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India Initiative Reflections

India Initiative Reflections

Chronicle of Higher Education Highlights India Initiative

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The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an in-depth look at India's efforts to close its skills gap and educate millions of workers. The article, by Shailaja Neelakantan reporting from India, examines the challenges the country faces and the efforts to integrate community colleges into the higher education system. It is a must-read!

Accompanying Neelakantan's article is an article by reporter Karin Fischer, who features Montgomery College's own initiative in India. Fischer looks the symposium that the College led back in March, as well as this week's visit by Indian faculty to Montgomery College. 

Why is the College engaged with colleges overseas? Perhaps Dr. DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College, said it best in the article: "We live in a flattened world. It makes no sense to engage one way."


India Welcomed Us

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Reflection by Rita Kranidis

English Department, Takoma Park/ Silver Spring Campus

As an impressionable teenager who had just read a voluminous biography of Mahatma K. Ghandi , India stood out in my mind as one of a most educational country to visit. I got my wish when my campus nominated me to join the group of faculty and administrators embarking on a dialogue with colleagues in India. Out common goal:  to think about the most efficient and effective educational model for India’s growing economy and the demand for a trained workforce. In my mind, there is no better reason to visit India.

The two-day symposium  at the outset of our visit to India made clear to me that the United States is very much in support of this effort and that we were there to do the work of both nations, the US and India in promoting beneficial collaborations.  Our faculty and administrators presented information on how our College works, our values, and our mission, with specific information on our Workforce programs and meeting student needs at every level, including developmental writing and math. Speakers from both the private and private sectors emphasized India’s great need for an educational model that would reach the vast numbers of semi-literate citizens of India. The commitment and passion of all speakers on this issue was palpable.

Participants in the symposium came from a vast assortment of educational institutions in India. They all had questions about how we accommodate open admissions, our curricula, our outcomes, our faculty and students. Our animated chats of tea and exchanges of cards indicated in no uncertain terms that we had as much to learn about India’s systems as they about ours. What was clear was that India needs to change how it educates its work force in order to become globally competitive. Table and open discussions after the presentations provided clarity on the challenges this project would encounter: public/private partnerships are not the norm in India; there is a huge and very young semi-literate population; India’s need for educated workers is urgent; strategies for integrating these students would be hampered by competing demands for their time, especially in the rural areas.

We had many opportunities to meet and talk with Indian educators and officials. Our host, Mr. Jindal , whose remarkable commitment to social and educational progress became very clear early on, launched our visit with an event that was deeply moving. In a ceremony that represented passing the torch from the old educational models to the new ones, Mr Jindal presented Dr. A.R. Kidwai, former governor of Haryana, with a token of appreciation. The elder communicated his support for our project and fro the move forward in meeting India’s educational needs through innovation. In that moment, departure from India’s traditional approaches to education was sanctioned, in my mind. We had the blessing of the old guard to move forward.

Indian people are warm, welcoming and kind. With every visit to every college and institute, we were met with flowers, hot tea and smiles all around. Administrators, instructors, staff and students alike welcomed our many questions and proudly shared with us the products of their work. We saw the metal widgets they made, the fine embroidery they created, and we pored over their curricula and learning objectives. I wondered, on many occasions, “Do students write? How is literacy addressed?” Some questions, of course, would have to wait for answers. Many smiles and discussions went across as we strolled through large classrooms that sometimes looked remarkably similar to and at others remarkably different from ours. Their good work is already underway. Our contributions to their efforts will hopefully enable a necessary if difficult move toward meeting the educational needs of a nation and of hundreds of thousands of students. I am grateful to have been a part of this discussion at a critical point in India’s growth.

Looking Back and Thinking Ahead

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Reflection by Andrea (Andy) Lucido,
Administrative Support Specialist

The trip to India gave me the opportunity to engage in a culture that was vastly different than what I have ever seen before. It was a tremendous learning experience. It made me reflect on my current lifestyle, and how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to pursue a higher education. In India, the educational opportunities that I took for granted can be almost impossible to achieve. With a country so large, with such vast differences in the social hierarchy, and a huge young population, the obstacles for these young students can be overwhelming.

Professionally, this visit to India has renewed my respect for what our administrators, faculty, and staff accomplish with our students. The whole concept of “being a relevant college” took on a whole new meaning to me. I feel more connected to our College’s mission in terms of how an education can not only change lives, but enrich a community. This was very evident by the need for trained, skilled labor in India. A trained teaching staff, along with working collaboratively with industry, is essential for a thriving community. India needs students that are vocationally trained and ready to work on day one of the job.

I am hopeful that this worthwhile initiative will continue, and that Montgomery College can work collaboratively with India in developing a program that will help get their youth educated and employed. It may take several years for everything to fall into place, but India is in dire need of a trained workforce. What better place to come to than Montgomery College to get the advice, support, and knowledge to implement this wonderful initiative.

Transcribing India

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How was India?” my students asked as soon as I walked into my classroom, jetlagged after a day of flying back from Delhi. I had not planned to devote class time to discussing my recent trip to India, where a group of Montgomery College faculty and administrators met with various officials to explore the possibility of supporting each other’s educational goals.

However, my students’ question indicated a genuine interest in learning about a part of the world they only remotely imagine. While they themselves come from many different countries, most are from Latin America, some from Africa. Asia, a faraway place they do not expect to ever see for themselves, is full of associations in their minds that they wanted to check against my recent experience. As the responsive and versatile teacher I aspire to be, I altered my lesson plan for the day, setting grammar aside and creating space and time for thinking about and discussing India.

I found that beginning to describe my experience in India was challenging indeed. As so often happens when we try to turn ideas into language that promotes learning, I found that I needed to be silent for a bit, to gather my thoughts. To secure this time gap, I asked my students to write down a couple of concrete, specific questions they have about India. Here is what they delivered:

·       Is it true that India has very many people and is very crowded?

·       What does it look like?

·       What are people our age like? Do they work or go to school or both?

·       How is daily life there? How do people live?

·       What do people believe in their religion?

·       What do they do for entertainment, fun?

In other words, they wanted a visual snapshot as an image to help them concretize the place, but they also wanted to understand the details of Indian life as something that is possibly very different from ours. They were right to focus on quality of life issues, since that tells us more about a people than any empirical data.

My students’ most pressing question was why I went to India and what I did there. To create a structure for this very dynamic questioning, I thought I would make that the frame for our discussion. This is what I shared:  I went to India with some colleagues to learn about their educational systems and to share information on how we educate in the United States. We also wanted to share as much information as possible about the US community college system as a possible model that might help India develop its growing workforce. It may be that India will choose to adopt some of our methods, especially the community college model, which does not exist anywhere else in the world.

Our discussion after this point, quite naturally, turned to why a community college model of education might be desirable. The discussion that followed generated more questions than answers, a true mark of critical thinking at work:

·       What makes a community college unique and beneficial?

·       How is it different from a four-year institution?

·       Why would a developing country be interested in it?

·       What might it do for them?

·       What has it done for us?

Our discussion of who we are surfaced as a necessary precursor to understanding India, and it became clear that by thinking about India we could better think about ourselves. Thanks to my recent visit, I was able to share some information that enhanced my students’ understanding of higher education and the ways that it intersects with all areas of life, both American and Indian.

Community colleges, we decided, meet the needs of students who are new to higher education and whose families cannot help them navigate. It is a supportive environment in which students are prepared for the future, whether additional schooling or gaining employment that will allow them to support their families and make use of their talents and abilities. Community colleges make sure that any lingering academic weaknesses are eliminated so that students can enter higher education as a level playing field. They are affordable and in addition to providing academics, they provide a community that supports students’ efforts to get ahead. My students wanted to know:  Does India’s educational system provide such help? Do the students there need it?

Details about India became necessary at this point, so we did some quick online ( ):

  • India has a population of over a billion people although it is about a third of the size of the US. It is the seventh largest nation in the world
  • Only 61% of Indians over age 15 can read and write; the percentage of literate  women is just under 48%
  • It is one of the youngest nations in the world, with a median age of 26
  • India spends just over 3% of GDP on education (almost half of what US spends)
  • The main industry in India is agriculture
  • India’s economy is among the fastest growing in the world
  • India has the second largest labor force in the world
  • The majority of Indians live in rural areas
  • The per capita income of Indians is $3,400
  • 25% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Discussion ensued among the class about how these statistics differ from the United States and how they help us view India in a clearer light. The differences between our two countries became very clear as we talked about the needs of Indian college-age students. However, the picture became even more complicated once we take into account some other facts:

  • The country gained its independence from Britain in 1947. So, we can think of it as a new country. What does it mean to be colonized? What is the impact of colonization on a nation that needs to emerge stronger than ever?
  • The state of the country’s natural environment is a grave concern. Air and water pollution, as well as deforestation are devastating the landscape and have to be addressed quickly because it affects daily life and causes illness.
  • Even as the Indian economy is growing quickly, there are some grave problems it has to work on resolving, such as limited work and education opportunities for its population and inadequate access to higher education. However, assets such as internet and cell phone access can help bridge many restrictions imposed by rural living. Students who can’t get to a campus might be able to take online courses.
  • Forced and underpaid labor is also a big problem in India, especially for the poor and uneducated, including children. Human trafficking is too common. It is also very hard for people to transition from one socioeconomic class to another because they lack skills and education. How can these children and adults be helped?
  • India’s current need, in the mist of quick growth and rapid change, is how best to harness the workforce it has to help it through such challenges. My students offered that community colleges would serve that need very well, since they work with students who come in at different levels of ability. I had to agree.

The discussion we had over two hours on this day was animated and thoughtful. It reinforced to my students the need for education (their own and in general) as a source of empowerment. In terms of the course content, it emphasized the need for reliable research and showed how outside source information can help enrich our thinking about a complex subject. These are learning goals for the course, and I don’t think I could have delivered them in a more relevant way on this day. I was reminded that the benefits of teaching skills in an authentic, organic context are many and that they make deep learning possible.

We also learned on this day that there may not be any quick solutions to problems as varied as in India and that tapping the potential in that country’s people will need to be a concerted effort over time. It became clear to all of us that this discussion could continue in several courses (economics, history, natural sciences) and over an entire semester or more.

The remarkable thing about this day’s deeply probing discussion is that it took place in EN002, a developmental writing course. Our students are capable of excellent work, I noted with a smile…. Wouldn’t it be great to have conversations like this one in an Indian classroom, but about the United States?

From a lifelong learner and teacher,
Rita Kranidis 

English Department, Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus

Sights and Sounds of India

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Incredible India

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Reflection on India, by Margaret Latimer 
Associate Dean for Instructional Programs, Germantown Campus

Community colleges have been in the national spotlight since President Obama described them as an undervalued resource and a White House summit followed. However, it was an international spotlight that shone on community colleges, and specifically on Montgomery College in Delhi, at the National Symposium on 21st Century Community Colleges. It was a bright light. Ambassador Timothy Roemer and Dr. Molly Teas, from the U.S. State Department, addressed the audience. Mr. Charlie Rose from the U.S. Deptartment of Education (not the Charlie Rose of late night public television) represented Secretary Duncan. Two members of the Indian Parliament spoke: the Honorable Oscar Fernandes , MP, chair of the Committee on Human Resources Development, and the Honorable Naveen Jindal, MP, and executive vice chairman and managing director, Jindal Steel and Power. This was our first, but not last opportunity to interact with Mr. Jindal and Mr. Fernandes. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent video messages citing the importance of educating people to thrive in the global economy and the role that community colleges play in providing pathways of opportunity, putting students at the “cutting edge of technological change,” pledging commitment to collaborate to improve education at home and abroad that will increase economic opportunity and growth. It was a proud moment for us when Secretary Duncan congratulated Drs. Pollard and Rai for their “tremendous leadership and vision.” It was a prescient moment when Secretary Duncan noted that the U.S. and India face many of the same educational challenges, particularly when it comes to providing technical skills for the 21st century. 

From Indian business leaders who participated in a sometimes passionate roundtable discussion, we gained some appreciation for the enormity of the challenges, the urgency of addressing them, and the energy, commitment, and resources that do and don’t exist. In the week that followed the symposium, as we visited several post-secondary institutions, each rich, full day afforded the opportunity to meet our counterparts and their students to learn, first hand, of their programs and needs, and desire for partnership and exchanges with us.  Incredibly gracious hospitality greeted us everywhere. Marigold leis, showers of rose petals, savory morsels and juices (often watermelon) were served by eager students.  Some of us didn’t miss an opportunity to indulge. 

We saw pride—in accomplishment, in appearance, in people’s optimism about India’s future as a global leader. Students, working at computers, embroidering, or demonstrating engineering projects, were proud and eager to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. They asked about internships in the U.S. Faculty inquired about exchanges. After an extensive conversation with a mechanical engineering faculty member, I was able to get him a copy of our catalog (It was worth carrying them halfway around the world!).

We saw contrasts. A first stop outside Delhi was at the O.P. Jindal Global University. Built on a 60-acre site that includes student and staff (faculty) housing, it currently hosts three programs. Incredibly, it was built, faculty hired from around the world, and the international curriculum developed—all in seven months. The head of a private school (1,500 pre-K–12 students) in Delhi explained their curriculum that ensures all students graduate fluent in Hindi, English and a third global language. A $3 million Honeywell simulator is used to provide training for new power plant managers. Rural government sponsored technical/vocational training facilities were much more modest. 

The roads leading to the $3 million simulator gave us a glimpse at infrastructure that is wanting. Village life, visible along the rural roads, is a reminder that in a nation that boasts 70 billionaires, over 600 million live in a fragile balance at or below the U.N.-defined poverty line. Just outside Delhi, on the road to the Taj Mahal we sped past colleges and institutes of technology and management. Our car shared that road with tuk-tuks and motorbikes; camel, oxen, and cattle drawn carts. 

We saw challenges and opportunity. As Secretary Duncan noted, we share many of the same concerns.  Unskilled workers in a global economy that demands skilled labor pose enormous challenges and opportunities. Underprepared students and transitioning from 20th century skills to 21st century skills are global issues. Developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship begins in the classroom, but more than one of our Indian colleagues noted that “No one does rote learning better than India.” Educational reform is not easy—on any continent. India sees opportunity in its growing population as many developed nations face aging and declining populations; India will supply a workforce.  

Embedded in Secretary Duncan’s opening accolades, and building on the relationships established during our brief visit, are opportunities for us to follow through—to develop partnerships that offer global experiences for students and faculty that may impact in large and small ways. Globalization is a reality. The pilot who flew us from Delhi to Raigarh put his resume online in 2009 when the Great Recession decimated the market for private pilots in the U.S. Son of a preacher, he moved about the U.S. growing up; he moved his family to India. Our students must be prepared to compete in and thrive in this reality.

Just as general education competencies are common threads weaving through all courses, and as we seek ways to internalize and institutionalize the completion agenda, globalization is bright strand that must be part of what we do. Energy demands as nations like India and China urbanize, meeting worldwide nutrition and water needs, and delivering quality healthcare and education that provides 21st century skills are the challenges our students must be equipped to understand and tackle with innovation, creativity, incredible dedication and hard work—all of which require solid foundational knowledge and the ability to absorb, filter, and apply new knowledge at an accelerating rate. Our challenge is to prepare them well to do so.

The national slogan, “Incredible India,” was—with avuncular warmth—transmuted by one of our hosts, to “Impossible India.” Impossible India offers endless incredible possibilities.

Another Perspective on Workforce Development

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Accompanying the Montgomery College travel team in India were representatives from other community colleges—Dr. Sunita (Sunny) Cooke, president of Grossmont College, and Dr. Richard Haney, vice president for educational affairs at the College of Lake County. They offered another perspective to what the Montgomery College team discussed about workforce development and student success, plus their presence provided representation from the Midwest and the West Coast of the United States.

Dr. Cooke, a former associate vice chancellor of workforce development in Texas, and Dr. Haney, a former dean of business and industry services, have a rich history of building workforce development partnerships in their communities, providing students with the skills necessary to find employment and providing businesses with the trained employees necessary to fulfill their workforce needs. For them, community colleges have the flexibility to meet students where they are and take them where they need to be.

“People come to us for their first career, their second career, and their third career,” said Dr. Cooke during her presentation at the National Symposium on 21st Century Community Colleges. “They retrain. They change their educational perspective and they have something different and more relevant to take back to the workforce.”

She envisions that a successful, comprehensive approach to workforce development would be a series of ladders and lattices. It is not enough to educate and train the new employees, who are eager to advance in their careers. It is just as vital to educate the more senior employees to ensure that they maintain their career, keep pace with rapid changes in industry, and learn the skills necessary to teach others. She explains that “workforce development must be innovative, evolving, and dynamic.”

For Dr. Haney, he emphasized that success can only be obtained when community colleges have strong partnerships with the businesses and industry in their community. As examples, he pointed to Brevard Community College (Florida) and Edmonds Community College (Washington), who both aligned themselves with the aerospace industry in their communities.  

But teaching workforce development courses for the business industry is not enough. As Dr. Haney explained, “something else to take into consideration is being able to identify instructional facilities or locate instructional facilities near your employers.” For Brevard, it meant locating its instructional facility—the Spaceport Center—within Kennedy Space Center, putting courses right in the midst of the very people who would benefit.

Dr. Cooke's PowerPoint presentation and Dr. Haney's PowerPoint presentation are both available online here.

Before Dr. Cooke departed India, she shared her final thoughts about her experience in India. Her video is below.



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