Social Scientist. v 17, no. 196-97 (Sept-Oct 1989) p. 97.


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DISTANT LEARNING AND DISTANCING THE LEARNER 97

and the pedagogical experience often so oppressive and humiliating that sooner or later, most of them drop out of the system. Latest editions of textbooks being revised in the name of NPE continue to baffle teachers more than ever before. Pedagogy, even at the school level, has effectively been forced into a broadcast mode:

incomprehensible messages shouted out at large audiences. Indeed even examinations, especially those for the 'distant learners' belonging to the hinterland, have already been suitably adjusted to conform with the 'favoured* broadcast mode—dictation of answers is the casually (almost philanthropically) accepted norm, being increasingly adopted by the hinterland educators as a conscious coping strategy. The farce (pun unintended) lies entirely exposed: the very spirit of education has been sacrificed at the altars of learning.

Ironically, the 'non-broadcast methods largely oriented to individual learning' have never been given a chance. For, if education were truly congruent with the constructivist theories of learning— which hold that each individual learns by actively making sense of the world around her (or him), by internally restructuring external knowledge, and seeks to understand only when personally motivated by an urge to inquire—then learning itself could acquire political dimensions. When millions and millions of 'distant learners' are no longer benumbed or befooled by the incomprehensibility of their education, but instead are actively making sense of the world around them, then they could begin to question the consequences of their hinterland existence and might actively compete with the present privileged few for the plums at the peak of the pyramid. Indeed the pyramid could lose its stability, or even its shape, if actual learning were ever to happen. It is obviously safer to distance the learners than have them at uncomfortably close quarters.

Distance education is a concept more appropriate for countries like Canada or Australia where, in certain regions, the population is so sparse and the distances to established centres so large that for people who wish to pursue a part-time course of study there is no other alternative. Moreover, even in countries where basic technology is easily accessible and television sets exist in most homes, the broadcast mode is meant to supplement excellently prepared written material and is, in addition, often made more interactive by immediately being followed by telephonic discussions between the tutor and groups of students. In any case those involved in the business of education fully acknowledge the limitations of such one-way non-participatory media which, especially on the broadcast mode, cannot even allow a student to refer back to material once presented. Indeed, educational broadcasting, even in the supplementary role, it is meant to assume, is taken to be a serious matter; to inform and yet intrigue, incite curiosity and also pre-empt queries is undoubtedly a creative challenge.

Unfortunately, educational broadcasting in our country has had a dismal history. School radio broadcasts have been on for more than



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