India has had multiple mechanisms for vocational education and training, driven by over 20 central ministries and various regulators such as AICTE, UGC, NCVT, SCVTs, and school and technical education boards. In the non-formal private sector, training providers such as NIIT, aircrew training academies, IL&FS, etc, in different sectors and of varying sizes, quality and shapes are also active. In addition, many employers such as Infosys and Maruti have set up in-house dedicated infrastructure for skilling fresh graduates to meet their own requirements.
The country also has millions of people who have learnt vocational skills through the guru-chela tradition in an informal manner. This is further complicated by the fact that most vocational training and education systems continue to remain either unconnected with or loosely linked to industries’ requirements. There are no common yardsticks for measuring work-related competencies across various mechanisms of learning skills.
An obvious answer to these is to create common standards incorporating the industries’ requirements for different kinds of job roles, and mechanisms for evaluating and aligning the vocational training being provided by the above mentioned training providers with these standards.
The National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF), notified by the then government in December 2013, aims to address these issues. It is designed to enable the learner to acquire knowledge and skills which are required by the National Occupational Standards (NOS) to be able to perform a particular job role. It organises them as a series of qualifications across 10 levels—from level 1 to 10. Each level is defined by a set of level descriptors that describe in a subject/sector neutral way—what the holder of a qualification at a level should know and should be able to do. Each job role is pegged at a specific NSQF level based on the best fitment with level descriptors.
The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has anchored the creation of 31 Sector Skill Councils (SSCs). Each SSC is primarily governed by a set of employers in the respective sectors. NOSs are developed by the respective sector SSCs with wide-ranging consultation with different stakeholders.
NSQF-based vocational qualification gives the learner a proof that he or she is adequately trained for a particular job role once the programme is completed, evaluation cleared successfully and certificate from SSC obtained. This certificate guarantees that the held qualification complies with NOS for a particular job role in a specific sector. This, in fact, addresses the issue of common national standards and alignment of competency-based learning outcomes with the knowledge and skills required by employers for a specific job role. Qualification packs or NOSs for about 1,000 job roles across different job sectors have already been developed by different SSCs.
NSQF-based qualifications are being embedded in the formal education system at high school and higher education level, since 2012. Over 2,000 government schools across 10 states have already started offering NSQF-based vocational subjects from classes 9 to 12, as one of the subjects. The University Grants Commission (UGC) had started the Community College Scheme in 2013, which offers vocational diploma of one year and an advanced diploma of two years, aligned to NSQF. Further, the Bachelor of Vocation degree was started by UGC in 2014. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has also introduced the Community College Scheme. Certificate programmes offered by about 12,000 ITIs will also be aligned with NSQF over the next 12 months. Several vocational education and training programmes offered under the schemes of central ministries such as rural development, urban development, labour ministry, tourism, tribal development, food processing, etc, are being aligned to NSQF.
Similarly, various state governments and their skill development missions have started aligning their offerings with NSQF. Over 170 training partners of NSDC across the country have been mandated to align their programmes, evaluation and certification with NSQF. NSQF also provides for recognition of prior learning, whereby skills and knowledge gained by individuals outside formal learning processes are assessed and granted recognition.
Recognition of prior learning, in fact, has the potential to enable millions of experientially skilled to be able to derive appropriate economic and social benefits of their skills.
NSQF would enable creating pathways for vertical and horizontal mobility of learners within the vocational domain and also across vocational and general education. The government and NSDC have been working towards establishing equivalences of NSQF-based qualifications with international qualifications, which could lead to skilled Indians taking up employment in those countries without or minimal additional training or certification.
NSQF mandates that, by December 2016, only NSQF-compliant courses would be eligible for government funding.
The minister for skills development and entrepreneurship, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, has announced that the recruitment rules for the central government and PSUs will be amended by December 2016 to define eligibility criteria for all positions, as mandated in NSQF. State governments and their PSUs shall also be encouraged to amend their recruitment rules.
Aligning diverse skilling mechanisms with the unified NSQF has started creating a skilling ecosystem, which, if implemented meticulously, can be transformative for India. NSQF is turning into an anchoring point for the national priority of skill development for reaping the economic and social dividends of our youthful nation, by providing the skills which our youth, India and the world needs.
The author is vice-president, Wadhwani Foundation. He led the Foundation’s implementation of vocational education in schools in partnership with state governments and the design of Community College Scheme with the HRD ministry.
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