NEP Scores Full Marks For Addressing Issues In Vocational Education, Could Have Considered Past Learnings

The NEP comes at an opportune time considering India is currently in a sweet spot as far its demographics are concerned.

At a time when skill-based education is a fundamental requirement, there has been a growing demand for the Indian education system to focus upon it.  

The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 announced by the Central government recently brings hope for some positivity in this direction by holding at its core the holistic development of students who will enter the workforce of the future. While NEP 2020 has proposed significant changes in school and higher education, it has also given seminal importance to vocational skill development.  

The NEP comes at an opportune time considering India is currently in a sweet spot as far its demographics are concerned. As per the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015, it was estimated that the average age of the population in India by 2020 would be 29 years as against 40 years in the US, 46 in Europe and 47 in Japan. This means it’s high time for India to cash in on the opportunity to supply a workforce to its industries and to the rest of the world. To this end, it helps that the NEP is focussing on integrating vocational education into all educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities. It also aims to provide access to vocational education to at least 50% of all learners by 2025. 

Among the various elements of the policy, many are directly linked to employability. As a first step, the NEP aims to alter the incumbent misperception around vocational education as a less desirable option by fully integrating it within mainstream education, rather than developing it separately. This is a crucial aspect since it will expose students to various streams of vocational education while they are in the school itself. In our personal experience at the Salaam Bombay Foundation, this model of integrating vocational training at the secondary school level has worked out to be highly effective. Since 2014-15, our skills@school programme has trained around 20,000 adolescents in government and government-aided schools with skill-building, enabling them to think about progressive career paths. Trainings for the courses are conducted within the school premises before or after school hours. This in-school nature of training is testimony to its acceptance within the education system.  

Another major area where the NEP scores is that it empowers students by offering them the flexibility to explore multiple vocational programmes and the freedom to change streams. Students will be able to make a vocational choice and spend time pursuing this academic choice, while also benefitting from access to courses that are broader-based.  

The plethora of reforms the draft introduces – both in the academic and skill development area -- are commendable, yet it also has certain inherent limitations.  

While setting up some really ambitious targets for vocational education, it is unclear if NEP has taken any learning from the achieved outreach of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) that was launched in 2009. Under the RMSA’s vocationalisation of secondary and higher secondary education, 3,654 government schools in 31 States/UTs covered 3.65 lakh students between Classes 9 and 10. As of July 2019, this number was just 2.5% of the total government and government-aided schools pointing out that the outreach is still very low. The NEP could have taken into consideration statistics and experiences like these while framing its aspirations.   

Another aspect where the policy wavers is its proposal about setting up of a separate National Committee for Integration of Vocational Education (NCIVE) consisting of stakeholders from across ministries. In India, there is no dearth of committees and organisations to cater to the skill sector with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), National Skill Development Authority (NSDA), National Skill Qualification committee (NSQC), National Council on Vocational Training (NCVT) and Directorate General of Training (DGT) to name a few. In fact, in 2017, a committee headed by Sharda Prasad, former director-general of general employment and training in the ministry of labour and employment, had suggested a merger of a majority of 40 sector skill councils (SSCs) running skill development centres to half their numbers. In this scenario, the need for another committee to add to these ones could be a question mark.  

Capacity building is another area where the policy sounds too ambitious. It expects educational institutes to robustly bolster their set-ups requiring them to collaborate with bodies like ITIs, polytechnics, local industries, SSCs, induct external experts in different vocations, conduct assessments of all vocational education courses, develop equipment and laboratories etc. In a country like India where there’s a paucity of even basic infrastructure in many educational institutions, expecting investments of this level and putting a large part of the onus of skilling exclusively on the educational institutions alone could prove to be a deterrent to the whole exercise.   

Nonetheless, the NEP has proposed some ground-breaking reforms in its attempt to create space for a synergized pedagogy that amalgamates ‘hands-on’ and ‘project-oriented’ with academics. However, it is now about having a focused approach in translating the policy into on the ground action which could need more precision.  

For instance, the policy mentions providing exposure to students to vocations during Grades 6-8 so that they can make informed choices in Grades 9-12. By the ages of 11 to 13, some students are yet to develop the maturity, ability and even decision-making capacity to appropriately choose what vocations could prove right for them. The policy document could have better articulated as to why this age group has been chosen to provide exposure to for an important future decision.  

The NEP also calls for a scalable model to train large numbers of teachers making use of the capacities of school complexes, DIETs and Departments of Education at Universities. Instead, exploring low cost and portable delivery models without compromising on the quality of training may have worked better. One of the reasons why the RMSA model of integration of skills and education hasn’t worked is because of its cost heavy nature that is high on Capital Expenditure spends and lacks scalability. At Salaam Bombay Foundation, we have been able to develop such low-cost models through a portable ‘Skills in a Bag’ Model for our skills@school programme.  

There are some other areas too where the policy could have lent more clarity, especially areas like curriculum revamp. It suggests working with the Pandit Sunderlal Sharma Central Institute of Vocational Education (PSSCIVE) and State Institutes of Vocational Education (SCERTs) to create vocational education material that is adapted to local needs. An overview of some of the courses currently deployed under the RMSA and conceptualized by PSSCIVE shows the likes of multi-skill foundation courses with components of gardening, nursery, agricultural techniques and plumbing. While these courses are no doubt gainful, the question is are these enough to prepare our adolescents for 21st-century skills? At a time when skills like Robotics, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are slated to enormously influence the workplaces of the future, it may be necessary to expand the purview of the policy to focus upon these as well.   

Further, the NEP also talks about incentivising and creating more apprenticeships and other opportunities for work-integrated training for students. While this is a credible proposal, it is necessary to examine its feasibility in light of the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) which was launched in 2016. Till 2018, the NAP had trained only 2.9 lakh apprentices against a cumulative target of 20 lakh that was set. With just 15% of the target met, the overall target of training 50 lakh apprentices by 2020 seems unlikely. Data analysed by Salaam Bombay Foundation from the NAPS portal of Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in June 2019 reveals that out of 64,390 establishments registered, only 10,8195 (16.8%) had one or more apprentices undertaking training with them. These figures need thorough review before setting more aggressive pathways for apprenticeships under NEP. 

All in all, while the policy can be lauded on several angles, there is still a need to revisit a few aspects. As operational plans for the next five years are rolled out, it is necessary to take into account the learnings from the achievements and failures of the last ten years of all programmes that have dealt with vocational education and its integration with school education. For now, the policy certainly attempts to address some fundamental issues that have plagued the sector for a very long time and therefore score full marks for it. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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