Adult Learning is when an adult makes a conscious or unconscious competence choice to learn. This learning theory has various parameters that mould it and give it the necessary essence. Stephen Lieb has broadly defined adult learners as:
- Autonomous and self directed
- Having life experiences
- Are goal oriented
- Are relevancy oriented
- Are practical about the learning
- Need respect
These characteristics are but generalized ones and need to be modified to suit the Indian audience. Keeping this in mind, adult learning has in the Indian context been termed as Social Learning by some educationists as is evident in the First Five Year Plan (1951-56) by the GOI (Government of India). The major thrust of the Social Education Program was to make illiterate citizens conscious of their rights and responsibilities for building a democratic nation, while incorporating the components of health, recreation, and economic life. This Five Year Plan was not able to make its mark on the education sector in India. In the Fourth and Fifth Five Year Plans, this focus shifted to skill development, but even that did nothing much to promote education for adults. The National Adult Education Program (NEAP) conceptualized in 1976, too was unable to make a dent in the adult literacy areas as was proposed during its inception. The launching of the National Literacy Mission (NLM) in 1988 and its focus on various activities like workshops in rural areas, campaigns, seminars, schemes for rural areas, focus on women empowerment, conservation of the environment, advertisements in radios and TV to gain attention and various other methods focused on developmental literacy, seemed to be the answer to India’s illiteracy problem. The Continuing education program of the NLM is envisaged to link literacy with actual life situations by imparting relevant technical and vocational skills.
In the present scenario, with the increasing popularity of the Internet and other technological breakthroughs, do rural adults still feel themselves at par with their brethren in the cities and metros?
My observation on this is with rapid technological, economic and social changes in society, initial education is now regarded as being inadequate in terms of preparing individuals with the skills and knowledge required for life in a knowledge society. As a result it is necessary to widen access to adult learning opportunities in order to address the changing needs of society. In the rural India context, these adult learners are not just farmers and merchants; they are also higher education students, which till now have been mostly ignored in all adult education programs.
Keeping the needs of higher education students in mind, we conceptualized the TUNE program. In our case, though the target audience’s age group does not qualify them always to be legally adults, they have taken a decision to design their careers in a certain direction. This conscious decision to go for a particular stream of education makes them adults.
Some of the key aspects of this initiative are:
- Segment: We intentionally chose MBA and Engineering colleges outside the metros and big cities, because its here where the demand for good teachers, and exposure to industry best practices is felt the most.
- Technology: We realized that even motivated professionals would have limited time and considering the length and breath of India, it is not always feasible for even a really motivated professional to take an off, even for such a lofty cause. Taking this factor in consideration we use the VSAT model as a platform for student-teacher interactions. The teachers and industry experts sit in a metro city and the students can interact with them on real-time basis, just like they do in a real classroom. This helps highly educated and good teachers to come to our studio and start teaching.
- Methodology: Our learners come from varied background and not all of them are equally motivated to learn. However, all of them, given the right environment and tools, have the potential to succeed in life. One of the main objectives of the program is thus to make students interested in the class. To do this, we provide them with what we call “Glues”. Glues are meant to attract a student’s attention to the class by using videos, stories, etc. These items are interspersed with a mixture of PPTs, videos showing real time examples of a famous personality, role plays showing a particular situation and how to handle it etc. During the session we extensively use Pareto’s principle of using 80% practical exercises and 20% lectures to make learning fun. This is done by using simulated work situations, case studies, stories, and group activities to build knowledge.
With six colleges and two universities, these are still early days for TUNE. The response from student community however has been very encouraging so far. We are still modifying and researching new theories, pedagogies and testing them out. I will keep you posted about the results of our successes… or otherwise.