Rural or Community Engagement in Higher Education is one where sustainable networks, partnerships, communication media, and activities between Higher Education Institutions and communities are fostered at various levels. There is an inevitable and symbiotic relationship that exists between communities and Higher Education Institutions.Communities help provide human resources that are necessary for higher education systems to foster and carry out their purposes. Higher Education Institutions in turn train students who eventually fill job vacancies and establish businesses of their own in society. Engagement activities between communities and higher education may be formal or informal. Examples of community engagement initiatives include building relationships through collaboration initiatives, business ventures; meetings & conferences, sports events, research projects, etc.Vast online repositories through university libraries and other digital media provide a unique ability for Higher Education Institutions to share information with communities in ways that were unimaginable prior to the 1990s.Thus, meaningful community engagement should bring benefits for communities and continuous academic development to institutions.
University education in India has been adopting several strategies for building the spirit of Community Service in students. Currently, there is no prescribed curriculum for inculcating this spirit among the students. Hence, it is imperative that a Rural Community Engagement curriculum be developed which can be offered as a compulsory course to all the students. In order to bridge the gap between the expectations and actual practices, there is a need to integrate two important aspects in the proposed curriculum viz., Living and Learning. There is also an impending need for the engagement of the enthusiastic young generation, in the course of their education, about local community issues and challenges prevalent in the rural community. Currently, there is a huge gap between the textual knowledge and evolving contextual practices of rural India. Rural India which is prone to various natural disasters like the floods, landslides, droughts and cyclones has to build disaster resilience. Disaster resilience is the community’s ability to anticipate, and wherever possible, prevent or minimize the potential damage on account of a disaster. It covers community coping capacity, to maintenance of certain basic functions and structures under all climatic conditions, and to recover and adapt to the changes that occur as a result. Community engagement by students also tries to aid this requirement of the society.A draft curriculum on Rural Engagement has been developed based on group discussions held by group of faculty members from across Central and State universities in India.
The following core characteristics form the basic framework of the community based learning model which are prime factors that are considered while developing the curriculum.
1. Meaningful Content: in Community Engagement, learning occurs in relevant places where challenges are experienced. It focuses on issues that involve students through direct engagement with the communities for addressing and responding to these challenges.
2. Voice and Choice: In Community Engagement, learning tasks are active processes and they allow students to take an active role in the decision making process while performing these tasks.
3. Personal and Public Purpose: In Community Engagement process, the learning goals connect personal achievement to public purpose through community engagement.
4. Assessment and Feedback: In transacting a Community Engagement Course, there is an administration of ongoing assessment supported by mentoring that gives students the opportunities to learn from their successes and failures. It also gives them an insight into their prevailing standards and the understanding of the gap between the current and expected standards.
5. Resources and Relationships: Community partnerships increase the community resources and community relationships which are utilized by students during learning and action, making it an interactive, real time learning.
The following Objectives have been framed for the proposed curriculum on Rural Engagement:
1. To promote participative preparation of Local Rural Resilience Index, Hazard Resilience Index and Hazard Risk Analysis using Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques
2. To orient the students into handling susceptibility of rural communities to impending emergencies arising out of natural and manmade disasters, climate variability and motivating them into assuming eco responsibility.
3. To orient students on Village Development Plans incorporating the aspects of the Village Disaster Management Plan.
4. To provide practical opportunities for students for participation in rural community mobilization, service engagement and empowerment activities along with trained resident community volunteers
5. To promote preparation of strategies for building resilience and community responding system in nutrition including water, food safety and healthcare.
6. To promote preparation and implementation of community resilience development plan for identified, mutually agreed and prioritized aspects for channelizing financial and physical support from Corporate Social Responsibility grants.