The Allama Iqbal Open University was established in May, 1974, with the main objectives of providing educational opportunities to masses and to those who cannot leave their homes and jobs. During all these past years, the University has more than fulfilled this promise.
It has opened up educational opportunities for the working people and has provided access to the females on their door steps. It has also done pioneering work in the field of Mass Education. It is now breaking new grounds in the fields of professional, scientific, and technical education. It is attempting to reach out to the remotest areas of Pakistan. It is also attempting to harness modern information Technology for spreading education in Pakistan.
The idea of Distance Education was first mooted in UK in late 60s by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson. He was of the view, that educational opportunities must be provided to those who might have missed better education due to early employment and wish to upgrade, their knowledge and skills, in their spare times in the evenings at home. The UK Open University was, thus established in 1969. Since then it has become a major institution of learning in UK and has opened up opportunities for millions of working people. The gospel of distance and Open Learning has, since then spread throughout the world. More than sixty Open Universities are operating around the world on the basis of Distance Education. Modern information Technology has made the task of Distance Education much more easier and effective.
The AIOU, when established in 1974, was the second Open University in the world and first in Asia and Africa. It, thus, speaks of the foresight of the policy-makers of that time. As these past years of AIOU have proved, Distance Education has opened up new opportunities for millions, particularly women, and supplemented the efforts of the federal and provincial governments in a big way and that too without becoming a burden on their resources.
The idea of Distance Education assumed greater relevance and acceptance in Pakistan due to the factors of poverty and relative deprivation of women. The rate of literacy, incidence of dropouts, and excess to higher education is much lower in the poorer classes of Pakistan. The incidence of poverty is much higher in the rural areas, where formal education is much less established. The rate of literacy and education is much lower for females in Pakistan, particularly in the rural areas, due to poverty and conservative traditions. Many conservative parents under the pressure of old age traditions do not allow their daughters to go out to the schools. The AIOU, through its system of Distance Education has, thus, provided educational opportunities to these housebound girls and women. This explains the reasons why the majority of the students enrolled with the University are females.
Latterly, the University is trying to fulfill another current need. Professional and technical education in Pakistan is becoming very costly, especially in recent years, because of government policy to encourage private sector in these fields. The lower middle class and poorer classes are being marginalized and their children have very little chance to get high education in fields like Business Administration, Computer Science, Medicine and Engineering. The AIOU is attempting to meet this challenge and to keep a window open for these classes by keeping the costs at the minimum and by creating a Student Assistance Fund.