Authored by – Shubhangi Raman
Edited by – Kavita Majumdar
With the roll-out of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, vocational education has garnered the required spotlight. The NEP 2020 is a comprehensive policy document that extensively discusses the revamping of vocational education. The policy focuses on bringing vocational education into mainstream education, as recommended by successive commissions on education over the years. The Kothari Commission report of 1966 was one of the earliest to emphasise diversifying the curriculum at higher secondary levels through vocational courses .
Later, the National Education Policy, 1986, focused on improving the organisational and management structure of vocational education. It recommended vocationalisation, both at secondary and higher education levels, by introducing Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) as a separate subject in secondary classes and vocational degree courses at higher education level .
Yet, the vocational education space, over the years, has witnessed a painfully slow and stagnant growth. An assessment by the National Institute of Open Schooling highlights that only 2% of the total population in between 15-29 years of age have received formal vocational training, and only 8% have received non-formal vocational training . Even the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) estimates indicate that fewer than 5% of the Indian workforce between the age of 19-24 received formal vocational education . This commentary discusses some systemic issues that have led to the stagnation of vocational education in India. It further looks at whether the NEP addresses the existing challenges and sets tangible future goals for vocational education.
ISSUES AT HAND
Broadly speaking, the reasons for the failure of vocational education in India are two-fold:
Organisation and Implementation
The NEP 2020 highlights the issues that teachers, especially at higher secondary levels, are not fully skilled to teach vocational courses. The model of imparting vocational education in India operates at two levels: vocational education (theory) and training (practical). Along with mainstream secondary education, students are taught the theoretical part of vocational training through subjects like SUPW, which has proven to be ineffective and an additional burden . The reason being that the curriculum of these courses at school levels is fragmented and disjointed. These courses are neither well-defined nor properly segregated; instead, it is taught like any other subject. For instance, the subject SUPW taught in government schools had a varied range of vocational courses in the curriculum, from studying about electricity in one class to jumping onto textiles in another. There was no proper detailed curriculum, only basic introduction to all the vocational courses, which proves to be ineffective in sparking an interest in vocational education among school students. The existing system, therefore, fails to attract students from taking up vocational courses in future. Even if students opt to pursue vocational courses at higher education level, there are no proper admission criteria (especially in the general higher education system) for vocational education qualifications, which constraints the vertical mobility in this education system.
Apart from the mismanaged structure, vocational schooling creates a sense of ‘second class’ citizenship in society . A person pursuing a vocational course is considered inferior to those students opting for mainstream higher education avenues. According to the 75th round (2017-18) of National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, 24% students from rural areas are enrolled in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) or any other vocational training institutes, however, only 8.3% of urban students are enrolled in any vocational training institutes . Only 15.3% of the population is enrolled in formal vocational training institutes. Despite an increase in vocational training institutes, the data indicate that vocational education is still not a particularly preferred choice among students and parents. The reasons for the same can be that the general and vocational education systems operate as separate verticals with limited mobility between the two. This leads to hesitation amongst the youth in opting for vocational education irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. It has become a belief that employment through mainstream education has more dignity of labour as compared to the vocational system .
THE VOCATIONAL SCHOOL FALLACY
The reasons above highlight that the problems and challenges of vocationalisation lie both on the demand and supply sides. Social mindsets not attaching status and importance to vocational education is a significant problem on the demand side. It is given little priority and low positioning when compared to other streams of education. At the same time, the main issues on the supply side include inadequate logistics and equipment, lack of trained vocational teachers, and lack of weightage given to students from this stream in admissions to higher education.
These problems together create a complex situation that scholar Philip Foster rightly calls the Vocational School Fallacy . Vocational School Fallacy is a situation when vocationally trained students do not opt for blue-collar jobs; instead, they prefer to pursue higher education to access white-collar professions. Foster rightly points it out as “the mismatch between demand and supply of the skilled manpower”. It is usually said that ‘vocational school fallacy is much better known by academicians than by policymakers in ministries of education’ . There is still a belief among policymakers that vocationalisation of education is one of the effective ways to develop and manage the skilled workforce in labour-intensive economies like India and the NEP 2020 reaffirms this faith.
PROVISIONS FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN THE NEP 2020
The NEP 2020 addresses the challenges on both the demand and supply sides of vocational education and makes an effort to mitigate it. It discards the theoretical part of vocational training and emphasises teaching only practical aspects. In order to make vocational education more structured, the policy recommends conducting a proper skills gap analysis and mapping of local opportunities to assign vocational courses relevant to a particular area. Alongside this, the NEP also emphasises the credit-based National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF), which was introduced in 2013. The framework will help in the assessment of prior learning of the enrolled students, which, in turn, will help in re-integrating the dropouts (from mainstream education) by aligning their practical experiences and appropriate level of the framework .
The National Education Policy also seeks to align vocational occupations with international standards as prescribed by the International Labour Organisation. It also recommends inclusion of industry, NGOs and civil society organisations in implementing the NSQF.
To overcome the situation of social stigma attached to vocationalisation, the NEP recommends:
(i) The integration of vocational education programmes into mainstream education in all educational institutions in a phased manner which “would lead to emphasizing the dignity of labour and importance of various vocations involving Indian arts and artisanship” .
(ii) The teaching of vocational courses from class 6, mostly in the form of internships and practical activities, to ensure that every student should at least study one vocational course.
Discussions on vocational education to develop a skilled workforce have always been present in India’s educational policy discourse. The NEP reappraises it by discussing two significant challenges associated with it and strategies to mitigate them. The policy still misses out on addressing the above-mentioned problem of the Vocational School Fallacy. Nonetheless, it looks comprehensive on paper.
But, the possible challenges in implementing these recommendations lie mainly in the budgetary allocation and capacity of vocational institutes and administrators. Approximately 3000 crores have been allotted for skill development in the Union Budget of 2020-21, which is a significant increase over the last five years from 1007 crore in 2015-16 . However, given India’s demographic dividend, it can be argued that the allocation is still not enough.
Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and National Skill Development Council are the primary agencies responsible for the implementation of vocational education and training in the country. The roll-out of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) and Skill India Mission in the past have not had the desired impact. Skill India Mission aimed to reach out to 300 million youths by 2022, but by the end of 2018, only 25 million had been reached and trained under this scheme. This inefficiency in achieving the target arises from ineffective capacity building and less enrollment . In fact, even under PMKVY, only 15% of the enrolled students were able to get a job .
Thus, to bring in systemic change as recommended by NEP 2020, it will require capacity building in these ministries, which, in turn, will require more efficient use of budgets. It is high time that the government starts mapping out the linkages between the demands of industry and supply of vocational courses so that skills can align according to the jobs available. Alongside these challenges, there is also a need to factor in the challenges of digital literacy. With the world moving towards a digital order and NEP 2020 pushing for the same, technology-based skills, especially among the youth, have become more critical than ever. In order to effectively implement the recommendations in the NEP 2020, the government needs to learn from the existing inefficiencies in its skilling programmes.
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