From day one of my fellowship I had been hearing rumors there would be a conference on community colleges in India. Little did I know I would end up on the planning committee and ultimately serve as the conference’s emcee; but during my fellowship in India I have come to expect the unexpected and continue to stay as open as possible to what tomorrow may bring.
Feb 6 and 7 in Dehli at the Ashok Hotel the Ministry for Human Resource Development (MHRD) hosted the International Conference on Community Colleges in India. This conference was the culmination of an announcement made in Sept, 2012 that India, under the leadership of the MHRD would open 200 community colleges. The vision for these colleges is not that they be brand new buildings with new course offerings but that they usher in a new era of educational access in India. The concept of these pilot colleges is that education pathway will be added into existing educational institutions to enable those traditionally outside the system of higher education to gain access. The conference was a chance to bring together over 500 people from 7 countries (USA, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and India). It was an opportunity for dialogue about how community colleges are operationalize in other countries and what from these systems might work for implementation in India.
The idea of community colleges in India is one that I fervently believe in. Educational systems should be about equal opportunity and second chances, I am personally the product of a community college in the US and were it not for the option to attend that community college my educational opportunities would have been limited. The passion I have for the concept of community colleges has only grown during my tenure of work in India – But the gray has begun to creep in. The idea that equal access to education is a sample black and white concept proves not to be the case. How do you create such a system in a society which has historically unequal practices and attitudes? How do you overcome the idea that in many rural regions women are not permitted to be in school, not expected or encourage to gain and education or to go to work. How do you address the fact that the legacy of the caste system calls into question who has a right to be in the classroom, who has a right to learn. Policy is not something which exists in isolation from culture – and the culture of education is India is far that which is embodied in the concept of a community college. Can it work here? Absolutely. Will it work here? Maybe. Will 200 pilot colleges be launched by July? Likely not. But I hope the dialogue started at this conference proves to be the beginning of a movement and of a new era of education in India.
I am so proud I was able to stand with those from around India who are dedicated to bringing educational opportunity and access across this county. Attending and being a part of this conference was a true honor and without doubt the highlight of my fellowship to date.
General Resources on Community Colleges in India:
The Indian Centre for Research and Development of Community Education
OP Jindal Community Colleges