A developing country like Nepal has difficulties in providing adequate support for students. Moreover, the development of communication technology has challenged the quality of education. The use of media in education has played a great role in promoting quality. Researches in education suggest that students should be provided ample opportunities for independent learning, supported by technology.

That’s why open learning and distance education has flourished throughout the world. Four out of seven nations of the SAARC now run Open Universities. Attempts have been made to establish Open University in Nepal by various non-governmental groups in the past decade. However, it has not got priority in the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) university programmes. The Ninth Plan and Tenth Plan proposed an Open University in Nepal but the money allocated for its preparation has been consumed by the UGC for “other purposes.” A Distance Education Centre under the MoES was established in 1993 but it was changed to a division under the National Centre for Educational Development (NCED) in 2004. The Open University Ordinance was prepared but the MoES did not forward it for appr-oval. This shows the government is not serious about providing adequate support to the students.

Tribhuvan University (TU) made another attempt by providing a green signal to the Faculty of Education to run its one-year B.Ed. programme. However, the TU authorities did not want to promote it; rather they restricted the provisions needed as per distance education principles. As a result, the programme is being discontinued from this year. A distance education committee formed under the rector also failed to come up with recommendations to run open and distance education programmes within the university system. This was because the committee lacked experts and it also could not face the stakeholders to collect opinions regarding the kind of distance education they require for higher education. So it would not be a surprise if TU comes up with a prescriptive distance education programme, which may not address the principles of distance education.

Purbanchal University (PU) followed suit but failed to provide distance support to its students. The products of PU’s distance education programme are negatively evaluated since most of them secure first division without regularly attending contact sessions and without adequate academic support. Both the PU’s and TU’s distance education programmes are not actually distance learning. They follow the home study approach with self-learning materials. In other words, the students enrolled in those programmes are disguised private students because there is no system of private examination in Education Faculty.

Another development in distance education was the introduction of Distance Education Guidelines approved by the MoES in 2004. That could be a good start but the MoES officials have kept it away from implementation. Many institutions running private SLC coaching classes wanted to turn their institutes legally into distance education ones through the MoES’s approval, but the MoES did not invite proposals for such an operation. Instead, it allocated budget this year for studying the feasibility of distance education in Nepal. Ironically, the government is turning a deaf ear to the efforts made in the past decade. This will only take the education system backward.

In the current budget, the government allocated a substantial amount for distance education to support the SLC students. The National Planning Commission (NPC) has directly handled the money. The NPC did not have any idea how the money should be spent and for what programmes. The high-level social sector members of the NPC also seemed illiterate in this regard. That’s why they contracted Janak Education Materials Centre (JEMC) to run the programme.

Does the NPC know the terms of reference of JEMC? Does JEMC have distance education experts? Has JEMC started good distance education for SLC students? The JEMC contracted Gorakhapatra to publish a page of self-instruction once a week. The question here is how many students have access to Gorakhapatra in rural areas? Why not give the money to FM stations to design and broadcast interesting educational programmes, which could be available locally? FM educational programmes were started in Palpa and nearby districts last year.

On the one hand, the government has its own distance education provider within MoES, and on the other the NPC gives a handsome amount to a non-expert agency to run the programme. And the interesting fact is that the Department of Education (DoE) has to make the payments to JEMC. Will the MoES and the DoE have no say in this regard? How can they keep quiet with regard to this unusual relationship between the NPC and the JEMC, which can have serious implications for students’ future?

Dr Wagley is professor of Education, TU