William J. Struhar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sinclair Community College
Adrian Almeida <email@example.com>
Centre for Vocational Education
This paper explains how a five-year project that started with no expectation of using the Internet has adjusted to take advantage of World Wide Web capabilities. The project connects American community colleges with the Centre for Vocational Education (CVE), is funded by a USAID grant, and includes partnerships between education, business and industry, and community groups on both sides of the globe. The project has exceeded expectations and has resulted in the August 1996 inauguration of Madras Community College. The Internet plays a vital role in the sustainability of this multifaceted U.S.-India relationship.
Keywords: University Development Linkages Project, India, America, economic development, education, training.
This paper describes a significant collaboration between community colleges in the United States and the Centre for Vocational Education (CVE) in India. The emergence of the Internet has significantly altered the processes, objectives, and future sustainability of this project. In the spirit of the phrase, "content is king," this paper will place primary emphasis on the importance of the work being done, and the Internet will play an important supporting role.
The project, funded by USAID, began in 1992. Its goal was to develop a structure to bring together training curricula, trainers, funding sources, and other resources to create training programs for rural and urban poor, women with limited opportunities, and early school-leavers in India. A second goal was to give American community-college faculty members the means to enrich their classroom activities and broaden the perspectives of their students through an international experience. The project is one of 41 University Development Linkages Projects (UDLPs) that link a university in the United States with a university in a developing country. This UDLP was the first to designate a community college, Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, as the lead institution. In 1991 when the project was conceived, the Internet was in its infancy. In fact, it may still be on the threshold of uncertain maturity. Today, if one envisions a project involving academic institutions of higher education and partnerships around the globe, the Internet is the first tool that comes to mind. In 1991, the first thought usually was, "What time should I make my phone call?"
This U.S.-India project was built on the vision and early work of Adrian Almeida, a university professor in Madras who, after achieving success in the traditional academic environment, turned his attention to the challenge of helping young adults who have little chance of benefiting from the economic growth and development that is taking place in India. Mr. Almeida was acting as facilitator, bringing together people, resources, and training practices through an informal network he had built over the years. With the resources provided through the five-year UDLP grant, the plan was to create a center for vocational education that could provide useful training. For at least a decade, India has been making a concerted effort to find ways to incorporate vocational, skills-based education into the official educational structures of the country.
The heart of the project has been partnerships. Some of the relevant partnerships include:
Although communication, networking, and partnerships were always at the heart of the project, no attention was paid to the Internet during the successful early years. There was nothing concerning the Internet written into the original project proposal. By 1995 it became clear that the Internet would be an essential tool, and in 1996 it was written into project objectives, activities, and budget.
In contrast to India, Internet capabilities developed much more quickly and received massive publicity in America, resulting in the all-too-common phenomenon of intercultural miscommunication. Those of us on the American side began pushing our Indian partners to "get with it" and start using the Internet which, we assumed, meant doing what we had done: buy a computer and a modem and sign up with a service provider. We seemed unable to comprehend the patient attempts to explain that Madras, India, is not Dayton, Ohio. When Mr. Almeida, the CVE director, visited Chicago, Davenport, and Dayton, we conspired to overwhelm him with the beauty and benefits of the World Wide Web. To our credit, once the Internet was a reasonable option in Madras, Mr. Almeida was somewhat aware of Internet capabilities.
Not surprisingly, the initial Internet capability available for project use was an e-mail connection. In early 1996 the CVE signed up for a one-hour-per-week block of time to receive electronic e-mail. E-mail could be read and sent only during the specified hour each week. Weekly e-mail added very little to our traditional telephone and fax patterns of communication.
By summer 1996 the Internet was available to us in Madras. Difficulties that had to be resolved in India included limitations in the technology of telephone lines and the requirement of a license to purchase a modem in Madras as well as a license for Internet use. Licensing fees were certainly not $19.95 a month for unlimited usage. During August 1996, the cost of licenses and hookup with a service provider for 500 hours or one year of Internet use (whichever came first) was approximately $1,500. Some project participants balked at Internet costs that were higher than the cost of a three-month vocational training program for 25 people. The long-term benefits, however, were persuasive enough to justify Internet hookup, and a Pentium 133 computer, monitor, and 28.8 modem were purchased. Our service provider estimated that in August 1996, there were approximately 1,500 Internet users in Madras, a city of eight million people.
A project Web site was created and can be viewed at http://www.sinclair.edu/communit/udlp. The Web site provides a single project identity viewable in America and India. The Web site also increased the respect for our project among the funding agencies in Washington, DC, and provided a forum for advertising our international conference, Training Options for Early School-Leavers, which will be held 11-14 August in Madras. In addition to announcing the conference and providing registration details, the Web site will be used to provide preconference support and postconference follow-up including publication of proceedings.
The benefits of the Internet and World Wide Web connections include research capabilities to support our project. The Web has provided information concerning the mundane question of how to place an advertisement in the U.S. Chronicle of Higher Education and is used for basic research of models for education and training. Other benefits include the ability for U.S. travelers to stay in touch with project offices and families while in India and the opportunity for all previous project participants to contact each other. In addition, the Web has improved communication between project offices at Dayton, Ohio, and Davenport, Iowa. During the Indian elections last year, Indian visitors to the United States headed straight to the computer each morning to receive election updates from the Web, which they claimed were more timely than the updates they would be receiving at home.
Perhaps the two greatest benefits accrued from Internet use in
this project are sustainability and skills development. A fundamental
project goal in 1992 was to find a way to sustain a mutually beneficial
relationship after the grant ends in September 1997. With the
cost of a trip from the United States to India averaging $4,500,
it was easy to envision our partnership coming to a sudden halt
when the present funding ended. Of course, the Internet has changed
all that. Although our use of the Internet is presently far from
what it can and will be, the potential for long-term and cost-effective
continued collaboration is obvious. Daily conversations, sharing
of training curricula, collaborative project development, and
even jointly sponsored electronic conferences are available to
us via the Web. In addition, the skills developed (and still being
developed) as we learn to use the World Wide Web in both countries
result in unexpected advantages. In India, skills for Internet
research can be passed on to graduate students in local universities.
In the United States, Web page development skills learned during
this project were used to design a presence for a virtual college
for Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio,
and a psychology course being taught via the Web within that college
Internet challenges include making the transition from our established face-to-face pattern of interactions to Internet-dominated interactions as our means of communication. In addition, the Internet is still not as easily accessed or as reliable in India as it is in the United States. Prior to the publication of this paper, our most recent traveler from the United States was not able to connect to the Internet for six days during his stay. We look forward not only to improvements in accessibility and reliability of the Internet in India, but also to the eventual lowering of user fees.
Increased efficiency in use of the World Wide Web will lead to project enhancements in the future. For example, beginning with the next project quarter, quarterly and annual reports will be posted for download on the Web rather than mailed to supporters and past participants. Even broader changes are possible through the Internet, such as courses (both credit and noncredit) and professional training. Community colleges bring a tradition of networking with business and industry as well as a roll-up-our-sleeves-and-work attitude. For some time, educational reformers in India have sought to connect education more closely to business and industry needs.
As a result of four years of interaction and planning with U.S. community college personnel, the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore inaugurated the Madras Community College. The community college model that has worked so well in the United States will be adapted to Indian needs and used as an experiment in educational reform. The potential for impact on the educational system of India is enormous. Partnerships using the Internet could lead to shared information including curriculum, educational theory and processes, and administrative practices, which would facilitate the development of a uniquely Indian version of community colleges.
The omnipresent World Wide Web supports the vision of ongoing, intense, and even cost-effective collaborations. Why can't Indian students take courses already developed at a U.S. community college to teach technical skills via the World Wide Web? Why can't students at a U.S. community college take a general education course (which has always had the goal of broadening a person's perspective) from an Indian professor in Madras via the Web? Why can't American and Indian colleagues work together on issues of curriculum development and educational reform?
The people involved in this project are not technocrats or computer nerds (a term used with respect and admiration at this point in our learning process). In fact, the project leaders would have qualified as "computer illiterate" when the project began. But the power and potential of the Internet and the willingness to work enables a "couple of guys" to put together a project Web site and use the Internet to advance the cause of providing training programs for people with limited opportunities. We look forward to the growth of the Internet and the continued development of our own Internet skills.