Debating the relevance of vocational education
The highly acclaimed, modern management thinker and celebrated author Stephen Covey professes that one must ‘begin with the end in mind’.
I think this has no better applicability than in the purpose of education. What is the purpose of education after all? Is it just to gain knowledge for the sake of it or is it to gain a set of skills and competencies that can help one
advance in life, pursue a career of choice and earn a decent livelihood?
The debate over vocational versus academic education has been raging across the world and mind you, this is not restricted to under-developed economies.
A recent higher education event in the USA concluded with wide- scale agreement amongst academia, business and government that students graduating from the US education system are not fit for the world of work.
So, the debate is no more a debate; it is now a challenge. How do we vocationalise mainstream education? Learned professors and teachers call it as the ‘hands-on’ education versus ‘minds-on’ education.
The first issue to address probably, is the positioning of vocational education; whether it is in the developed countries like UK, USA or Sweden or in developing nations like India, vocational education is usually considered as the poor cousin of academic education. It is for those who did not make it; these are children of a lesser God.
There are others who feel that vocational education is like a ‘bronze’ medal while academic education is the ‘gold’ which students should be vying for. One way to overcome this is to establish the cause and effect linkages of vocational education with employment.
Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, with enormous convergence happening in the world of education, there is greater need to shed this
baggage of the past and look at vocational education in a new light. Hands-on learning is becoming more accepted currently.
The new generation of tech-savvy young adults are ready to learn new skills and step into new professions that demand practical skills and rely more on hands-on experience.
It seems like there is an ‘Arab Spring’ happening in education, with the young job-seekers demanding better vocational education which can directly lead them to jobs.
According to OECD Reports and Reviews on Vocational Education and Training, different countries have explored ways and means of adding
value to vocational education.
Sweden, for example, has forged partnership between training providers and
employers. This provides security and stability to the young trainees who get the benefit of one year or two year-long internship or partnership with
Sweden, of course, is a highly developed economy with a smaller population but countries like Tunisia, in North Africa, have been fairly successful in developing this linkage with industry majors.
Quite clearly, it shows that where there is stakeholder will, solutions are bound to emerge. In China, for example, there is greater emphasis on ‘institutional leadership’, with teachers (or the vocational educators) themselves getting interned with industry leaders.
What do the numbers say?
In India, too, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has been
actively engaged in promoting vocational education and skill development at different levels.
In its Annual Report of 2012-13, it reveals that 23.02 lakh
students have enrolled for post-school diploma or PG diploma courses, while 30.14 lakh students enrolled in AICTE-approved technical programmes.
These figures can be contrasted with the 203.27 lakh students who enrolled in different universities and colleges for the academic education.
Setting up of new polytechnics and strengthening existing polytechnics has been on the governmental agenda for long. In over 287 districts of the country, State and Union Territory governments have set up polytechnics to provide stepping stones for the young adults find gainful employment.
These are worthy developments
happening in our country, but we still have a long way to go. Vocational
education needs healthy public-private partnership which can add quality and value at every stage of the syllabi roll-out.
Moreover, young students also need a healthy dose of confidence and
self-esteem as they step out into a more demanding labour market.
State and national board curriculum must be modified to formally account for
vocational subjects that inculcate ‘doing’ in addition to ‘knowing’.
There are several national schemes for apprenticeship and training already in existence which can be revisited and overhauled in the light of best-practices being adopted in developed and developing countries.
These can prove to be game changers as India strives to become a more industrialised economy, with a greater thrust on vocational education and training.