Wednesday, July 8, 2009

IGNOU started Community Colleges

The Community College as an alternative and flexible system of higher education and vocational training established itself in the early 20th century in the United States. William Rainey Harper, who became the President of University of Chicago at the age of 35, contributed immensely to the spread of “Junior Colleges” that became popular as Community Colleges later. These colleges normally offered 2 year “Associate Degree” which allowed students to transfer to four year degree college or universities in the United States to study for another 2/3 years to complete a bachelor's degree. These colleges are characterized by open admission, flexible scheduling and curriculum, vocational orientation, collaboration with industry and local organizations, and cost-effectiveness. In 2006–07, there were 1,045 community colleges in the United States, enrolling 6.2 million students (or 35 percent of all postsecondary students enrolled that year) (NCES, 2008). According to a report submitted to the Planning Commission, Govt of India, the first community college in India was established in 1995, and by 2003 there were 95 community colleges with similar objectives as that of the American counterparts. However, not all are recognized by Universities. By starting to recognize the Community Colleges, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has started a “revolution” in Indian vocational and higher education sector, as the intent and objectives of these align with the open learning philosophy of IGNOU. This initiative of IGNOU will lead to more enrollment in the Bachelor Degree Programmes (BDP) in coming years when students pass out of the Associate Degree Scheme from these Community Colleges. However, it will be further good, if IGNOU can take one step more to initiate these Community Colleges to the concept of Distance Education and urge them to start distance learning programmes. Since the objectives of IGNOU is to promote distance education, and democratize higher education, it should always look for opportunity to promote this, and through the distance learning programmes of the Community Colleges, it is possible to reach more students and increase access to higher education . In the United States also the Community Colleges offer a significant number of courses through distance mode. In 2006-7, 97% of the public 2-year degree colleges offered some form of distance learning. So, in India too the concept has a strong potential to make quality education 'reach the unreached'.

While the objective of increasing access to higher education through Community College is welcome and appreciated, it is important that the scheme is implemented and monitored systematically. After the first back of Associate Degree holders are out, the system should be able to inform us, the success rate, trade-wise vocational education imparted, state-wise vocational statistics, percentage of student going in for BDP of IGNOU; placement of the students, etc. It is also necessary to ensure quality of operations and academic offerings in the Community Colleges, and therefore, necessary guidelines, standards, and manuals may be developed. Capacity building of the faculty and non-teaching staff to ensure quality is highly important and regular training programmes should be conducted by IGNOU on various areas such as needs assessment, curriculum development, teaching methodology. Distance learning material development, use of technology in teaching and learning, application of technology in office administration, evaluation technology, etc. It is also important to think of credit transfer of the Associate Degree to regular conventional colleges and universities. To this extent, the University Grants Commission may develop norms and guidelines to be followed by the colleges and universities. If the Associate Degree holders get opportunity to join the conventional higher education system as well, it will add to the value of the scheme and also improve mobility of learners giving them more choice.

In short, a good scheme has been initiated, but there are miles to go before its results are visible to the society. I will be interested in news and views about the success of the scheme and its implementation and monitoring aspects.

No comments: