Guest Article

Opening Doors

Launched in 2000, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) has enabled emerging social justice leaders from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Russia to pursue advanced degrees in development related fields, at universities across the world. By extending fellowship opportunities to candidates from marginalized and excluded communities, IFP aimed to promote leadership for social justice, and demonstrate that, given the right platform, those who lacked access to quality higher education can richly contribute to broader social change.

330 Fellows received awards in IFP India’s competitions between 2001 and 2010. While in the initial years the program supported candidates from all over India, from the third year on, the program exclusively focused on candidates who were living and working in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. More than eighty per cent of the fellows are back in India, having successfully completed their academic programs and are engaged in work to improve livelihoods, justice, education, health and the environment.

The India office has brought out a publication entitled Opening Doors which looks at how this path breaking fellowships program was implemented in India. The book highlights the risks, challenges and choices involved in shaping a process that supported students with unconventional backgrounds to achieve academic success and work toward their social justice aspirations. It examines how, over a decade, IFP India reached out to and selected the talent pool defined as its target group, and how it prepared Fellows for their journeys to international academic destinations.

The book explores the transformations that Fellows underwent during and after their Fellowship tenures, and describes the impact Fellows are making in civil society, government, media, arts and academia. Opening Doors attempts to capture the legacy of this innovative program and hopes it will provide material for discussion, reflection and learning. To read an electronic version of the book, click here.

Vivek Mansukhani, Director, Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program

The American Community College Model in India: A Personal Perspective

I deem it a privilege to have attended the Community College Conference hosted by the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development in New Delhi in February 2013. About six to seven institutions showcased their community and technical college models to help Indian officials understand best practices and models with regard to workforce (faculty) development and curriculum implementation. Community colleges in the United States have come a long way in successfully helping the needy since as far back as 1901. In India, we have 600 million people younger than 25. If the country properly invests in them, the future will be bright. Hence, India has to go forward and learn from expert community colleges, like those in the U.S., and adapt, adopt and apply their best practices to the Indian context.

First of all, we should articulate the vision, mission and objectives of community colleges within the Indian context. Timely support from the central and state governments will create speedy growth and development of community colleges. Looking around, one may find unemployment rampant in every state. A huge number of degree holders have no jobs. This could be attributed to caste and creed problems. Or, is it because the degrees are invalid? Are there too few jobs for those holding the degrees, or do these degree-holders avoid certain jobs or lack the skills to fill them?  India needs to address these questions and community colleges will prove an integral in improving the job market and increasing employment.

The purpose of a community college resemble the mission Mesa Community College in Arizona: “To promote excellence in teaching and learning, preparing the individuals for active citizenship in a diverse global society. The college is a community resource for transfer education, career preparation, developmental education, economic development, and continuous learning. Our ultimate purpose is to improve the quality of life in the community we serve.”

The Community College Conference in Delhi gave a positive signal that India is ready to collaborate with American community colleges, and that American community colleges are willing help develop the community college system in India. For example, central and state governments in India are ready to appoint officials to visit American community colleges and consider how to apply these best practices to the Indian context.  This will enrich the educational institutions of both the countries, creating a win-win situation that is essential for a continuing partnership. My sincere hope is that India quickly adopts the American community college model.

Just as in the United States, community colleges in India should begin with little or no tuition cost, as most Indian students face financial challenge.  Community colleges in India should also aim to educate students for both industrial and corporate sectors. To foster the development of community colleges in India, established colleges and universities in India should lend their infrastructure and facilitate to help jumpstart community colleges.

Among the organizations in India that could run the community colleges successfully are the Indian Centre for Research and Development of Community Education (ICRDCE), and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Rev. Fr. Xavier Alphonse S.J., the founder of ICRDCE, has been very successful in running community colleges in Madras and other parts of the country. These colleges train student for jobs, as do U.S. community colleges. ICRDCE and IGNOU promote strong individual job skills, as required by industry. They also teach life and communication skills, lessening the burden of traditional courses of higher education. According to Fr. Alphonse S.J, “the community college is an alternative system of education. It gives a second chance to those who have dropped out of school. It provides opportunity for those who otherwise would have been excluded. It is empowerment through skills development for the urban, rural and tribal poor.” He further says the motto should be focused on “including the excluded, giving the best to the least.”

The curriculum of the community college should be flexible and learner-friendly to accommodate the varying aptitudes of students and their ability to grasp and assimilate information. The focus of the community college is not merely to provide information, but to teach students to maintain their livelihood. Therefore, community colleges in India should cater to an alternative population, providing opportunity to all. This alternative arrangement will add value to the large Indian population and help India emerge as the world’s capital for rich human resources.

American community colleges offer programs of quality and competency. Skill training in India also can offer certified, need-based programs for employment sectors, such as Information and Communication Technology and IT enabled Services. We need more institutions to offer competency training at a low cost that yield 100 percent job placement. The reduced cost should not infer that community college students do not qualify for a traditional university or give their degrees have less weight. Faculty members of the community college should be experts both in theory and skill, capable of instructing students according to their capacity to learn and helping them to meet high standards.

A low cost education would greatly benefit India’s massive population. Our community colleges must be centers of educational opportunity at a low cost and with academic standards equal to those of traditional education. The U.S. community colleges serve as a bridge between school and college by providing courses for transfer toward a bachelor’s degree. This can be easily implemented in India, too. U.S. community colleges prepare American students for the job market by offering entry-level career training. There are also courses for adult learners who seek to upgrade their skills to re-enter the workforce or advance in their jobs. These courses could be used as models for India to train students for the market and to give teachers more advanced education credentials. Without sacrificing quality, students who find course work difficult, could be given a smaller workload and less intense course material.

How do we select the students for community colleges considering our population and the demand? The institute would have to work out a plan to accommodate a housewife or a servant, or a 10th pass or a plus two student. A prospective must be guided into a career decision and field of study that would offer a degree. If possible, one-on-one advising should be available to help the students decide whether to strengthen basic skills or to pursue academics. Career-oriented certificate courses (six months/one year) like parenting, house nursing, tourism, paralegal studies and so on will help students find jobs. In the U.S., course schedules are developed with the diverse student population in mind, including age, family background, employment status, etc. This could be adopted in India as well.

A good library, including e-library and research facilities, should be made available to students and faculty members. The community college should make the students feel that their degree or certificate is a coveted one. In no way should the students feel their educational accomplishments are inferior. Media should advertise the benefits of a community college. 

Prospective students will look for good teaching, a location close to home, manageable fees, no age limit and job-oriented courses. In Bihar, community colleges with these features would be welcome for the many people who have chronic financial problems. Such arrangements would allow the needy candidates to walk in without cold feet as they move to gain self-confidence.

Sister Marie Jessie A.C. Head of the Department of English, Patna Women’s College, Bihar and Coordinator for the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). 

Avery Dennison ‘InvEnt’ Scholarship - A platform for the BIG LEAP!

It was May 2012 and I was at home, studying for the upcoming semester exams when I got “the call”. The instant I saw the number on my cell, I knew what it was going to be about. All the hard work had paid off and I was awarded the Avery Dennison InvEnt scholarship! I had experienced such calls regarding scholarships before, but this one literally made me speechless. Being selected among top 10 students from 4 prestigious colleges of the country was truly unbelievable!

It was the first year of the Avery Dennison InvEnt scholarship program in India, to be awarded to top 10 high achieving and innovative students from 4 colleges. The students had to write an essay related to their project and explain what made their projects “innovative”. The project was going to be one of the many criteria to judge the students. My project was about utilizing the moisture content in air to obtain eco-friendly and efficient air cooling system. It utilized the process of adsorption of moisture by chemical substances (solid desiccants) to decrease the room temperature. I had been working on this idea even before the announcement of the scholarship program, but the program really proved to be an encouraging factor for me to really start focusing on it. I brought out the books to review some old concepts, studied more related to the chemical processes, dug deeper, designed a conceptual model and actually ended up making a working prototype. Thanks to Avery Dennison, my hard work and talent got recognition at a great level and helped me learn what efforts I exactly need to put in, to innovate something new.

The scholarship was awarded in Bangalore at a magnificent ceremony organized by IIE which was an additional boon for us. The overall experience of the scholarship program was flawless and wonderful. Also, it was really a pleasure meeting IIE representatives at Bangalore and interacting with them. At the award ceremony, we got a chance to interact with the Avery Dennison delegates which gave us an insight of the imperial personalities of the professionals. It also gave us an opportunity to interact with our other counterparts and realize how every innovative mind is different from the other. This personally gave me a sense of pride to be amongst the minds which think differently. The ceremony was followed by a visit to the Avery Dennison Plant and Knowledge Centre. The plant visit was very informative and we got to see some of the ‘best in class’ printing technologies. At the knowledge centre we were shown how constant innovation is important in any field. The value of innovation can simply be measured from the fact that an MNC like Avery Dennison was built on the basis of a small invention like pressure sensitive labels!

The overall experience of the award ceremony was quite overwhelming. The most important benefit which I personally think I earned from the scholarship is confidence and motivation, confidence which is going to be a firm platform, and motivation which is going to be the fuel for my BIG LEAP ahead!

Chinmay Vivek Deshmukh, Recipient, Avery Dennison InvEnt Scholarship, 2012 and 2nd Year, B.E. Mechanical Engineering, PVG Pune

“Learning is a lifelong journey and not a destination”

It’s been more than a year since the 2012 edition of “Energizing Leaders to Innovate” Workshop and the most important things which cross my mind as I sit to pen down my thoughts are motivation, immense experience and self-introspection which we learnt from this program.

Right from the moment of filling up the application and the selection process to the enlightening workshop and its aftermath, the journey has just been wonderful and encouraging. I can still hear the smiles, laughter, beautiful lessons and wisdom words of both the students and mentors alike. Words fail to describe the amount of exposure and experience we received as students by this platform. Not to mention the community development project which made us question ourselves as moral beings and helped mould our personality.

GE Foundation Scholar-Leaders Program has shaped our future in more ways than we are actually aware of. Be it campus placements or higher studies, being a GE Foundation Scholar makes us one step ahead of others. It has induced and inspired an urge to achieve higher academic levels in me.

With pride I would like to mention, I have been offered admission with full scholarship at TU Delft, the Netherlands for Masters in Sustainable Energy Technology. Undoubtedly, GE Foundation scholarship has helped me in my application and subsequent interview process, for which I will always be grateful to GE Foundation.

As I wait to embark my new journey, I would like to thank the GE Foundation and Institute of International Education for giving me this opportunity and all the fond memories which I would cherish lifelong.

Aishwarya Suvvi, GE Foundation Scholar-Leader’ 2011-13 and B.E. Electrical and Electronics Engineering from R.V College of Engineering, Bangalore (2013) 

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