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Faculty from India visit Fleming College


The Fleming College community was recently treated to a presentation on the History and Culture of India by three visiting faculty members from Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala (RJ) College in Mumbai.

Professors Vijay Kulkarni, Bhushan Arekar, and Anagha Kamble spent two weeks at Fleming College (Oct. 2-16) as part of a reciprocal agreement between the two institutions.

They wrapped up their visit with the guest lecture – an introduction to RJ College as well as an overview of India’s vast history and diverse culture.

“It’s difficult to fit 7,000 years of history into 15 minutes,” joked Prof. Arekar, who is the head of the Political Science department at RJ.

However, he deftly outlined the stand-out periods in Indian history – empires that signified advancements in art, architecture and trade, through to British colonization and then the modernization and independence of India in 1947.

Prof. Kamble is Assistant Professor in the History department. She highlighted aspects of India’s culture including its staggering diversity across the country.

“Our complete diversity keeps us together. It unites us,” she said.

While English is the official language, there are 22 recognized languages in the country of 1.2 billion people. Abut 80% of Indians practice Hinduism and another 17% are Muslim. The remaining population is a mix of Sikh, Christian, Jain and other religions.

Famous for its cuisine, Indian food varies from region to region as do religious ceremonies, dances and style of dress, said Prof. Kamble. Most Indians celebrate western holidays such as Christmas and Easter but they also have festival days such as Diwali – the festival of light.

An overview of RJ College itself was presented by Prof. Kulkarni, who is head of the Chemistry department.

He said the college has 6,000 students and its physical space would fit into one department area at Fleming.

RJ College was established in 1963 by a postman who wanted to create an institution that accepted students from all parts of society. That legacy is still apparent today with many first generation students attending. RJ has impeccable credentials – it has been accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with an A grade, the highest possible.

About two-thirds of the students as well as the faculty are women and it offers degrees in computer science, biotechnology, banking and insurance and commerce.

Teaching and Learning in India
With about 200 international students currently attending from India, Fleming faculty members gathered for a dialogue session on Oct. 5 with the three visiting professors. During the session, the group shared information and learned more about the Indian postsecondary system.

In India, according to professors Arekar, Kamble and Kulkarni, students in Grade 11 and 12 attend junior college. They then go on to college for a bachelor or undergraduate degree and would only attend university to pursue a post-graduate degrees.

Some research is done in colleges with the majority taking place at universities or separate research institutes.

The education system is evolving but is based on rote learning and lectures. Students often have 40 hours per week of classes with little time for independent work or group assignments.

Professors deliver 20, one-hour lectures each week with 100 to 150 students in each class. There isn’t much time to oversee students’ individual work, said Prof. Kamble. Often there are only two standardized exams per class per year.

This centralized approach can be a challenge for Indian students coming to Fleming where marks are based not only on exams (tailored to individual classes) but also group work, assignments and presentations.

Knowing where the students are coming from, “helps us help them adjust,” said one Fleming faculty member at the session.

Asked for their impressions of Fleming College and Canada, Prof. Arekar said he was amazed with the space in Canada and the lack of people.

“The visit was just fantastic,” said Prof. Kulkarni. “It was something more than we expected.”

Prof. Kulkarni thanked the college for its hospitality, noting that every detail was taken care of while they visited. He appreciated the opportunity to interact with faculty and see that research happening here is similar to what’s taking place in India.

In 2011, Fleming College established a partnership with RJ College. Three Fleming College faculty members – Faith Ratchford, Kim Healy and Heather Pollock – visited RJ College last year.

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