“I am thinking I should take up some course. I want to study. May be B.A.” said my mother.

My mother had been suffering from depression for more than six years and had now realized that she needs to dedicate herself to something useful that can also keep her mind occupied. I was also worn out trying to keep her sane, sometimes arguing with her and even scolding her.

So when she said she wanted to study at the age of 54, I was a happy soul. I counseled her for some time, learnt her areas of interests and started researching on institutes / universities that offered distance education at an affordable cost and with minimum hassles.

A quick “top-10 open universities in India” search on the internet led me to shortlist Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Karnataka State Open University (KSOU) and Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) as the top contenders. IGNOU, undoubtedly, was the best. However, Hindi appeared to be a compulsory subject and I thought it would be overwhelming for mom to study Hindi grammar at this age.

I visited KSOU’s website and a bot started chatting with me. In a jiffy, I was talking to a real person from KSOU who eventually called up to let us know that they offer flexible study options. Their online offering was the most attractive one. For 2500 bucks a year, with upto 6 years available to complete the degree and a well-designed online learning site, KSOU seemed to be the best option. They didn’t require the student to attend any classes. Exams would be held in study centres where answers had to be typed on a computer, assignments had to be typed and uploaded, video tutorials would be offered both online and in the form of SD cards. The features were perfect.

Mom showed great dedication towards her studies and cleared her first year with 71% aggregate. At the age of 55, with little exposure to computers, she had completed her first year of Bachelor’s degree with a “First class with distinction”. It was an achievement. The family even celebrated this achievement in the form of a dinner. Mom was proud! She couldn’t stop smiling.

That smile and that energy isn’t there anymore, though. A year and a half has passed since she entered the second year but there’s no notification of an examination. For the first five months study material were not updated on their website. The ones that were eventually updated were text materials scanned shabbily from photocopied booklets. While the syllabus would mention 14-18 chapters in a subject, only 8-10 were uploaded. Assignments were announced almost 3 months late. There’s no news of examination dates.

At the core of all this lies the usual suspect in Indian social or political narrative – corruption. The Vice-Chancellor of KSOU and few other officials were named in a few financial scams. The university was found to be flouting University Grants Commission (UGC) rules by offering technical education courses (B.E./B.Tech). It also appeared that payments to vendors were withheld. Rumors have it that Schoolguru, a company that provided the online learning solutions to KSOU, wasn’t paid and hence they stopped publishing content.

The student community won’t unite for this cause considering there’s very less at stake. Most of the students who join KSOU’s online courses are those who want a degree certificate in order to get salary hikes or promotions in their government jobs. They don’t see benefits in approaching the government or the courts on this matter. The government itself doesn’t care about what’s happening in the universities within the state of Karnataka. Almost every university including the prestigious ones in Mysuru and Bengaluru have been left to rot.

In the midst of all these things, it’s my mom who has lost the battle. She never wanted anyone other than my father and I to know that she was taking up studies. She wanted to prove herself before announcing it. But now, she has lost hope as well as any interest in pursuing her studies. I’m planning to get her admitted to IGNOU’s course. Yes, she’d be losing two years and she’s scared about that. But IGNOU’s not going to be easy. They’re stricter, you have to ‘write’ assignments and examinations. Above all, there’s age. She’d be 56 this August. Being “once bitten, twice shy”, it’ll take a lot of courage and self-determination to jump into the unknown waters again.

A genuine dream of a commoner was destroyed. A commoner can do only what a commoner always does. Stay silent, resilient and if possible, resurgent.