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SLIET - Technical Education For Rural Development

Ranjani Saigal

As Rajeev Gandhi and Sant Longowal were negotiating a peace treaty to end the reign of terror in Punjab, one of the bargaining chips that Longowal asked was for the establishment of an institute of technical excellence to be established in rural Punjab. When Rajeev Gandhi offered him an IIT, his reply was “I do not want an IIT or a REC. I want a technology institution that can transform rural India.” Thus was born SLIET – Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, an unusual institution that combines formal and informal education to bring about a need based transformation to rural India. Dr. Chauhan, the Director of SLIET gave a talk at MIT about this vision of Sant Longowol that has made a difference.

Located in rural Punjab, SLIET is a technical institution with state of the art facilities. What makes SLIET unique, is its flexible, modular, layered multipoint entry/exit programs. “We offer a variety of programs from certificate or diploma courses to B.Tech and M.Tech degrees. But we always keep our focus on making sure that our students have a great deal of practical knowledge. All our students get at least a years worth of practical training as opposed to just 3 – 6 months at other institutes,” says Dr. Chauhan.

“We want SLIET to be part of the community. As far as possible , we use local materials for construction. We make sure that everything we do is eco-friendly. For example, we treat and recycle sewage and use the water for creating ponds and fish farms. We have a wide variety of wild life on campus,” says Dr. Chauhan.

One of the innovative concepts that have been developed at the institute is the non-formal education program. Faculty and students visit surrounding villages, study them and assess their needs. Then, in consultation with the “village Pradan” they come up with training programs that can improve the lives of the people in the village. These programs may be short term or long term. “But we have to be sure that the syllabus we develop will add value to the lives of the individuals,” says Dr. Chauhan. “A good example is a village whose primary economy was based on making toys. We studied the toys and process of making it. We then tried to study toys from Switzerland, which were of better quality and more sophisticated. An attempt was made to produce these toys that could fetch higher prices for the villagers. After a few iterations we were able to find the right kind of toys and the right manufacturing techniques that would suite the villagers.”

An important goal for SLIET was to provide education to the youth that had been distracted during the times of terrorism in Punjab. The institution has been successful in providing short-term courses to young people in service trades so that they can find employment as electricians, plumbers etc. “We have been so successful with this progem that the government now wants us to set up similar programs in Jammu-Kashmir and Nagaland."

Entrepreneurship is another key focus for the institute. Students are trained in marketing, sales etc and at the end of their training about 60 % of the students become self-employed. Currently Government of India provides most of the financial support for the institute. “We would like to attract more outside funding so that SLIET programs can be viable even without funding from the government ” says Dr. Chauhan.

The institute welcomes faculty and students from foreign countries to visit, work or study at the institute. SLIET has established relationships with IITs and many Universities outside India thus facilitating productive exchanges with other institutes of excellence.

“We are very happy with the progress we have made thus far. While formal impact analysis studies are in progress, one can see the effect that SLIET has in the area. We provided training for women of a nearby village on garment technology. They are now able to sell wonderful suits to boutiques even in Chandigad. The confidence these women have developed , both in themselves and the pride they have in their work is visible,” said Dr. Chauhan.

The institute is documenting many of its success stories and the lessons learnt. To learn more about this institution please check out their website at http://www.sliet.org.

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Dr. Chauhan, Director SLIET

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