The demographic dividend that everyone sees India reaping in the coming days may well turn out to be a demographic time-bomb, if the mismatch between required qualifications and competencies, and education continues to dog the Indian educational system. Today, there is a big difference between the actual learning outcomes and the required learning outcomes, with growing concern over an ever increasing number of unemployable graduates. Hence, reforms in the higher education system must necessarily provide skilled graduates with suitable value additions in order to meet the demands of the growing economy. This is happening even as the growing economy faces an increasing shortage of skilled manpower.
This disconnect between skills and jobs was the main theme among domain experts who had gathered to take part in a series of focus group discussions on “Education and Employability” organised by Skoch in New Delhi recently. The participants were clear that the disconnect between education and employability was primarily because 90 per cent of the jobs available in the industry were skill oriented jobs while 90 per cent of the education in the country was non-skill oriented.
Initiating the discussion, Bhaskar Chatterjee, Principal Adviser, Planning Commission, noted the sluggishness of the system to quickly adapt and disseminate the required bouquet of qualifications to meet the industry requirements. According to him, “the onus really lies in trying to establish what kind of degrees the employers are looking for. We have to match what we teach in our universities, colleges and training institutions to suit what the job requirement. In this connection, he pointed to the lack of upgradation of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics, which are supposed to impart skills-based training.
Here, however, Sudha Pillai, Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, said that steps have been initiated to upgrade with 1,960 ITIs in the government sector with the help of private partnerships. “Also, in places where there are no ITIs, the government is setting up skill development centres with the help of the private sector. We are very hopeful of training at least 200,000 people in these centres in a year.”
On the issue of upgrading the capabilities of teachers and instructors so that they themselves could adapt themselves for meeting the changing requirements of employability in the economy, NK Sinha, Joint Secretary, Ministry of HRD, said that the government was setting up a knowledge repository which would be free to every person who wants life-long skills or who wants to upgrade his/her knowledge base. Similarly, the government has launched a scheme to boost skills development in polytechnics, with four major components, including opening up new polytechnics whether in the government sector or the private sector or in a public-private partnership mode.
Pointing that the four pillars of education are: learning to know, learning to be, learning to live together and learning to do, discussants agreed that vocational education was an important part of education, one that had so far not received the kind of attention it deserved. Said DK Vaid, Professor & Head, Department of Educational Surveys and Data Processing, NCERT, “today, less than 5 per cent of the people who are doing 10+2 in the country have been successfully diverted to the vocational education stream.”
According to Vaid, this was mainly because of the poor linkage between the school system and the industry.
“We not only have to strengthen this linkage from the point of view of developing the curriculum but also from implementation of the curriculum as well as evaluation so that there is greater acceptability of graduates by the employees as well as the employers.”
As Karan Bajwa, Country Head – Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation (India), said, “as we move into the next stage of the development process and focus on enhancing the socio-economic index, we believe IT will play a key enabling role. Thus, a continued focus on education is imperative to help people achieve their potential.”
Here, he pointed out how Microsoft’s Partners in Learning (PiL) project is expanding the boundaries of technology training in India. To date, PiL has helped train 238,597 teachers, 3,300 Master Teachers and more than 200 school leaders.
Seeing an opportunity in the challenge of developing an education system that imparted learning even as it ensured employability, G Narendra Kumar, Secretary, Technical Education, Government of Delhi, said that “at this point of time we are in the cusp of an opportunity when we can try to re-engineer our education set-up to make our graduates more employable, to make them more proactive and more useful to industry.” Here, he mooted increased public-private partnership in higher education, with the private sector taking up education in areas that offer quick employability like IT and the public sector taking education in areas that yield long-term benefits, like electrical and civil engineering.
On his part, Rajeev Katyal, Director-Education, Microsoft Corporation (India), said that the four basic skills that should be imparted by any education system were skills in the area of communication, the universal skill, i.e. the IT skill, the soft skills which includes etiquette, handling interviews, etc., and lastly, vocational skills. Agreeing with other discussants that there was a large-scale shortage of faculty to impart such skills, Katyal urged the government to focus on ways of reducing dependence on faculty and bringing in training methods that improve the speed at which these skills can be transferred.
This, Ashutosh Chadha of Intel Corporation said calls for the need to redefine literacy. “We have to make functional literacy our benchmark, shedding the mass misconception that a degree is what education is all about. It is a matter of building skills right from the beginning even as we change public mindsets.
The issue should not be whether you are a graduate or not, the issue should be the skills you possess, the abilities that you possess, in the process promoting dignity of labour and the dignity that all jobs are equal.”
For Sunil Jain, a well-known journalist, the issue was not only stepping up vacationlisation but also improving quality. “Today, we are getting a lot more people into schools, but they are learning nothing. This is primarily because of the lack of accountability that seems to have pervaded the whole system.” According to him, it was also because the education sector had never got the primacy it deserved in the government’s scheme of things.
So what is the way forward? As the discussion highlighted, at the outset there is need to improve the quality of our educational system and one way to do this could be to step up public-private partnerships, as this would bring in the necessary capital and human resources into the educational chain.
Simultaneously, we have to increase linkages with the industry, looking to meet its demand for its workforce requirements, introduce greater vocationalisation into the formal education system, and most importantly, adopt some out-of-box approaches to improve functional literacy