas of comparative affluence and ready availability'.1 The Programme of Action (POA) which soon followed, further interpreted the above lines of the NPE to state that 'this approach would intrinsically favour the use of broadcast methods, with their inherent advantages of greater reach, convenience of management and cost-effectiveness, over the non-broadcast methods largely oriented to individual learning.'2 These policy statements positively disturb, invariably compelling one to ask : what, after all, / is the official notion of 'education', or, for that matter, of 'learning'?
One of the most fundamental problems of our present educational system is that knowledge has been increasingly redefined to mean information and, subsequently, learning is now accepted synonymous to 'receiving information'. Such reification of knowledge ensures that it can now be treated as an acquired possession, and that access to such possession can be suitably monitored or, in current parlance, be conveniently managed. Moreover, this redefinition compels the learner to accept a passive, vulnerable and receptive role. For, once education has been effectively renormalised in this fashion, control can be exercised through various means: information can be centralised or centrally collated and suitably disseminated, its relevance selectively decided, its pacing carefully tuned to maintain requisite pressure, and its evaluation judiciously tailored to suit satisfactory statistics.
A majority of our young population today constitutes the cadre of 'distant learners', distanced as they. are from those who decide what they must pretend to learn. The nature of the content of their education is so irrelevant, the language of educational discourse so alienating,
4 Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.