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India Initiative Reflections

India Initiative Reflections

Welcoming Remarks

(India 2011 Trip) Permanent link   All Posts

This short video demonstrates the enthusiasm shared by both India and the United States for collaboration around the community college initiative in India, but it barely scratches the surface of the dialogue that took place. Take a minute, watch the video, but also read more below; it gives a more detailed reflection of the morning's remarks by Indian leaders Oscar Fernandes and Naveen Jindal, the U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.


Honored guest Oscar Fernandes, a member of the Indian Parliament and the chair of the Committee on Human Resources Development, opened the symposium by sharing his own educational journey from a tradesman to a government leader. For him, it is a true “passion to send children to the technical institutions.” He even recalled urging one of those institutions—when he served on a selection committee—to admit a young man who arrived for his interview in pants far too big for his frame. Mr. Fernandes knew the young man had the right dedication for school because, as he explained it, he wore his uncle’s pants to “look smart.”

Mr. Fernandes’ passion for education and his presence at the symposium demonstrated the real commitment that he and other government leaders in India have for building an educated workforce that will meet the evolving needs of the global economy. Currently, India has a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) at approximately 12 percent, meaning only 12 percent of young people eligible to enroll in college or university are currently enrolled. There are plans to change. India has pledged to raise that number to 30 percent in just nine more years—by 2020. And according to Mr. Fernandes, the government of India plans to open 50,000 more rural schools to train the country’s youth.

Following Oscar Fernandes, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer , discussed how education and opportunity provide the “very essence” on which America and India—two great democracies—can continue to build their future cooperation.  As he explained, success at the two-day symposium and at collaboration “… means that my children and President Obama’s children and India’s children have this opportunity to dream and work and grow these two countries to be the indispensible partnership of the 21st century for peace and prosperity, human rights and democracy.”

Ambassador Roemer proudly shared some of America’s own community college success stories— Senator Harry Reid, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick. These names illustrate just how far community colleges can take their students. You see this each and every day in the alumni of Montgomery College, who have achieved success in their personal and professional lives. Through this symposium and efforts like the White House Summit on Community Colleges, Montgomery College and America’s community colleges are getting well-deserved attention for the education they provide to so many of our nation’s students.

“In the United States and now in India, leading community colleges have been effective in reaching out to lower income students, putting them at the cutting edge of technological change and giving them the skills not only to land jobs, but to launch successful careers,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton , secretary of the United States Department of State, in a special video message delivered at the symposium. She sees community colleges as playing a vital role in further developing the United States’ partnership with India.

“President Obama has called America’s relationship with India one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century and a critical element of our partnership is working together to educate our young people so that they may thrive in a global economy.”

For U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan , the symposium and the opportunities to promote dialogue between Indian and American counterparts is a “win-win." He shared his message with symposium participants in a special video message, introduced by U.S. Department of Education General Counsel Charlie Rose: "I want to congratulate Montgomery College President Dr. Pollard and Vice President and Provost Dr. Rai for their tremendous leadership and vision and we are grateful for the work they do. Community colleges like Montgomery College are providing pathways of opportunity to literally millions of America's students..."

As Secretary Duncan explained,  “the United States and India face many of the same educational challenges, particularly when it comes to providing students with career and technical training for the jobs of the 21st century.”

To tackle some of India’s educational challenges, Naveen Jindal , an elected member of Parliament and the executive vice chairman and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power —the fourth largest company in India—has undertaken a bold approach. He launched his own philanthropic program to increase educational access in India. Through Jindal Educational Initiatives, he and his team have built a university, several institutes of technology, and four community colleges throughout India. They see the community college model of open access higher education as a real opportunity for addressing India’s shortage of trained manpower. For a country of more than 1.2 billion, more than 500 million people need basic skills training, according to USIEF’s Vibha Sharma.

“For us, it really is a window of opportunity. We must seize it. If we seize this opportunity and give our youth employable skills, they will be able to contribute to India’s economic development,” said Mr. Jindal. “If we lose this opportunity and we are not really able to impart good education to our youth that they will be able to contribute to the nation’s development, then this—the democratic advantage—will not happen. It has to be seized.”

Mr. Jindal’s goal is simple and yet—at the same time—awe-inspiring: to educate and hundreds of thousands of Indians, teaching them marketable skills that will lead to careers in his company and many other highly successful companies across India. The need is great; 2008 education figures  from India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development find that more than 62 percent of India’s youth drop out of secondary school, before ever enrolling in higher education, and quality, skilled employees are difficult to find. To make a difference, Mr. Jindal plans to dramatically increase his community college enrollment from 2,000 students to 10,000 annually!

Inspiration comes from Mr. Jindal’s late father, O.P. Jindal, who believed that “the person who works with his hands is the most important.” By creating educational institutions for both current and future generations of Indians, Mr. Jindal truly is, as he says, “fulfilling his [father’s] dream.”

With Jindal Educational Initiatives, Montgomery College has had unique opportunities to visit Jindal educational institutions; talk with faculty, staff, and students in India; and learn from the experience. Additionally, the College worked closely with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, which provided the College with a $195,000 grant, and USIEF, which is assisting with grant implementation.

When Dr. Molly Teas joined the U.S. Department of State as the senior education adviser with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, she identified an opportunity to support the development of a community college exchange program in India. With the country’s gross enrollment ratio at just over 12 percent, community colleges could help address what she sees as a “gap in education.”

Why community colleges? Dr. Teas witnessed success at community colleges growing up; her mother taught there. Now, she looks forward to America’s unique model of higher education—“engines of job growth”—generating interest and being adapted to fit the current workforce need among India’s citizens.



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