School education plays a major role in any country’s journey from developing to developed. A good primary and secondary education system leads to the development of learned citizens who are aware about their rights and responsibilities, and would want to pro-actively contribute to the growth of a nation. In India, schools have long been neglected, and due to poor policy enforcement measures, they have, at times, been criticised as being misaligned to national goals and objectives. Partly the problem here has been the overemphasis on academic qualifications and little emphasis on skills. Encouraged with rote learning that often leads to better academic scores, students go through the schooling system without building strong conceptual knowledge or having learnt any formal skill or trade.
However, with the rising demand of skills across many professions, it is probably the time to review the need for introducing skills education at the school level itself, maybe towards the end of primary education. So, what can be the advantages?
Setting expectations: More often than not, we have adults who enter the job market with insufficient understanding of the job they are supposed to do. Bringing skills awareness at the school level would allow them to begin early and will also allow students to set their expectations correctly—since unrealistic expectations hurt everyone, including the candidate, the employer and the industry.
Step up learning: Like learning music, introducing skills training in schools can help students learn about a trade progressively, over a few years of study, allowing them to learn at their own pace. They can try learning multiple trades, visit industry workplaces, meet up with other students who are doing more or less the same thing, etc, and build interest before deciding to build a career in a particular trade. Learning progressively will allow them to understand the art of trade in a much better way and over a period of time. Thereby increasing the probability of higher retention when they get employed.
Catch them early: Most students learning trade practices in India are taught post-secondary education. Since upward mobility of students is limited, vocational skills don’t attract good students, rather typically who are poor in academics tend to take up vocational trades with an intention to learn some trade. Introducing skills education at the school level will allow students who are not academically bright to build confidence about the skills and will also encourage them to learn skills early for building a more secure future for themselves.
No child left behind: About 300 million children attend primary schools; however, just 15% of them reach the university level. Most drop out at the secondary school level itself. Introducing subjects related to skills can at least ensure that while they drop out of the education system, they still have learnt some skills, using which they can explore meaningful employment opportunities. They may not have the expertise, but can at least demonstrate a foundational knowledge to build upon.
Flexibility to offer a credit-based system: Schools can introduce skills courses and offer a robust credit-based system. Credits allow cumulative accumulation of learning and offer flexibility to a student to monetise the skills learnt over a period of time. For example, students can attend skills courses at the school level during different years of study and collect credit points. In case they drop out, they can subsequently monetise the credits to enrol for a full-time or a part-time course to acquire a particular certificate. Eventually, they can use the upward mobility track and acquire a mainstream graduation in Bachelor in Vocational Studies (BVoc) which is now available.
Broad base skill courses: Introducing skilling courses in schools could help broad base overall offerings. Students can undergo foundational academic courses along with some skilling courses. Introducing them to skills early could also open up apprentice opportunities with prospective employers early in their career, thereby encouraging more on-the-job training than classroom rote-based learning.
Large base for recruiters: Today most employers, especially in the small and medium enterprises sector, are struggling to get skilled resources for their own operations. Introducing skills in school can build a larger supply chain of candidates to select from.
India’s aspiration to become one of the leading nations in the world needs an army of skilled resources to fuel its growth. To do this, the country needs a flexible education system which allows foundational skills taught at primary schools along with skills at the secondary level. It is hence important that the investments the country is making in developing the primary education system do not miss out on leveraging the available resources to help build a large talent pool of skilled resources for our industry. A nation with a buoyant economy and a large pool of skilled resources can make our industry productive and efficient to compete against the best in the world.
By Ambarish Datta
The author is MD & CEO, BSE Institute Ltd, and founder director of BFSI Sector Skill Council