“… education without skills is incomplete and skills without education cannot grow further.”
While I have spent the last 3 months working on skill development as an issue, I have come to see some inherent confusions in the split perceptions between academia and vocational training.
In our country, vocational training and academic education are seen as two separate entities. We have two separate ministries (the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and the Ministry of Human Resource Development) in charge of these matters, which are seen as unrelated. The Ministry of HRD aims for “all round development of our citizens”. Why shouldn’t skill development be a part of all round development? In addition to the MSDE, there are also 17 other ministries and departments which conduct some form of vocational training like the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Tribal Affairs, Communication and Information Technology etc. This points to the apparent broken nature of the way in which the central policy makes people see the two very related topics.
This has also deeply affected the mindset by which the two have been looked at. While academic learning and higher education is seen as aspirational, there is a lot of stigma towards vocational education and training. While a higher education degree has a lot of value, a vocational training certificate is seen as unnecessary, and of low value. If you see advertisements for vocational training courses, they seem to only mention entry level jobs. They are also usually targeted at individuals who do not have an academic background or those who have not completed their schooling. As if there should be two categories of people, those who have pursued an education and those who have pursued skill training.
If you look at the two concepts closely, the classification makes no sense. A purely theoretical higher education with no focus on practical skills makes our graduates unemployable and practically useless. A 2016 National Employ-ability Report revealed that less than 8% of Indian engineers are employable for core engineering roles. Conversely, a skill development program which imparts skills to individuals without giving them a sound theoretical backing is doomed to be a failure. Such a system cannot ensure any upward mobility after gaining the initial employment, which in turn makes it non aspirational. The picture skill development program paints are to create a stop gap arrangement in place of higher education for those who need just some basic employment, without aspiring to move upward in their jobs.
While we still answer these questions and make sense of this division, lets also think if our current skill development program in giving employment in the first place? Known as the Prime Minister Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the program began in 2015 with the aim of skilling 24 lakh persons. However, under this program, a total of 2.23 lakh people have gotten placement after training, with a placement rate of just over 12% (According to a report by the Sharada Committee, formed in May 2016 to re-evaluate the National Skill Development Mission).
So, should we bring academic education and vocational training closer together? David Raffe of the Centre of Educational Sociology from the University of Edinburgh certainly thinks so. He terms this as unification – “It refers to a range of measures, which may involve at one extreme the complete integration of academic and vocational learning, or at the other extreme modest curricular or organisational changes which bring them slightly closer together. These measures all aim to reduce the distance between academic (or general) and vocational learning.”
There is a global economic pressure as the service sector is growing, which creates a need for not only higher levels of educational qualification but also for diverse skills and knowledge in the workforce. This would amount to needing both academic education and vocational education. Looking at this, a unified system of academic education and skill development is the need of the hour. The Sharada Committee report proposes setting up of higher level skill development institutions that are under the prerogative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development. A basic foundation of effective, comprehensive and compulsory primary education is necessary on which a successful vocational training and skill development program can be built. In this way, there can be a smooth transition, and a student will have options of moving from primary education to vocational education.
In conclusion, a key question emerges.
What is the point of education? Is it to acquire knowledge or to get a job? To find solutions to our problems or to become more creative? From the current approach to skill development and education, it seems that there is one answer to this question. That education should lead to a job. But is it possible that the answer to this question more layered, more nuanced and deeper? That maybe the answer to this question is a complex mix of all the options (and more).