The time has come to restore some coherence in the skill formation system. This is one sector that the new Government has to address
There is so much talk about start-ups, entrepreneurship, skill formation and employability — the list can go on — that they have almost lost sight and purpose. The situation is compounded by the fact that notwithstanding good intentions and pious approaches, there is little to show on the ground. Aspirationally, the search for degree dominates the learning market. Access to higher education has received almost a cult status. Whether employability or livelihood follows the degree seems to be the moot point. The UPA must be credited for having propagated a simple proposition: The more institutions you set up with high-flying brand names, the more desirable it is — more IITs, IIMs, Central universities and AIIMS-like institutes. It did not matter much if the existing institutions in these chains were already starved of good faculty. The irony was that the UPA was led formally by a person, who at some stage had some credentials to be an academic. In the competitive bidding of political combinations, the NDA was not to be left far behind. Whatever the UPA could do, the NDA thought it could do better. The result is there for all to see.
Notwithstanding multiple attempts by seemingly varying political combinations to abolish the University Grants Commission, it is still going strong. The plethora of so-called national institutions, such as universities of Urdu, Hindi, not to forget the Institute of Foreign Languages, Central Institute of Hindi, academic calendars have strange twists. Even holding of regular convocations in its complete form is an event. Talk of research, contribution to knowledge and pushing of boundaries of learning is a far cry. In light of such aberrations, to stay silent would itself be a flaw. This does not belie significant positive changes in areas such as national mission on education through (Information and Communication Technology) ICT. Even there, one would hasten to add that their mode of administration is sometimes far from logical. There are very few institutions where class room methods are blended harmoniously with the ICT method.
If this is the state of affairs in higher education, the scenario of school education is best typified by the premium put on private educational institutions over Government schools in public psyche. Clearly, money is no constraint because parents and guardians pay fancy amounts if it can help their status display. The number of institutions in the private sector, which runs schools in buildings for part of the day and double them up as institutions of higher learning — read colleges and universities — is rising. The regulator is knowledgeable but blissfully unaware. In such an ecosystem, the role and status of vocational institutions almost match a comic opera. Many know that the formal Indian Vocational Education and Training (VET) Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) system started in 1950s with requirements of industrialisation. The National Council for Vocational Training came in 1961. Today, there are 14,449 ITIs affiliated to NCVT.
The last decade of the preceding century and the first decade of this century was the era of fancy use of the word ‘modular’. Courses and degrees were going modular, and so the employability schemes also went modular. The UPA should be given the ‘credit’ for doing this in 2007. In 2008, with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s slogan of ‘PPP’ saw action on skill development with private participation. By 2009, NSDC began riding sector skill councils. The institution provided avenues for the well-connected and the high-heeled. Nobody wanted to map what was happening on the ground. When the NDA came to power, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was notified on November 10, 2014. It was nobody’s concern that there was already in existence a Ministry dealing with Small and Medium Enterprises. A whole architecture of aspirational skill formation scheme was released on the country with the entire package of National Skill Development Agency; Directorate General of Training; Skill Development Fund; National Skill Development Corporation. The diagram was complete with Sector Skill Councils; Skill Universities. The opinion of UGC on the last stated institution was not of much concern. Five years down the line, if one sector does not have a report card, it is this. A smart Government could not be unaware of this and the lay of the land. One hopes that after the parliamentary elections, a little more attention is bestowed on this critical sector of national development.
Amazingly in the first years of its existence, the process did not have any indigenous skill in its inventory to be upgraded. The friendly barber, who in the mofussil and villages not only trimmed hair but served as a go between for potentially marriageable men and women; the blacksmith who kept the villages going by keeping the wheels of the bullock cart and the push cart moving, went by default. This list can go on. The time has come to restore some coherence in the skill formation system and root it in the soil.
(The writer is a well-known management consultant)