Plan panel is trying to popularise the concept of community colleges and is asking States to set up at least one such college in each district
It is the spring semester of 2006 and a team of Rotary fellows is visiting the Berry College in Rome, Georgia, in the U.S. Krishna Dhir, a management professor of Indian origin who is taking the team around, points to a construction site on the campus. “You see, all those working here are our students. No paid employees,” he says. The ‘students’, whose age ranges from 16 to 70, are doing everything that goes into the making of a college building. Digging, preparing concrete mixtures, plumbing, carpentry, wiring and interior decoration are all being done by students who were trained in those crafts.
The 27,000-acre campus, the world’s largest, has over 2,100 students in around 100 vocational trades. Martha Berry, who wanted to impart first-hand training of the “Head, Heart and Hands” to students, founded the college in 1902. There is no upper age limit for students. They attend theory classes for three days a week and get training for the next three. Many students are married or between jobs. There are even the adventurous kind — successful professionals who want to unlearn their craft and explore completely new career opportunities. A water mill built by Berry students across a stream on the campus has become an icon of vocational education in the U.S.
Berry is considered a pioneering community college that provides a wide spectrum of education that ranges from accounting and animal science to women’s studies and writing.
The success of such institutions across the world in providing vocational education, reducing dropouts and in establishing industry-institution partnerships has influenced the Indian Government to promote community colleges. The Planning Commission is trying to popularise the concept and is asking the States to set up at least one community college in each district. It is also goading the States to explore introducing vocational skills
Among the objectives of the 12th Plan is the convergence of schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Madhyamika Shiksha Abhiyan, and vocational education.
A research study on “The Impact and Prospects of the Community College System in India” by the Socio-Economic Research Division of the Planning Commission found that the colleges in a few States had met their desired end and recommended the model to be replicated across the country.
Most of the community colleges are in south India, with Tamil Nadu accounting for a fourth of them. The study that covered over 1,000 students in 30 colleges found that the colleges run by communities, in collaboration with local industries, had provided gainful employment to men and women or made them self-employable. This was achieved through courses that were a few weeks or a few months long. The students had also benefitted from the teaching of life skills, communication skills and English.
A statistical analysis revealed that the concept had served the target groups. Women formed 70 per cent of the students; Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes added up to 92 per cent; and those from the economically backward section, 78 per cent.
Since there is no age bar on entry, the age of students range between 17 and 47. A large portion of the students were dropouts and some had been out of school for 19 years. The placement rate was 83 per cent. A small percentage of men had started their own enterprises.
Training covered 20 trades such as electrical and electronic gadget servicing, computer hardware and networking, kindergarten teaching and day care, nursing care, office management, photography and videography, printing, catering services, bakery and confectionary, and welding.
A proposal paper by the Union Government released in August this year offers financial aid of up to 80 per cent to States planning to open community colleges and affiliation by the Union Human Resource Ministry.
The proposal also asks States to introduce vocational courses in secondary school for those who have passed eighth standard, or those who failed in 10th standard or who were dropouts.
The Karnataka Government is seriously considering the Centre’s suggestion, says Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri, Minister for Primary and Secondary Education. “Introducing vocational education at both secondary school and college levels is a good idea,” he said. “That will help reduce the dropout rate, create incentives for completing school education and help dropouts come back to school. It will also help young people get jobs without needing to undergo training in long-term courses.” Such a system of teaching life skills in secondary schools was prevalent in the 1950s and 60s. It had its definite benefits. The present system is an improvement on that, the Minister said.
The Karnataka State Higher Education Council has also favoured the idea. In its Vision 2020 document, it has recommended the starting of new community colleges or starting vocational courses with flexible entry and exit systems in existing colleges.
The Higher Education department has already identified 11 polytechnics and first grade colleges for introducing vocational courses. The State Government is also in talks with some corporate companies to allow students to work in their factories or companies or pay stipends to students. These colleges are expected to admit students from the next academic year.
Officials of the Education Department say that implementation of the idea is not easy at the level of secondary education. “We will need to restructure the colleges to include a totally different teaching-learning method, hire more teachers, create labs and tie up with communities. We may also need specialised guest lecturers. All this may take some time. But we will do it, even if it is implemented in phases,” a senior officer said.
It is a welcome move, says Syed Tanveer, media cell in-charge of the Jamaat-E-Islami Hind. “We were planning something similar for poor Muslim children. We circulated a concept paper among entrepreneurs and donors in the community and had begun consultations. We are happy that the Government is thinking on similar lines.”