By Vinesh Menon
India continues to remain on the cusp of a rapid demographic change. UNICEF estimates a daily birth of about 67,385 babies in India. In the next 20 years, this population growth would have a deep impact on the jobs landscape. A major portion of that relevance will be linked to the skills an individual may have acquired during his or her growth years in various areas, including life and soft-skills.
GROUND REALITY: THE EMPLOYABILITY FACTOR
At present, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) pegs the unemployment rate in India at about 6.5%. This translates into nearly 28 to 30 million Indians who are looking to be gainfully employed. This number if equated to the current birth rate will double up in the next decade or so.
While there are many reasons for the current state of unemployment, ranging from economic slowdown due to Covid-19 pandemic to a slowdown in industrialisation to cottage industries, among others, a common notion is that the youth of India is missing out on employment due to fitment challenges. About 48% of employers feel that the skill and talent needed is missing, especially in the IT and ITeS sectors.
It is often perceived by the industry insiders that when skilling and vocational education discussions ensue, skilling in schools gets a second fiddle treatment in comparison with the other more popular schemes for adult skilling whereas it should be the other way around.
THE NEED FOR EARLY START
Of the 1.5 million schools in India, nearly 1.2 million are government schools where more than 120 million children are enrolled. If India needs to have healthier, more productive and more gainfully employable young adults in the coming decade, much has to be done right now in the schools as far as skilling and vocational education is concerned and most of the disruptive changes have to be effected in the government and government-aided schools. A step has been initiated with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which has recommended various changes to the education system, including skilling in schools should commence from Grade-6 from the earlier Grade-9.
It might be argued that this program exists and there is a running curriculum cleared by the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) for skilling of various traits in schools. However, the current methodology and approach in implementing skills programs in government schools must undergo a radical change in two distinct areas: the curricula and the process.
A CONTEMPORARY FORMAT IN CURRICULA
The courses and traits should get more diverse and must cover contemporary topics around Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Drone Technology, Mobile Gaming, Digital Photography, among others.
The archaic methods of only training for a limited period through the physical interface in a school should now extend to Platform/App-based learning through Virtual Reality (VR) courses where students and teachers can log in to a Learning Management System through remote hand-held devices.
The curricula should commence from Grade-6 as mentioned in the NEP 2020 and must customise subjects ranging from soft skills to hard skills depending on the classes. For example, there should be skill curricula for formative years, middle years, high school and senior secondary category of students.
TOWARDS CHANGE IN PROCESS
The current model should undergo a change and public-private partnership (PPP) that are driven by a cost-plus model will not be motivating for implementing agencies to deliver efficiency and quality.
There should be provisions created for online learning. An AI model should be enabled to drive the right trait introduction to the right type of student. Early initiation based on the child’s interest level will help better engagement for the child and better adaptation to these traits.
Technology should be a backbone and must be harnessed beyond just a smart class in the classroom.
Moreover, a clearer collaboration must exist between the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Skilling, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Niti-Aayog to prevent the implementing mechanism from falling between the cracks.
Skilling and vocational education can no longer be looked upon as an additional supplementary product or service to be offered to school children. The curricula should be integrated into mainstream subjects, due credits through marks should be given in lieu of regular subjects like math or science and formative and summative assessment examinations of school should include skilling related subjects.
In the overall scheme of things, all school-going children, especially those enrolled in government schools, must get proper initiation into skilling as this remains the most relevant and urgent need of the hour.
(The author of this article is the CEO-Education, Skilling & Consulting Services, Ampersand Group. Views expressed are personal.)