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School Education – Changing Times, Changing Needs

The Indian education system was a gift of the British legacy, which is prevalent across all Commonwealth Nations. Back then in the 1940’s – 50’s, the job market did not present many options with Government Services or Defense Forces being the most prominent choices. There was dearth of private enterprises and more than half of the industries which operate right now didn’t even exist at that time back. The entire context of education was different in terms of pre‑partition and post-partition era as independence, seeking knowledge and self-development were the primary motivating factors during those years.

While the country attained independence more than six decades back, the mindset of educationists that lead education institutions still holds the same old school of thought. A student studies history, geography or a language like English, French that builds his cognitive ability, makes him think and makes him broad minded. But these subjects and knowledge does not give him any hard marketable job skills leading to the rise of very high-educated unemployed in the country. The generation passing out of schools and colleges, despite being educated and intelligent, is not fully aware of the current industrial trends. This lack of know-how makes them deprived of the right job skills, clueless about a number of industrial requirements and leading to the growing tribe of educated unemployed.

And that’s not the complete picture. While the quality of education leaves much to be desired, the 21st century children have different aspirations from the education system than the preceding generations. This present generation is constantly seeking, thinking, formulating, exploring and challenging their own views and opinions. A few years down the line, these children will be in positions of power in diverse sectors, dictating the direction of our country and economy. And to nurture their evolving minds, we need a system that puts the child at the center of education and facilitates the shift from rote learning to student understanding. This requires us to constantly re-examine education in terms of institutions, pedagogy and methodology. A paradigm shift is needed and it’s pertinent that we break from our conventions and rethink the kind of teachers, the curriculum and the kind of school leadership is needed. In other words, a sincere rethinking of the school space is the need of the hour. These changes are not possible without structural changes at a policy level that will both facilitate and reinforce them.

Mature governments around the world have recognized these underlying issues and taken corrective measures. The Indian Government too recognizes that India’s youth is her biggest asset, holding the potential to make her possibly the youngest nation in the world by 2030. But the burning question is whether enough steps are being taken to train and skill these youth to make India make the most of this demographic advantage? Historical data suggests that cognitive education by itself does not educate people to pickup jobs and work in today’s world. While the student is going through his cognitive education, it’s necessary that we provide them with a few options to help him pick up a trade or a skill without giving much thought to the future perusal of that skill.

There also exists a socioeconomic hierarchy when you come to vocational skills. Let’s say there is a course on hospitality, which focuses more on service. We don’t think we can sell it to the Delhi Public School or Modern School in Vasant Vihar because the kids who are coming there don’t hold the ambition to join a hotel and become a waiter. On the other hand if you go to a government school in the rural areas where the child comes from a poor family, for him that hospitality course will be more relevant. He may want to just go to a closest restaurant or hotel and pick up a job immediately to support his family’s needs right after completing his class 10th or 12th. This is why the vocational skill structure has to be layered, offering different skill sets for the different segments of the society.

A big leap in this direction was setting up The National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) – a competency-based framework that organizes all qualifications according to a series of levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude. The task is to build upon the NSQF in schools by setting a target of five million students with a vocational qualification every year. The overarching ambition of the Government is to get a salience between formal degree and vocational education to widen the skill gamut.

Efforts are already underway with the Central Board of Secondary Education already offering over 40 vocational courses in different sectors at the senior secondary level under NSQF framework. It makes sense to make CBSE the fulcrum to catch them young and train them early in the skill sets that are essential drivers for the nation’s economy. While providing vocational education in schools is the most important aspect of the entire gamut of skills development, what is even more important is the quality of education that is provided.

Introducing students to vocational training of high quality at an early age is the most effective way to ensure that vocation training earns its rightful place in society. Considering the growing importance to offer skill based training programmes right at the school level and with the introduction of National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) from class IX, the demand for vocational education programmes is going to soar across all levels. This training will enable students to acquire desired competency levels with upgraded skills, which will help them in entering the job market proficiently. These small measures taken at the right time will make India become the skill leaders and take the maximum advantage of its demographic dividend.

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