Thomas Edison once said, “We have laid good foundations for industrial prosperity, now we want to assure the happiness and growth of the workers through vocational education, vocational guidance, and wisely managed employment departments.” The relevance of increasing the germaneness of education in the context of employability is evident. In our bid to explore the vast expanses of sundry disciplines, what we often fail to see is the importance of molding the pursuit of pedagogy in a manner that is accessible and emancipating for the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society.
Recently, Ekaansh Foundation had an event to rally support for the cause of providing vocational training to disadvantaged sections of society, where they graciously invited me as the chief guest for the closing ceremony. It is wonderful to see civil society and non-governmental organizations take the initiative to focus on this important area of sustainable human resource development. I would like to present to you some of my thoughts on this matter of relevance and interest and hope to see it as a constructive element in the bid to focus more on vocational training in the days ahead.
The increased onus on the applicability of formal education and training in vocational pursuits has been a fairly recent development. Until the 19th century, such education, except for certain professions, was provided only by apprenticeships. This was partly because of the low social status associated with such instruction as opposed to a classical curriculum, which was regarded as “necessary for a gentleman.” In the 19th century, with increased industrialization, several European countries, particularly Germany, began introducing vocational education in schools.
In the United Kingdom, opposition to vocational education remained even into the 20th century, albeit a few technical schools were established by local authorities before World War II. By the latter part of the 19th-century public school vocational education in the United States consisted of practical arts and manual training, with these programs being further expanded until in 1917 aid was provided to public schools for industrial, homemaking, agricultural and trade-related courses.
After the end of the Second World War, there was a general rise in the demand for trained para-professionals in then-novel fields such as electronics, computer science, and contemporary medicine, thereby leading to more people being interested in short-term post-secondary specialized training programs in these directions as opposed to a traditional college education.
India’s population has been evolving in myriad ways in recent decades and we have a phase of possessing a certain demographic dividend at the moment. This has thrown a challenge to our policymakers to ensure that there are enough employment opportunities for the ever-increasing labor force. One of the most important areas of improvement that must be looked at, in greater detail, is that of skill development. The growth of per capita income of India was slightly over 1% prior up to 1980 but jumped to over 4% per annum in years thereafter. The country achieved an average growth rate of around 8% in the period from 2001–2002 to 2005–2006 . But the key question is: Is this inclusive growth or just a ‘jobless growth’?
The labor force is projected to grow by close to 7 million individuals or more per year over the next few years. Modernization and contemporary social dynamics have led to more female participation in the workforce, lowering the dependency ratio thereby . The dependency ratio has declined from 0.8 in 1991 to 0.51 as of 2016. In this context, the number of people seeking to avail jobs will grow manifold in the upcoming years. It is expected that the Indian manufacturing sector will need a labor force of 20 million individuals, which in turn would require that we train 1.5 million technicians every year . The elephant in the room is that the country does not have enough extensive skill development programs to bridge the gap between the shortage of employable workforce in various entities and the rampant unemployment prevalent in many parts of society.
As per OECD, vocational education and training are defined as the educational and training programs designed for achieving a particular job or type of job in the labor market . In India, in the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which are important government-run centers for imparting vocational training in India, there was only a capacity of catering to 7,50,000 individuals during the 10th Five Year Plan period of 2002–2007. The worrying aspect here is that instead of being augmented, some areas of the general thrust towards greater vocational training have seen a decline.
As per NSSO surveys, from the period of 2004–2005 to the period of 2009–2010, the population aged between 15–29 years who had received formal vocational education reduced from around 2.4% to 2%, and those who had received non-formal vocational education had gone down from 7.7% to 4.8%, notwithstanding the general rise in population. Across the world, the spread of the relevance and applicability of Technical and Vocational Education and Training has been diverse: it is seen to occupy a small and marginal position in the schooling system of Africa, while a much higher return for this kind of education has been found over and above general education at the same level in countries like Thailand and Brazil. In other places, it is less clearly a preferred option and taken more as a low-risk investment strategy, such as in nations like Turkey.
There is a very curious trend found by Kahyarara and Teal: returns to vocational training were found to be higher than academic education at the lower levels of education and lower than academic education at the higher levels of education . This characterization also seemingly has a fairly significant correlation with the immediacy and stage of development when it comes to industrialization: the prospects of being employed and having good earnings for those having taken vocational training to be lesser in newly industrialized nations such as Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea than their counterparts who had taken academic graduate courses . This could be due to the lack of convertibility of those skills into direct applications in the job market as well as lower quality control of the courses themselves.
In India, in a recent study, it was found that : being an urban dweller increases the odds of participating in formal vocational training. There is also a gender disparity in that being male increases the odds of receiving formal vocational training. In terms of how such training reflects in augmentation of wages, having formal training is seen to increase the wage by around 5% in the overall economy as compared to a person without any training. This has certain sector-based characteristics: The effect is highest in the primary sector, where the individuals with vocational training had a wage increase of around 37%, while workers with formal vocational training in the secondary sector had an increase in wages by around 18%.
The Indian government has taken some initiatives in the direction of improving vocational training in the country. Aajeevika – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) was launched by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India in June 2011. It aims to ensure the poor are provided with the necessary skills for managing their institutions, linking up with markets, managing their existing livelihoods, enhancing their credit absorption capacity and creditworthiness. The important element herein is that focus is to develop and engage community professionals and community resource persons (CRP) for capacity building of SHGs and their federations and other collectives.
Under the Skill India Mission launched in 2015, the Government of India has upskilled about 1.7 crore youth by January 2021, with skills development courses by organizations and institutions such as AIIMS and ISRO, intending to train Indian youth to become self-reliant and financially stable. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 possibly heralds an exponential growth of vocational education in the country since it necessitates all educational institutions to integrate vocational education into their offerings.
There remains a lot to be done. The NEP 2020 highlights the issues that teachers, especially at higher secondary levels, are not fully skilled to teach vocational courses. This is something I saw during my work with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, on competency-based learning, experiential education, and differential curricula. It was not as much the students but rather the teachers who needed more comprehensive training for equipping them with an understanding and, more importantly, ease of teaching critical development courses.
Moreover, while students are taught the theoretical part of vocational training through subjects like Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW), as per the NEP 1986, this has proven to be ineffective with the curriculum of these courses at school levels being highly fragmented and disjointed. Even if students opt to pursue vocational courses at a higher education level, there are no proper admission criteria, particularly in the general higher education system, for vocational education qualifications, which limits the vertical mobility in this education system. The other major problem in this area is social stigma.
Despite an increase in vocational training institutes, the data shows that vocational education is still not a particularly preferred choice among students and parents, with there being a perception that employment through conventional channels of education has more dignity of labor as compared to the vocational system . Hopefully, the integration of vocational education programs into mainstream education in all educational institutions in a phased manner as per the NEP 2020 “would lead to emphasizing the dignity of labor and importance of various vocations involving Indian arts and artisanship” . It can be argued whether the allocated Rs. 3000 crores for skill development in the Union Budget of 2020-21 is sufficient, but there has been a significant rise from 1007 crore in 2015-16 .
What needs to be looked at now is the proper implementation of the various schemes envisioned by the government for skill development and vocational training. The roll-out of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) and Skill India Mission in the past have not had the desired impact. For bringing systemic changes as recommended by the NEP 2020, we must have the capacity building in the concerned ministries, with the more efficient use of budgets.
We must map the linkages between the demands of industry and the supply of vocational courses so that skills can align according to the jobs available. An important aspect in all this, much like after the second world war, is an investment in digital literacy. Technology-based skills have become more critical than ever for the diverse cross-sections of the labor market.
The general movement towards greater integration of vocation training in conventional modes of education is encouraging and there is scope for doing a lot more, and in this regard, I hope initiatives both by governments and civil society as well as NGOs can spur interest and support for this area of relevance.
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