By Vikas Singh
India is a young nation, with 54% of the population below 25 years of age, according to the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship (MSDE). By 2020, the average age in India is estimated to be 29 years, as against 40 years in the US, 46 years in Europe and 47 years in Japan.
Over the next 20 years, labour force in the industrialised world will decline by 4%, while in India it will increase by 32%. To reap this demographic dividend, India needs to equip its workforce with employable skills, particularly transversal skills and knowledge. Currently, however, while there are millions of workers willing to fill positions, they lack the skills to do so. It’s largely due to the old-fashioned education system that is focused on ‘book learning’.
By focusing on skill building, institutions can start preparing students for jobs right from the outset of their education journey. But when is the right time to begin preparing schoolchildren?
To answer this, we first need to look at the definition of ‘transversal skills’. The UNESCO International Bureau of Education describes these as skills not related to a particular job, task, academic discipline or area of knowledge, but as skills that can be used in a variety of situations and work settings. These skills are becoming important for learners to successfully adapt to changes, and lead to productive employment. The examples include:
Critical and innovative thinking;
Interpersonal skills (presentation and communication skills, organisational skills, teamwork);
Intrapersonal skills (self-discipline, perseverance, motivation, adaptability);
Global citizenship (tolerance, respect for diversity);
Media and information literacy (the ability to locate and access information, as well as to analyse and evaluate content);
Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
Initiative and entrepreneurialism;
Curiosity and imagination.
In primary school, children are exposed to diversity in terms of multiple cultures from which students come. By interacting with teachers/classmates, they develop communication and interpersonal skills, and learn about ethics and tolerance, besides realising that others may differ in their opinions.
However, these very basic skills (which comprise soft skills) need to be taught in a more structured manner.
Secondary education should focus on building advanced transversal skills. Through outcome-based learning, schools can impart confidence and competency in students, making them more ‘employable’.
The MSDE was set up in November 2014 to give a fresh impetus to Skill India. Under it, skilling is being integrated into formal education by introducing vocational training linked to the local economy from class 9 onwards, in at least 25% of the schools. Entrepreneurship education is to be introduced as part of existing modules at all levels, including primary, secondary, vocational and higher education, along with more awareness on the positive aspects of entrepreneurship as a career option, with awards for young achievers.
Another challenge is in designing an appropriate curriculum for students in primary and secondary schools, so that the introduction of skill-based education is not merely an academic (hard skills) burden, but adds to their aptitude and personality development (soft skills). This calls for more academic and administrative involvement, discussion among scholars and policymakers, and a pilot project for introduction and evaluation of skill-based/vocational courses in schools.
The author is managing director, Pearson India