Letting students choose vocational courses instead of repeating a year after Class VIII is a fraught proposition
The Delhi government has set up a committee to examine if allowing students who fail in Class VIII to shift to a mix of mainstream and vocational courses and get promoted, instead of repeating the year, can be an acceptable alternative to the no-detention policy after the latter was scrapped because it perpetuated learning gaps. But, the vocational studies option has not worked for Delhi in the past. Delhi University doesn’t allow students who had opted for more than one vocational course in Class XII to get admitted into undergraduate courses in mainstream subjects that they had passed. That means such students have to continue with either further learning in these courses, if available, or seek employment on the basis of the training already received. This could have worked if India had treated vocational courses like the developed world treats them. Instead, vocational education, except in a few courses like management, has received rather poor focus in higher education and competition means school-level training does little for employability.
Also, industry is already in the midst of the automation revolution. Work that could have been done by a aperson with with basic/intermediate vocational education—CBSE, to which Delhi government schools are affiliated, offers courses such as accounting, food production, diagnostics, textile design, etc—is being done by machines and artificial intelligence (AI). To be sure, some vocational courses will remain safe for the time being, but there are factors that dampen the prospects of students opting for these. There are not as many jobs in these areas as there are students opting for relevant courses. Moreover, the education ecosystem in India doesn’t offer much scope for specialisation in such areas that could give a competitive edge to students. In such a scenario, the Delhi government must tread a fine balance—encouraging students to opt for vocational courses should happen in tandem with the state and the Centre working towards opening up higher education, with specialisation options, to students of these subjects.