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India Initiative Reflections

India Initiative Reflections

Incredible India

(India 2011 Trip) Permanent link   All Posts

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.

Montgomery College

Montgomery County, MD


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