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Integrate skill programmes into school curriculums

With its population rising by 2 million every year, India is among the world’s youngest nations with 50 percent of the citizenry below the age of 25 and more than 65 percent aged below 35. In 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years as against 37 for China and 48 for Japan. These demographics offer millions of well-qualified Indian students the opportunity to make their mark on the global economy. However, there is a precondition: they need to be well-educated and skilled. 

India’s Central and state governments have awakened to the need for skills education to supplement conventional school and collegiate education. Somewhat belatedly in 2009, the National Skill Development Corporation was established to fund private sector skills training enterprises to develop the vocational skills of school and college-leavers. While this is commendable, skill development centres also need to be established within the education system — in schools and colleges — so that students start learning and respecting vocational skills from early age. 

Skills learning centres need to be set up in all primary-secondary schools so that children appreciate that there’s more to life than white collar jobs in business, industry and government. In this connection, the government instituted Atal Tinkering Labs programme — where children and youth can ‘tinker’ with machinery, do their own experiments and attempt innovations — is a welcome initiative. Thus far, 500+ Atal Tinkering Labs have been established countrywide. 

In this connection, it’s pertinent to note that in developed countries students are introduced to formal skills education at age 16 onwards and their education systems also provide opportunities for students to obtain academic and skills certification before entering undergrad education. For instance: 

• In Germany, school-leaving students can choose to enter vocational institutes or universities for further education 

• As early as class V, students can opt for the vocational track or gymnasium (high school) system

• However the secondary school (classes V-XII) curriculum for vocational students includes standard academic subjects such as language, economics, science and social studies plus technical drawing and applied maths 

• Students who opt for the vocational track usually begin an apprentice programme at age 16-18. They combine formal schooling with workplace experience for three-four days per week in business, industry, government, or retail. On the fifth day, they learn the necessary soft skills such as communication, writing, workplace ethics, time management, and mathematics 

It would be in the national interest for primary-secondary schools in India to adopt this model. The Union HRD ministry could direct the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to introduce skill development programmes for children from age 13 onwards. These programmes should be taught parallelly with traditional academic subjects. For instance, if a student opts for an automobile repair programme as a skill development course, he could at a later stage opt for a diploma or degree in automobile engineering. 

Unfortunately, in India the focus is on conventional academics and rote-learning in the school system. Little attention is paid to practical training or development of skills and competencies required by business and industry. While some top-ranked private schools may be the exception, most government and private schools and universities fail to include even soft skill programmes such as business etiquette, conversational skills and ordinary good manners in their curriculums. Such courses, if at all they are offered, are optional and have no serious focus. 

Professionally-designed vocational and skill programmes will add value and depth to school and college curriculums, creating a rich pool of well-developed, high productivity human resources. The need for skill development education for employability is being felt in every section of the national workforce. From operators, technicians and shop floor workers to school and college leavers, there's universal demand for vocational and skills education.

The prime objective of skills development programmes nationwide should be to create a rich pool of skilled employees. Education planners also need to identify skills that will be required in the next ten years, train teachers to prepare required syllabuses and increase training capacity.

In this era of knowledge economies, skilled and employment-ready manpower is of utmost importance. Therefore in schools and colleges, educators need to undertake periodic curriculum reviews to introduce programmes that connect education with employability. Currently Indian educators are trying to plug the skill gaps with short-term training and polishing students for business and industry. What is actually needed is early stage appreciation of skills education, and adoption of quality and standards that are in line with industry needs and requirements.

(Manu Mital is the Delhi-based founder-CEO of online education portal www.eduluk.com)

287 Views  | Posted on:10 Oct,2017 Add Comment  Show Comments (0)