Distance Education Is Vital In India, Says Kalpana Gupte

kalpana gupte distance education is vital in india
At the beginning of this year, I enrolled myself for IGNOU’s Postgraduate Diploma In Journalism And Mass Communication. After I secured admission in February, I waited eagerly for the induction function that would educate me as to how the course would be conducted. See, IGNOU, short for Indira Gandhi National Open University, is a university that offers distance learning, a mode of learning I was not familiar with at the time.

Anyway, the ceremony took place in late March, on a hot Sunday morning. When the chief guest began to speak, I was instantly blown away by her personality and vowed to catch her for an interview later. Despite my overwhelming shyness, at the end of the function, I went up to her, introduced myself, and asked her if she would be kind enough to be interviewed on my blog. She agreed gracefully and voila! she is our interviewee for today. Meet Dr. Kalpana Gupte, a lady who by the end of this interview, is going to impress you just as much as she impressed me. See for yourself and hear me say ‘I told you so’ as you read the last line. Go!

Educator, activist, counselor, etc. you wear many hats and you wear them well. What is your secret to getting so much done all at once?

My philosophy is simple: flow like a river and do whatever comes my way. Of late, when I hear many people addressing me as Madam, I tend to realize that I’ve passed through many phases. From Kalpana to Sathaye Bai to Gupte Madam, a lot of water has gone under the bridge.

But at heart, I am the same Kalpana. I have not got so much done all at once. I have the same 24 hours in a day as any one of us and I try to live each moment as it comes. I have changed over the years and I realize that I must do the slow dance now on.

As the regional director of the world’s largest university, IGNOU, how important do you think distance education is in a country like India?

Dr. Ram Reddy, the founder of Distance Education in India was a true visionary. In a country as diverse as India, with a social fabric which is so finely intertwined, we need Open and Distance Learning to cater to the many needs of people interested in learning. After all, India has a very wide spectrum comprising of many facets, from the poor to the rich; from the remotest corners of tribal hilly regions to sprawling metropolises; and so many castes and communities and languages.

Distance learning brings the same quality of education to all corners of our country. It offers equal access, equal opportunity, and quality education which is at par with the best in the world.

I have known many students from all corners and economic statuses of India.

I remember learners from the far off tribal district of Nandurbar who completed their Bachelors in Education while serving as Primary Teachers in a Zilla Parishad (district) School.

Then there’s the case of the bright young girl who had to drop out of a reputed college due to a sudden onset of agoraphobia. Via IGNOU, she completed her Bachelors in Tourism Studies and is now pursuing a Masters in Travel and Tourism Management.

And there’s the learner who completed a Bachelors in Construction Management while working at the same time. He then went on to complete his Masters in Engineering, completed a Ph.D. and is now the Vice President of a large Corporate Realty Company. These and many more success stories would have been impossible if it were not for the distance education that IGNOU offers.

During the induction ceremony, you mentioned that IGNOU welcomes learners from ages 18 through 81 years of age. Could you tell us about some of your students?

At age 18 or at the lower spectrum of age, we have had learners who were interested in music/sports and did not want to study in conventional colleges.  We have had students with physical, mental, emotional and psychological issues who have successfully pursued their Bachelors and Masters Degree Programmes and are doing well in their careers.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have older learners as well. I remember an 81-year-old who came to receive a Masters Degree in Public Administration with his 40/45-year-old son. I also remember a seventy plus-year-old woman who completed a PG Diploma in Gandhian Studies and passed away while she was enrolled for a Masters in History. I also remember a 65-year-old woman, an author of books on relationships, who completed her Masters in Psychology and is now studying to complete her doctoral studies.

Irrespective of age, every student can do well if they work hard. As they say, age is just a number.

What motivates you to raise cancer awareness and counsel cancer patients?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 44. The diagnosis sounded like a death sentence at that time, especially because knew absolutely nothing about cancer. I went through the usual stages of shock, disbelief, and the ‘why me’ syndrome until I came to accept it. I fought against cancer with every fiber of my being and today, I am glad to say that I survived it.

I do not counsel patients as I am not a trained counselor. I think of what I do as offering psycho-social and emotional support when I meet patients who are undergoing cancer. I understand where they are coming from as I have been through the disease and have undergone similar treatment myself. Since each patient is at a different stage and is fighting a different type of Cancer, we do not talk about medical issues or interfere with the medical treatment.

My support group and I simply offer a place where the patients and their loved ones can talk about their fears and discomfort in a frank and open manner. We are empathetic with them and many come back to tell us that our support was useful at a time when they were at their lowest.

We have noticed that there is an increased incidence of cancer in today’s world. It is evident that the cancer burden in India is rapidly increasing and we aim to raise awareness to help counter the burden.

We undertake awareness programmes mainly for Breast Cancer, where we talk about what cancer is, the risk factors, signs, symptoms and lifestyle changes that cause it, and most importantly, BSE – Breast Self Examination.

We are not a registered organization, just a group of individuals who have come together for a cause. The group has no structure, no hierarchy, and no money.

We do not need money as we do not offer financial assistance, though it is one of the primary concerns. If one of us contributes financially to anyone, it is an individual decision. As a group, we demand contribution in terms of time, say a couple of hours once a week, and transport costs. The contribution is wholly voluntary and we are perfectly fine with a floating population. Our main motivation is a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and being a better human being.

Kalpana Gupte is the regional director, Pune of Indira Gandhi National Open University. You can reach her at gupte.sankalp@gmail.com.

1 thought on “Distance Education Is Vital In India, Says Kalpana Gupte”

  1. Kalpana sounds like such an inspiring person! Love that you interview such diverse people.
    All the best to you for your course, Mahevash :)

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