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Kalam opens virtual university

Special Correspondent

The President lauds collaboration to create educational synergies The idea had taken shape on April 27 "to move the frontiers of knowledge" by linking up three of the country's oldest and most prestigious universities

CHENNAI: It was a historic day for the University of Madras on Monday, with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam inaugurating the Virtual University Programme jointly promoted by the Universities of Madras, Mumbai and Calcutta.

Apart from teleresource-sharing between the three universities, it would enable students of all distance education programmes and affiliated colleges of the universities to access virtual classrooms manned by expert teachers.

In his tele-address to the students of the universities from Rashtrapati Bhavan through uplink facilities provided by the Indian Space Research Organisation, Dr. Kalam said the collaboration to create educational synergies was an important day in the annals of Indian higher education. The idea had taken shape on April 27 "to move the frontiers of knowledge" by linking up three of the country's oldest and most prestigious universities through cyberspace.

Seamless access needed

Universities should facilitate knowledge creation and utilisation, he said. This was the key to the success of the Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) scheme that facilitated rural self-reliance. Though the country had excellent educational institutions, they could not provide seamless access between providers and consumers of knowledge.

Dr. Kalam said during his visit to Russia he had mooted launching a youth satellite. He asked all participating universities to offer courses of predictable standards, co-sign the degree given by the virtual varsity and facilitate more interaction between teachers and students. Bandwidth was evolving as the demolisher of imbalances and a model virtual university should evolve a common curriculum framed by experts. A mutual schedule should be organised for lectures. Exchange of a common database should be facilitated and university libraries digitised to enable seamless access. Digital collaborations should be arranged between students (to enable) the virtual university to attract talent from all over the world, he said.

The universities should provide bandwidth on demand to "make the whole country connected through a knowledge grid," he said.

The interactive programme also featured addresses by Madras University Vice-Chancellor S.P. Thyagarajan, University of Calcutta Vice-Chancellor Asis Kumar Banerjee and University of Mumbai Vice-Chancellor Vijay Khole and a question-answer session with students of the three universities.

The students asked Mr. Kalam questions on issues such as compulsory primary education, disaster management, the human development index, food security, protection of herbal resources, rural self-development and solid waste management.

When a Mumbai student wanted to know about the role of women in politics, Dr. Kalam said the Women's Reservation Bill would certainly be passed and asked her "not to get disheartened."

To another question from a Chennai student, he said tele-education would motivate young teachers to connect with experts and other teachers. An applet available with the Rashtrapati Bhavan website (http://presidentofindia.nic.in) would enable the conversion of visual material to audio text to enable visually-challenged students reap the benefits of tele-education, he told another Chennai student.

To a student who wanted to know what she could do to make India a developed country, the President said: "Excel in your education first. Then each of you impart literacy to five others. Plant five trees each in your area."

"Over 3,560 students from 117 affiliated colleges and 68 university departments attended the programme [held at the University auditorium] which was a team effort by the National Informatics Centre, BSNL, which provided a 512 kbps bandwidth and engineers from the University and Rashtrapati Bhavan," Mr. Thyagarajan later told reporters.

An expert committee was framing an e-learning curriculum for undergraduate students and a tele-link would soon be formed with Anna University to enable State-level connectivity between affiliated colleges and distance education study centres to bring the latter on a par with institutions offering regular courses.

The Union Ministry of Human Resources Development had sanctioned Rs. 2 crores to Madras University for the programme and a studio was already being constructed. All facilities will be inaugurated by Dr. Kalam during the University's 150 th year celebrations in Februrary 2006, Mr. Thyagarajan added.

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