Only about 2% of the persons of the 15-59 age group had received formal vocational training. Nearly 6.1% of them were beneficiaries of non-formal vocational/technical training. These low numbers are a matter of concern
Dhanashree Gurudu | Clarion India
On July 29, 2020, the government unveiled the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020). From webinars and podcasts to newspaper editorials and news channel debates, proponents as well as opponents engaged in deep contemplation as well as wars of words over its nitty-gritties.
The policy was applauded for setting a norm for early-age foundational learning as well as continual learning. It also emphasised the integration of anganwadis and pre-school facilities within school premises itself. While these changes were welcome, the vagueness around the medium of instruction sparked debate.
Furthermore, the policy stresses upon the need for and lays the roadmap for making India’s higher education institutes multidisciplinary in nature. There is also a focus on improving the access to books and libraries for inculcating the habit of reading within children and communities. Notwithstanding the pros and cons being discussed and debated, the policy has been applauded for recognising the significance of vocational education. This essay discusses the challenges faced by the current vocational education system and how a consideration of employment opportunities would help in making it aspirational.
Emphasising vocational education
At present, vocational education falls under the ambit of different ministries. Multi-Skill Development Centre (MSDC) looks after competency-based framework with the help of National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF). There are also funding and training institutes like Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), and so on. The Ministry of Rural Development works towards bringing rural youth into vocational education. The MHRD (now Ministry of Education) regulates the polytechnics and diploma courses.
Further, the Ministry of Textiles is geared towards imparting training in textile and cloth. When it comes to enrolment and training, as per Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana’s website, there are about 22,550 ITIs and other private vocational training centres, which have trained about 33 lakh candidates so far. At present, ITIs have an eligibility criterion of having passed 10th or 12th grade with minimum age of 14 years.
Thus, the system in place already excludes the ones who dropped out before completing their 10th grade. As per Periodic Labour Force Participation Survey 2017-18, only about 2% of the persons of the 15-59 age group had received formal vocational training. Nearly 6.1% of them were beneficiaries of non-formal vocational/technical training. These low numbers are a matter of concern, as studies have suggested that formal vocational education gives a positive return in the labour market and a 4.7% higher wage compared to that of a non-formally trained individual.
Vocational education first finds its mention while underlining the need for improving the gross enrolment ratio (GER). The policy suggests two major plans to improve GER. The first is to improve infrastructure and access. The second involves closer tracking of enrollment and re-entry into the schools. The policy sets the target of achieving 100% GER from pre-school to secondary level by 2030.
As per the 75th NSSO survey, about 3.22 crore school children aged 6-17 years are out of school. Although, Right to Education, mid-day meals and ICDS have resulted in improving the enrollment ratio over the years, the dropout rate is higher among girls and other marginalised social groups. In order to make education more holistic, vocational education is to be included from pre-school to Grade 12.
However, at present, vocational education institutions grapple with multiple constraints such as coping with changing labour market demands, shortage of trained staff, obsolete methods of training, and limited apprenticeship opportunities. Heavily- burdened schools on the one hand and underperforming vocational training institutes on the other is a major challenge that must be tackled. Besides, vocational skilling is also being proposed as a measure to bring back the dropouts. However, it is not clear how the mere inclusion of vocational education will bring about an improvement in the gross enrolment ratio.
The NEP mentions that the primary reason why vocational education was perceived to be inferior to mainstream education is the lack of a defined path. Several studies around the aspiration of the youth point out some common findings. One, youth are increasingly aspiring for a university degree or post-graduation degree. Two, choices of the youth are majorly influenced by the family followed by their interests. The lack of information is also a crucial factor. In a survey titled Young India and Work conducted by ORF, about 84% of the respondents considered a university degree or post-graduate degree as a requirement for their ideal job.
Merely 2% of the youth were interested in pursuing vocational education. Every student going through a formal education system aspires for a professional and a white-collar job. This has also got to do with middle-class values and notions of success. This aspiration is further encouraged with a rigid merit-based system leaving behind the ones who are less affluent. This makes blue-collar jobs an inferior option and secondary aspiration.
As per data from MHRD, approximately 26% of India’s students enrol in higher education. Moreover, the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) states that vocational education is sometimes referred to as technical education, as the learner directly develops expertise in a particular set of techniques or technology. However, over the years, there has been limited participation by the industries and an inadequate in employment opportunities.
According to the PMKVY website, among the 5,57,000 people trained, only 63,000 were placed. This implies a success rate of less than 12 per cent, against the target of at least 70%. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that 91% of India’s workforce is engaged in the informal economy. The policy fails to acknowledge that there is a growing need for imparting vocational education also in the light of the employment crisis that is severely affecting the youth.
There is an urgent need for greater employment generation. Vocational education will help jobseekers find livelihood opportunities and improve their life chances. The policy aims to choose focus areas for vocational education on the basis of a skills gap analysis and mapping of local opportunities. On the one hand, skill gap analysis enables enriching and equipping vocational education institutions.
On the other hand, mapping local opportunities would also provide industries with a skilled labor force. However, the policy does not specify any association between vocational education and industries, and thereby overlooks the technical training aspect. Only time will tell us how the skill gap and local opportunities would be mapped.
The NEP 2020 acknowledges the shortcomings in the existing education system and aims at making it inclusive and aspirational. It envisages the integration of vocational education in the existing school and higher education system with a view to reducing the dropout rate. A renewed emphasis on vocational education is a positive step. Bridging the skills gap is an important objective. However, this must not be limited to the formal sector to which less than 9% of the workforce belongs. The skilling mission must also be extended to the vast informal sector.
The NEP aims at exposing at least 50% of the students from class six onwards to vocational education, by including vocational education in mainstream schooling systems. Another challenge is to increase awareness and change the perspectives towards vocational education. Integrating it with mainstream education will also imbibe young students with values such as dignity of labour and the ethics of care.
This must be accompanied with conducive changes in the labour market so that employment opportunities are created in the domains of these vocations. The pandemic has also necessitated the need for a skilled workforce in healthcare services. Similarly, a skilled workforce can help India achieve its goals of self-reliance. Skilling and universal vocational education are thus important measures in the long term for reaping the benefits of our demographic dividend. It is now or never.
Dhanashree Gurudu works as a Research Associate at Pratham Education Foundation. Her research interests include the informal sector, employment, and migration. Her professional and academic areas of work and interest help her offer an analytical perspective on the above theme.