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Erudite – A fortnightly discussion (initiated by APSCHE)

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Date(s) - 16/03/2022
3:00 pm

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Dr. Tandon spoke at Erudite: A Fortnightly Discussion on the topic of ‘Community Connect of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)’ organised by the Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE) on 16 March, 3pm IST. Among the other speakers were Prof. Vinod Pavarala (UNESCO Chair on Community Media, HCU), Prof. B. Sudheer Prem Kumar (Secretary, APSCHE) and Prof. G.M. Sundaravalli (Vice-Chancellor, Vikrama Simhapuri University). The session was moderated by Mr. Srirangam Mathew (Academic Officer, APSCHE).

 Through the discussion, the speakers explored various aspects of community connect of the HEIs. In this context, Dr. Tandon said that much of our community connect has been that our students think that they know everything and that they will teach those who, they think, are illiterate, uneducated and therefore ignorant. We must teach our students to engage with the community with a sense of humility to learn. In order to do that, one must accept that the knowledge doesn’t reside in academia alone. Knowledge also resides within the community in their everyday practices- this knowledge is not recorded in any book or any online platform. Therefore, one must approach the community with an open mind and a sense of humility and a sense of mutual learning. Emphasising on the importance of language in community engagement, Dr. Tandon said that in India community engagement does not happen in English language. Therefore, one must adopt a multi- lingual/ dialect approach in order to mutually respectful community engagement.

Community’s knowledge is in their language, culture, rituals and their everyday practices. Therefore, we need to tune into their culture and language to see how their knowledge is utilised and passed on to the future generations. Of course their knowledge is not complete, it needs upgradation and new ideas that one learns in HEIs but we need to be mindful that we do not disrespect or displace their knowledge, instead build on it. It is this orientation which will help create an opportunity for our young people to become socially responsible and also relevant to the society. If one is relevant to society, their value is not counted in terms of their salary but in terms of the dreams of your fellow community members.

Prof. Vinod Pavarala said that when we talk of community engagement, the assumption is that the students of HEIs are mostly urban and that they need to reconnect with Indian villages and help the rural population. Community connect need not be limited to engagement with only rural communities. There are urban communities, such as domestic workers, construction workers, migrant labourers etc., that are suffering from all kinds of social injustices. Our students and HEIs must engage with them. When we encourage our students to engage with the community, we must encourage them to shed the colonial mindset of ‘improvement’ and ‘upliftment’ of the community. This rhetoric of ‘upliftment’ reproduces the colonial mindset. He endorsed Dr. Tandon’s comment that we must approach community engagement with a spirit of mutual learning. Our students must understand that they have a lot to learn from the community. This attitude of mutual learning needs to be fostered in our students.

APSCHE has introduced two months Community Service Project as part of a mandatory internship for students. What challenges institutions might encounter during Community Service Project and how should they address them?  

Addressing this particular question, Dr. Tandon said that UGC’s National Curriculum Framework and Guidelines for Fostering Social Responsibility and Community Engagement in HEIs in India has included the urban informal settlements as a result of the injustices that were done to the migrant labourers in the cities across the country during the pandemic. In terms of challenges that the HEIs may face during the Community Service Project, he said that a practical difficulty would be to figure out where to send the students for their two months internship – which the guideline mandates. Each HEI must strive to build a long-term partnership with local institutions, community-based organisations and NGOs because the students are a transient population i.e. after completion of their internships, they will move on. Therefore, we need supportive mechanisms and intermediation between the community and HEIs. Many communities surrounding the HEIs have been suffering because of HEI’s academic tourism. It is also important to motivate, inspire and build capacities of our teachers.

What are the different activities that HEIs should perform to strengthen their connection with the communities?  

Responding to the question, Prof. Vinod Pavarala suggests that building community engagement into the respective curriculum would work much more effectively. As long as students are prepared and trained to use participatory techniques and tools to involve community members both for problem identification and solution identification, students can be excellent ambassadors between the government and the community. Our students can help intermediate between the government and the community to find out the kind of interventions that are needed at local level so that the government can focus on priority areas that are emerges from the community. The second effective way is to practice participatory budgeting where the community is involved in deciding how they would allocate the resources at their disposal.

The speakers closed the discussion by congratulating the APSCHE for their efforts to establish synergy between educational institutions and the society, to identify the felt needs of the society, and advise the government on matters affecting community development. The Community Service Project of students shall provide an opportunity for the students to immerse themselves in the community and empathise with the felt needs of the local communities around their respective HEIs.

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