The combined forces of globalisation, technological change and liberalisation of markets are creating an increasingly competitive economic environment and changing the very nature of work and work organisation. At the same time as opening new job opportunities, they are increasing workers’ vulnerability. Additionally, being knowledge-driven, the quality of the labour force has become a major determinant in the competitiveness and adaptability of enterprises, workers and the economy. All this poses a challenge to the vocational education and training (VET) systems to meet the rapidly and continuously changing labour market demands.
India is at a threshold where skilling is the only way it can utilise its huge youth entering the workforce. Vocational training can help bridge employability gap on one hand, while providing effective employment on the other.
However, it is important to remember that such trainings need to keep pace with the changing trends and requirements of the industry, or else outdated training methods and skills will help the economy in no way. With respect to this, education and training systems face multiple challenges. One, in order to equip workers who are already employed with new skills and competencies, they need to develop a system of continuous in-service training that can respond flexibly and rapidly to labour market requirements. Two, they need to offer the youth sound education and broad initial training that will give them a solid basis for continuing training throughout their working life. Three, they must ensure access of those who are not employed, the disadvantaged and at-risk to opportunities for training. The world of work is evolving and, with it, the role of VET. The far-reaching transformation of the global economy is compelling governments and the private sector to rethink their development strategy in general and VET in particular.
For India, which is depending on VET for skilling and optimising its huge demographic dividend, technology can be a boon, if properly utilised. Technology can not only help policy-makers and training institutions, but can also help young Indians play a proactive role in working with the government and the private sector. Rapid innovations in technology have fundamentally altered the economy and changed the landscape for mainstream education and skill development. There are now digital and mobile technologies which enable learning in and out of classrooms through mobile apps, websites, e-books and games. This trend is also reflecting in skilling and vocational programmes and can be very beneficial if we plan appropriately.
To make this more effective, old curriculum must be updated with a new and advanced one. The new curriculum must have coherence with industry requirements to ensure that those passing out are absorbed by them. How can technology help? Primarily by increasing exposure and reach. Also, this generation is born in the age of technology and can relate to internet and mobile technologies much faster and better. These technologies have high portability, small size and low price, and can reach out to large numbers at once—thus, reaching out to millions of students who may have acquired basic education through local schools but fail to continue in higher education or vocational training can be possible now with the advent of technology. Even if we argue that internet or computers may not be accessible to many rural youth, mobile phones are available to a majority of youth and households in the country and are definitely more affordable as a gadget than a personal computer or a laptop. Therefore, if applications can be developed to make learning possible through personal phones, it is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to educate millions of youth.
Long-term development impact of mobile technology lies in education and learning for young people in developing countries like ours and also in connecting them to jobs. There is an increasing role for mobile technology in schools, but m-learning also needs to play a role in reaching out to those who are outside the scope of traditional schooling, and will benefit immensely from access to various educational programmes. Likewise, mobile technology can also benefit the corporate segment wherein employees can upgrade their learning through courses on mobile phones.
There are reasons why e-learning should be considered the future of vocational skilling in India.
Convenience and flexibility: Learning is possible at the exact time it is required.
Management: Given that no two students are the same and each have their own way of absorbing information, e-learning allows each to have a personalised way of learning.
Relevance: It gives learners what they need, when they need it.
Good use of ‘dead’ time: Allows use of unproductive time such as when travelling, waiting in a queue for a particular service, etc.
Special education: Thanks to various applications, it makes learning for the learning-challenged individuals far more easy.
Multiple modes of learning: Different modes such as reading, visualising or listening can be used to learn.
Interactive: It is much more interactive by way of allowing teachers to personally communicate with each student while allowing shy students to be more vocal with their tutors.
Wider access to knowledge: Internet allows access to a whole web of knowledge which can be available to students anytime, anywhere, and can have access to industry experts and even get a chance to interact with them from their homes or classrooms.
Collaborative: It allows several students from different geographical locations to interact and work on a similar topic and exchange ideas.
Realising the potential of e-learning, several national and international organisations have initiated programmes in India. Undoubtedly, the most popular ones include spoken English courses which help students in rural and semi-urban areas especially to develop their verbal skills. Several vocational skilling courses are also being made available via e-learning courses. These have the advantage of inviting trainers from all parts of the country and even abroad to train candidates. Also, candidates can get visual exposure of the industry they may be training for and get insights and advice from industry experts. All of this, without having to travel from one’s home or hometown! Technology has certainly given a whole new meaning to scalable training, which is the need of the hour for India.
E-learning and m-learning, without doubt, are positive movements that can open up education and training to young people who currently feel excluded. It should be the vision of our policy-makers, training institutions and even corporates to provide training to as many youth of the country as possible, and m-learning is a great way to ensure so that it becomes a reality.
The author is chief mentor of Viztar International