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BW Businessworld

An Agenda For Education And Skills Development

India has a unique opportunity to transform itself from an emerging economy into a developed economy over the next one to two decades. The opportunity is due to the demographic dividend expected from the young in an ageing world. The average age of an Indian in 2020 will be 29 years, against 40 in the US, 47 years in Japan and 37 in China. Over the next two decades, the labour force in the industrialised world is expected to decline by 4 per cent, whereas India’s workforce will increase by 32 per cent from the current level of 487 million.

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India has a unique opportunity to transform itself from an emerging economy into a developed economy over the next one to two decades. The opportunity is due to the demographic dividend expected from the young in an ageing world. The average age of an Indian in 2020 will be 29 years, against 40 in the US, 47 years in Japan and 37 in China. Over the next two decades, the labour force in the industrialised world is expected to decline by 4 per cent, whereas India’s workforce will increase by 32 per cent from the current level of 487 million.

While the demographics are in India’s favour, our big challenge is the employers do not find a majority of students coming out of our education system as employable. The India Skills Report 2015 by CII finds that only 37.2 per cent graduates are employable. A couple of months ago, for 368 peon’s positions in UP, 2.3 million candidates applied including engineers, MBAs and even PhDs! Why has the situation become so desperate? Most probably, there are certain competencies which employers are looking for that our education system is not able to provide. The demand-supply gap in the employment market needs to reorient our education to make the students fit for the emerging needs of the Indian and global economy.

The purpose of education is certainly not limited to be able to get a job. Swami Vivekananda famously said, “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in men”. Development of character, curiosity, creativity and life-long learning ability are all vital objectives of the education process. Liberal education is meant to cultivate these vital qualities in the learners and make lives of individuals more fulfilling and meaningful.

However, while preparing individuals for a real life situation, the education system also has a responsibility to ensure that the young acquire right competencies needed by the economy and the society by the time they reach working age. Hence, while pursuing the wider goals of education, it is imperative to introduce an equally robust vocational streaming education system. Our track record so far on this count has been dismal. Only 4.7 per cent of workforce in India has undergone formal skill training compared to 68 per cent in the UK, 52 per cent in the US, 80 per cent in Japan, and 96 per cent in South Korea. After pursuing universal literacy for the past two decades, our frontier for education in the next two decades ought to be universal vocational education.

To make the vocational education relevant to practice and deep rooted in theoretical concepts, we should design dual learning programmes on the model of Germany. These programmes should be integrated with high-school education from ninth/tenth onwards on one hand, and with industry apprenticeships on the other. All existing ITI and polytechnic programmes should also be converted into dual learning programmes with mandatory and concurrent apprenticeships.

These dual learning programmes must be relevant in the context of ongoing technological transformation of the global economy. According to McKinsey, 12 disruptive technologies will have the potential to create direct economic impact valued at $14-33 trillion per year in 2025. These technologies include mobile Internet, automation of knowledge work, cloud computing, Internet of things, advanced robotics, 3D printing, advanced genomics, autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles, advanced materials, energy storage, renewable energy and advanced oil, and gas exploration.

For quality vocational education, we need state-of-the-art curricula, content as well as competent faculty. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has announced the establishment of mentor committees for creation of a model curricula. To ensure that the curricula remains relevant, we need a curriculum review and development process by which it is reviewed in every one to two years.

Each year, over 26 million Indians enter working age. Given the scale at which we need to impart vocational education in the country, a reliable delivery is feasible only if we can innovatively tap the power of educational technology. As outlined in National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, we should launch the MOOC (massive open online courses) oriented open platform for e-content on skill development where further curated content can be uploaded and used by the people. To ensure quality amidst paucity of trainers, the training service providers should use ‘the flipped classroom’ concept wherein the students watch the video content on their own and the classroom is used only for application, clarifications and resolution of difficulties.

Our education system should also be geared to make India the talent and skills capital of the world. India received $70.39 billion by way of remittance from overseas Indian workers, which is the largest for any country. This is despite the fact that 70 per cent of about 14 million overseas Indian workers are unskilled and semi-skilled labourers. We should also introduce, on a mass scale, focused programmes to develop skills for overseas markets. India should also accelerate negotiations to join the Dublin accord, which will provide acceptability to Indian technical qualifications. This will help in mobility of our technicians across all the signatory countries, most of which are developed economies with higher wage rates. We should seriously consider how structurally the education and skill development wings of the government can work together seamlessly with closer co-ordination and more integrated manner for higher effectiveness.

Demography is on our side and technology is providing a conducive environment in which the old international order will be inevitably replaced by a new one. If we wholeheartedly embrace a forward looking education and skills development agenda and sincerely implement it, no one can stop India’s journey to prosperity and world leadership in the 21st century.

The author, Bijay Sahoo, is president, HR, Reliance Industries. He is also founder chairman of Retail Skills Council of India, chairman of Indian Merchants Chamber Skills Development Committee and chairman of Demographic Dividend Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal.


(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)


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