Learning for livelihood

Print edition : February 10, 2006

The community college movement, an innovative system of education aimed at empowering the disadvantaged sections of society, has today become a national phenomenon.

THE community college movement has been growing in India ever since it began in 1995 with the opening of the Pondicherry University Community College. The Archdiocese of Madras, Mylapore, was the first non-governmental organisation to start a community college, the Madras Community College, in 1996. Today there are 153 community colleges across 17 States. The movement has so far helped 35,000 students from the socially, economically and educationally backward groups. Thus it has become a national phenomenon.

This innovative alternative system of education is aimed at the empowerment of the disadvantaged and underprivileged sections of society through appropriate skills development leading to gainful employment in collaboration with the local industry and community. The vision of the community college is of the community, for the community and by the community and to produce responsible citizens. In collaboration with the local industry, the community colleges promote job-oriented, work-related, skill-based and life-coping education.

The key words of the community college system are access, flexibility in curriculum and teaching methodology, cost-effectiveness and equal opportunity. In collaboration with the industrial, commercial and service sectors of the local area, in response to the social needs and issues of the local community, the college provides internship and job placement within the local area and promotes self-employment and small business development. There is also an attempt to evolve a profile exclusively for the rural community college.

The concept of community colleges has become the need of the hour in view of the elimination and exclusion of children from the education system (154 million of the 160 million who go to the first standard in India are excluded from the formal system); the mismatch between education and employment; the problems of unemployment, under-employment and unemployability (for every 100 workers employed six are unemployed, 16 are unable to earn $1 per person a day, The Hindu on June 28, 2001); and the high rate of dropout.

In September 2002, 939 employment exchanges across the country had registered 4.16 crore candidates of whom 70 per cent are educated. (Dinamani, February 28, 2003)

According to data collected by the National Information Centre, Vellore, in December 2001, the dropout rates in Tamil Nadu in 2000-01 was 14.41 per cent at the primary level, 35.59 per cent at the middle school level, 57.59 per cent at the high school level and 82.30 per cent at the higher secondary level. A media report on January 9, 2002, stated that there were around 48 lakh `non-schoolgoing' children (in the 6-14 age group) in Tamil Nadu. It reported that although 63.04 lakh students got admitted in 31,052 schools across the State, the dropout rate was almost 36 per cent by the time they reached high school, of which 90 per cent are girls. The high percentage of dropouts at the high school and higher secondary levels highlight the need for an alternative system of education like the one offered by community colleges.

It is found that if 100 million students get enrolled in primary school, only about 30 million reach middle school and about 16 million in high/higher secondary school. Of the children in the 6-11 age group about 90-95 per cent are enrolled in primary school. At the secondary stage, that is, age group 11-15, only 48 per cent continue, and at the higher secondary stage, the 15-17 age group, only about 24 per cent are found to pursue their studies. In the 17-23 age group, only about 8 per cent study in the higher education institutions.

From these statistics, it is found that roughly, more than 50 per cent of the schoolchildren drop out at every stage. The question is what happens to all those youth in the 11-17 age group who drop out?

THE community colleges in India offer diploma courses in health assistance/nursing assistance; pre-primary teacher training; DTP operation/computer application; fashion designing and garment manufacture; house electrical/electrical work; air-conditioning and refrigeration; four-wheeler/automobile mechanism; catering; plumbing technology; tailoring and embroidery; Tally accounting; medical lab technology; computer hardware; sales and marketing management; travel management; bakery and confectionery; cargo management; printing technology; hotel management, rural marketing; community enterprises; Information Technology; business accountancy and chartered accountancy, house keeping, and so on.

The unique achievement of the community colleges has been the empowerment of the socially, economically and educationally backward sections of society. The Madras Centre for Research and Development of Community Education (MCRDE) has been able to gather data regarding 30,101 students from 122 community colleges. The break-up gives a complete picture of the target group served.

Women: 76 per cent; Married - 8 per cent (16-48 age group).

Qualification: Below Standard X passed - 19 per cent; X passed - 26 per cent; XII passed - 47 per cent; Graduate degree - 8 per cent.

Caste: Scheduled Caste - 25 per cent; Scheduled Tribe - 7 per cent; Most Backward Classes - 16 per cent; Backward Classes - 45 per cent; Other communities - 9 per cent.

Monthly family income: Below Rs.1,000 - 38 per cent; Below Rs.2,000 - 34 pet cent; Below Rs.3,000 - 17 per cent; Above Rs.3,000 - 11 per cent.

Religion: Hindus - 54 per cent; Christians - 43 per cent; Muslims - 3 per cent.

The average percentage of job placement up to 2005 is 75 per cent. Thus the concept is totally a secular one, breaking all barriers of religion, caste, region, language and educational qualification.

A community college is established on the basis of a thorough need analysis of employment and self-employment opportunities in the local area. The MCRDCE has helped 16 institutions to do their need analysis.

Rev. Dr. Devadoss, SJ. releasing a book on the community college movement in India in Chennai. The book is received by Thomas Varghese, General Manager, Southern Railways. Also seen in the picture are Fr. Boniface Jeyaraj, Rector, Loyola Collge, and Dr. Xavier Alphonse (right).-S. THANTHONI

The community college system has been working successfully with 75 per cent job placement without getting recognition from any approved educational bodies of the country. However, most of the community colleges feel the need for recognition from the State and Central governments, which would facilitate the horizontal and vertical mobility of their students. The MCRDCE has succeeded in convincing the State and Central governments to accord recognition and accreditation for the system and approve student-centered funding. The issue of accreditation was examined by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). The NIOS has given accreditation to 18 community colleges. The Tamilnadu Open University has recognised 80 community colleges as approved vocational programme centres with nine recognised job-oriented courses. The University of Madras has submitted a comprehensive document on the "Indian Community College System" to the MHRD and the University Grants Commission.

The National Committee set up by the MHRD is preparing its recommendations to be submitted to Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh. (This writer is a member of the committee.)

The community college system has found a mention in the Tenth Plan. Chapter 2.4 Vocational Education of the Plan document says: "There should be focus on convergence of schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Adult Education and Vocational Education Programme at Schools, ITIs, Polytechnics, Community Colleges, etc."

The system has reached the shores of the African continent. There were eight representatives from South Africa, Lesotho, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda for the 15th Teachers Training programme conducted by the MCRDCE in November 2005. The team plans to start five community colleges by June 2006. The Indian concept has been recognised by the American Association of Community Colleges and the Community Colleges for International Development, U.S. The American Community College teachers have shown keen interest in the Indian community college system.

Community Colleges have responded to the needs of the tsunami-affected people of Tamil Nadu. As a first step in this direction, consultations were held in different parts of the State in April, May and June with the beneficiary groups.

Thirty community colleges have come forward to enrol the tsunami-affected people. The training cost for 958 students will be provided by the MCRDCE. Special efforts have been made to start community colleges exclusively for the tsunami-affected people.

The Tabor Community College in Mahabalipuram has enrolled 240 students; the Karaikal Community College 410 students; the Karaikal Community College (CEDA TRUST) 76 students; St. Joseph's Community College, Nagapattinam, 100 students; and ALC Community College, Cuddalore, 100 students. These colleges are situated in the tsunami-affected area so that the affected young men and women can have access to skills development.

Dr. Xavier Alphonse SJ, former Principal of Loyola College, is director of MCRCDE, coordinating agency for community colleges.

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