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'Vocational and Mainstream Education Systems Must Complement Each Other for India to Achieve Its Goals'

Students wearing protective masks wait for vocational higher secondary education exams, which were postponed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, inside a school in Kochi.

Students wearing protective masks wait for vocational higher secondary education exams, which were postponed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, inside a school in Kochi.

Vocational education is viewed as the poor cousin to mainstream education. As documented in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) only a very small percentage of the Indian workforce in the age group of 19–24 (less than 5%) received formal vocational education, whereas in USA the number is 52%, in Germany 75%, and South Korea it is as high as 96%.

The National Education Policy (2020) has reimagined vocational education and intends to dislodge or overcome the social status hierarchy associated with it.

Vocational education is viewed as the poor cousin to mainstream education. As documented in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) only a very small percentage of the Indian workforce in the age group of 19–24 (less than 5%) received formal vocational education, whereas in USA the number is 52%, in Germany 75%, and South Korea it is as high as 96%. “These numbers only underline the urgency of the need to hasten the spread of vocational education in India,” says the NEP 2020.

Dr Sitansu S Jena, professor in vocational education, and also dean at the School of Vocational Studies, Dr BR Ambedkar University, is giving his perspective on the 21st century skills as highlighted in the National Education Policy 2020 in a webinar. He was a member of the drafting committee of the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (2012).

He spoke to News18.com on reimagining vocational education in NEP 2020. Excerpts:

Mainstream higher education is a privilege concentrated in the hands of a few, while vocational education is not viewed the same way. Your thoughts.

The contradiction has always been there in the education system due to the inequality of educational opportunity. Within the mainstream education system, we have a large number of public educational institutions which are far from the quality parameters. We also have private educational institutions, barring a very few, which do not maintain such quality standards as expected for our children. Only the privileged ones, as you say, have access to such education which meets with the required quality parameters in the elitist educational institutions whether funded by public or private.

But large-scale students are a deprived lot and as a result they anyway remain in disadvantaged groups. At least skill training and vocational education will make them job-ready for the industries, so that the mismatch in demand and supply is minimised to an extent as far as manpower requirements in the industries are concerned. But, the fact remains that both the systems, general education and vocational education, have to complement each other for achieving the national goals.

The new National Education Policy focuses on vocational education from class 6. How does starting early at the age of 11 help?

It is a fact that vocational education is seen as a poor cousin to the mainstream education system in our country. It is also true that vocational education has been the last choice for our stakeholders. Because in our education system overemphasis is given to knowledge-oriented training based on rote learning rather than emphasise on what a student could perform in real life using his/her mind and hands. In view of this, it is necessary to orient our students in school towards vocational education as an alternative career choice.

The parental aspirations play a very important role in deciding the career of their wards even in the school days. Because of their limited awareness on career choice, most of the parents prepare their children towards hardcore professional courses such as engineering and medical professions. Introduction of vocational courses at an early stage will help the parents and children select alternative career choices and also develop a positive mindset towards dignity of labour, which is mostly linked to the skill education and training programmes. Moreover, early exposure to vocational education will help in removing the barrier of hierarchy in the education system as well. Also, integration of vocational education with the mainstream education system will lead to a multi-disciplinary perspective to our school education.

India has only 5% of the workforce between 19-24 years that takes vocational education. South Korea has 96% of the workforce receiving vocational education. What are the reasons for this small percentage in India and a much higher rate in South Korea?

Vocational education in India has not grown alongside the industry needs, which is supposed to prepare trained manpower for such industries. In the past, overemphasis has been given to short-term training rather than looking at vocational education as a whole. Overemphasis has been laid on apprenticeship training which consists of basic training and on-the-job training/practical training at the workplace in the industry. The basic training is an essential component of apprenticeship training for those who have not undergone any institutional training/skill training before taking up on-the-job-training/practical training.

The German model of apprenticeship has been tweaked in the Indian context largely. But the fact remains that in Germany the industry is closely involved in development of regulations and guidelines for vocational training in dual systems in which the educational institutions play a prominent role. Further, the industry in collaboration with the federal government develops the vocational education curriculum which is also executed by the educational institutions. On the other hand, in Australia, the industry skill councils, network of industry training advisory bodies (ITABs), work in collaboration with state and tertiary governments in the context of providing inputs to the government on industry trends and future skills required. And they support development, implementation and continuous improvements of nationally recognised training products and services to make the vocational education system a vibrant one.

South Korea has also developed such educational opportunities which are industry-driven. Unfortunately, at the policy level we are yet to develop industry linkages with our educational institutions, which are designated to offer vocational education courses and therefore we are at this dismal level of vocational education.

The creation of a National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) will be coordinated with the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) for ensuring mobility between streams to change the perception on vocational education. How will this work?

India needs to have an operational framework for vertical progression and mobility for vocational education students, both at school as well as higher education levels, which could enable vertical as well as horizontal mobility of students. This can be done either through a system of credits transfer or providing weightage in cut-offs for admission requirements to vocational education pass-outs from schools moving to higher and technical education systems.

While some states such as Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have taken some initiatives for enabling vertical progression for students pursuing vocational education, in practice it is far from the reality. This phenomenon is not limited to India only. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), Australia also acknowledges the issue in its study conducted in the context of Australia, Germany, United Kingdom and pointed out that there has been a challenge to develop a clear-cut policy between education and training system, so that clear and open communication between the institutions could be developed.

Of course this will lead to easy transportation of qualification and credits across education and training sectors and within and between education and training systems.

The NHEQF has to facilitate in putting the system in place in the context, so that the framework drawn through the NSQF becomes more relevant to the students with regard to their vertical and horizontal mobility.

The vocational skill demand comes from the employers when the GDP shows rapid growth. With GDP growth in the negative and people losing jobs at this time, how should vocational education be planned?

What we have been experiencing regarding the GDP growth is a temporary phenomenon. Once the economy bounces back, which is likely to happen during post-Covid period, the industry will require more trained manpower provided more liberalised policies with innovative approaches are followed. This would surely boost the earlier trend which we had experienced during pre-Covid period.