June 8, 2013

Last post from Mumbai


Finishing up in Mumbai; I was, after waiting, able to meet with both a faculty member and the principal of the J.J. College of Architecture. It was certainly encouraging to see that students were getting involved in projects within Mumbai itself- actually implementing the urban design principles they were learning about. While I have certainly heard several times from different sources that students tend to have more theoretical than practical educational backgrounds, it seems there certainly are places where students are actually getting the chance to apply what they're learning.
It was a particularly busy time- admissions time- for the principal, Rajiv Mishra. Unfortunately, though the decisions are made by the government, everyone wondering about admissions was calling him. His phone rang pretty much non-stop.  His commitment to his students was abundantly clear; as was his passion for architecture education. Many of his concerns were easy to relate to...specifically, that having a degree in something doesn't make you automatically capable of teaching that subject well; that's a problem we face, as well- supporting our faculty's development as teachers. Having faculty pulled in many different directions of course is also a universal- though his problem was more that when someone's teaching load is 35 hours a week, there's effectively little to no opportunity for research, practice, or personal professional development. 
I then went to the gorgeous new (inhabited for one month) JSW center to visit Raman Madhok, JSW's Human Resources director (one of the Eisenhower Fellows whom I'd met at dinner on Monday night) and Sangita Jindal, Chairperson of the JSW Foundation, which carries out the social development projects supported by the corporation (this is the same family as founded Jindal Global University which I visited in Delhi). This building was so fancy that in the conference room we met in, there was a welcome message waiting for me (see picture!). We talked a good bit about leadership training, and the in house program they're running to generate the leaders they'll need as their business expands. For their outreach/social development projects, they do (on top of water conservation, sports promotion, public health efforts, and arts and cultural heritage development) work in education, largely at the pre/primary school and the vocational skills level. There is a significant concern that there are not enough people going into trades- apparently only 7% of the population. Thus they are working directly to make technical skills available to a wider segment of the population. 
I was also fortunate enough to get to meet K. Sankaranarayanan, Governor of the state of Maharashtra, and as such, the Chancellor of 20 state universities. I tried to understand what that meant, beyond his being responsible for appointing the Vice Chancellors for the institutions, but I wasn't quite able to get a good sense of it. One would assume an active role as Chancellor would be out of the question, given the suite of responsibilities, but I had hoped to get a sense of priorities for and or concerns about the universities. The governor independently brought up the issue of training people in trades, saying it's easier to find a trained engineer than it is to find a plumber. That certainly has become a common refrain over the course of the last few weeks.    
Finally, I met with Sheetal Mehta, Trustee and Executive Director of K.C. Mahindra Education Trust, and Gauri Rajadhyaksha, Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility; Mahindra and Mahindra, Ltd. Education and health have been priorities for the corporation's charitable work for more than 50 years, and they have been doing a lot of remarkable work in those sectors. They provide scholarships for students wishing to do post-graduate studies abroad, as well as merit scholarships to help high achieving students continue their educations. They are also committed to girls' education, and seeing that more girls finish at least through 10th grade. They not only provide a kit of materials (uniforms, books, supplies) that families might not be able to afford, but also an hour and a half to 2 hrs per day of "academic support"; since girls would have a large burden of household tasks, they may not have the time outside the classroom to do their work. This allows them an opportunity to put in the time they need to succeed, and keeps them from getting left behind. They're also sponsoring "Mahindra Pride Schools"; which offer 3 month intensive courses designed to take people who dropped out of school in 9th or 10th grade and get them set up for jobs in hospitality, sales, or "IT enabled service". Life skills/soft skills are taught- interviewing, etc., and graduates are able to get relatively high paying jobs- the kind that make a real difference for their families. 
One issue that came up was something that interestingly enough arose at IIT Bombay (and in one or two other contexts as well); there is overwhelming interest and self selection by students into a very small number of career paths (computer science, certain kinds of engineering). The perspective both of university faculty and those mentoring young girls is that there's a real mismatch both with the interests and passions of the students (which are, if anything, unknown to the students) and the realities of the job market. With so many as the first generation educated, there is little access to people with experience as mentors- and even then, things are so different from 10 or 20 years ago that effective advising and mentoring is incredibly hard to find. Again, the scale of the problem- the sheer number of young people!- makes simple solutions hard to find. It really seems like online delivery of a lot of things- from skills to advice- is the only way to tackle the problem; however, with only 10% of the population having access to broadband (I need to check that figure, but I believe that's what the CII person I met in Delhi said), there's a bit of infrastructure that would need to be built first.
OK, if there is a single person reading this; I hereby vow to keep up with more frequent and shorter posts in the 2 weeks remaining.


I am in the IT department in one of my state's largest state universities. We were state colleges until a few years ago, when the state promoted us all. In addition to the changes that entails, we revising our curriculum (actually done; now we implement) as well as a master plan for the university for the next five and ten years. And we are adjusting to the budget reductions that the current economy has necessitated.

In your blog entries, I see many similarities with our situation, as well as differences. The differences can be as enlightening as the similarities. About 40% of our students are local, so we have a larger local impact than colleges and universities with a more geographically diverse student body. Nevertheless, we have over 400 students from over 70 countries. Many of those that come from China are in a 1-2-1 program that grants degrees from both universities.

I hadn't entered a comment earlier since there was nothing that I felt I could add at that point. I suspect that many of the readers feel the same way. When you wondered if anyone was listening, I thought I should respond. In my experience a lot of the communication over the Internet goes one way because it is easier to just listen than say something simply for the sake of saying something. Then there are those who have nothing to say and feel the need to make that apparent.

In any event, if you keep posting your blog entries, I'll keep reading them. I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

Rod Shepardson