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Skills, Not Credentials, Is What You Need

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This has been called India's decade of innovation, but its education system has become a major obstacle to its own further development. Our note-taking, rote-learning and examination-based model of education promotes rigid conformism and dependence rather than self-actuation, collaboration, research, and self-skilling. There is wide agreement among economists that the only real way to increase national productivity is through education. But with the 19th century educational model we have in place in India, it is hard to see how we are going to create the large pool of innovators we need to be able to grow our economy and change our society.

In several interactions I have had with under-grad students, they have talked about how they felt that their campus lives were utterly divorced from the technologically-connected lives they lead. Faculty complains that students were always on their phones doing something or the other instead of paying attention in lectures. Students confide that faculty didn't even know what Whatsapp was! The general belief among students is that the educational system has become completely independent of student's desires and business' needs. It could continue onwards this way forever, because no one could really pressure it to change.

Meanwhile, there is a huge skills crisis brewing in India. In every discipline there is a glut of 'qualified' i.e. credentialized applicants, whose actual abilities to perform in the workplace are found wanting and disappointing. If email and computers were necessary and absent skills a generation ago, today it is social media, research, knowledge management and knowledge sharing activities that go without saying, regardless of what role or position a candidate will serve in. But these are never taught, and indeed, many believe that they cannot be taught in the formal educational system. This is only because all the exam-giving invigilators of our colleges and universities have given the verb 'teach' a bad reputation.

The skills of the 21st century are collaboration, networking, problems-solving, and other components of an all-round innovation orientation. Each of these component skills can be taught, but not by the conventional classroom lecture, learning-by-rote method. They need to be taught with a hands-on approach where students learning these skills by doing them as a part of their undergraduate or post-graduate programs. It is time our education system sees this need for a change in pedagogic approach in order to teach these new essential skills that's today's decade of innovation calls for.
Views expressed by the author are personal