Feature: Education & Skill Development Agenda for the New Govt

s6Following the successful elections of the 16th Lok Sabha, a new government assumes office in New Delhi. Quite obviously, the new dispensation that will surely adopt a fresh approach at tackling the challenges before the country, has raised public expectations for good governance. As part of our continued focus on the neglected reforms in education & skills education since beginning of this year, we have compiled a cross-section of views from a diverse range of people connected with education sector.

THE CHANGE MUST HAPPEN NOW. The education system is like the mind and soul of a nation and it must be in harmony with national aspirations, expectations and dynamics of socio-economic developmental process. By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group. The problem with the outgoing UPA 2 government, in particular, with its ministers in ministry of human resources development (MHRD) for the past decade, has been a failure on its part to bring education to the centre-stage of developmental process. The ministers treated their job more in terms of an administrative work instead of offering a creative leadership. States, which are saddled with the responsibility of implementing policies and delivering education on ground, are in most cases found wanting in shouldering this duty (a recent assessment report of RTE Act by RTE Forum concluded there was no state champion, that is, no state has achieved RTE compliance). Insistence on central norms (top down) for schemes like SSA or Midday meal, has diminished the role of states and education departments have become post offices of MHRD’s missives.

Ajay Singh, a former consultant at EDCIL feels that uniform curriculum is also a big tragedy, “It is written by a few intellectuals and thrusted upon teachers without testing it.”  Like -wise varied unit cost allocations for both schools and higher education institutions within the government sector, is another puzzle that needs a solution. Remember, there is no government support system or institution that identifies and nurtures gifted children.  So, first and foremost item on menu for change must be restoration of the vibrancy of education apparatus and framework, whereby all stakeholders participate purposefully. Chairman & Managing Director of Educomp Solutions , Shantanu Prakash, arguably the most successful pioneering modern generation edupreneur, who proved that education can also be made an industry and inspired hundreds of enterprises in last 15 years feels the new government should focus on democratizing education by allowing the private enterprise to energize the sector, usher in globally recognized courses and boost job creation. “The new Govt. should also focus on reviving the stalled growth and deal with the challenge of fiscal deficit and approach the economy from a growth perspective. It should provide the ease of doing business, regulatory consistency, business-friendly legislation and allow private enterprise in public projects, he adds.

The regulatory mechanisms for a rapidly expanding private sector in education sector has remained patchy and more of an inspector raj. Private sector has the capacity and intentions but a poor regulatory environment has often given it a bad image and put it at a disadvantage. According to experts if we have a robust, transparent and enabling regulatory and policy framework at various levels, education can become a social good and fostera genuine social entrepreneurial activity and investment opportunities.

Perhaps revisiting the National Education Policy, 1986, would be one of the greatest service that the new government could do and simultaneously initiate legislative and other reforms to align education sector with India’s growth story and her aspiration to become global human capital in coming years. Achieving this would be a national effort and therefore private sector needs to be treated with more respect and on equal footing.  “We need to define a national vision for education for the next 5-10- years. Right now, we don’t have the best policy environment. States have become more of antagonists than partners in shaping this environment,” says Amit Kaushik, a former director with the MHRD. A lot more has changed in the ecosystem since 1992 and most of these changes are still to be reflected in policy frameworks. prospect but again it has to be done carefully, which can be achieved through sustained research. “Our present education system is largely based on authority , a desire towards greater centralisation and significant lack of transparency. It has been said that ‘as society evolves, it moves from status to contract’ and governance today is described as a social contract. In recent times it is moving to data and algorithms and educational policy too should be driven by data and processes,“ says Prof MM Pant, renowned educationist. “There may be well-intentioned interventions or legislation like RTE, but then if these are evidence-based, it makes their implementation smoother and in tune with the ground realities. Research function is a long term thing and must be systemic and continuous process,” adds Karthik Muralidharan, an assistant professor of  Economics at the University of California, San Diego (USA) and an advisor to Bihar government. Forget about policy research even academic research is severely handicapped by lack of support. According to Prof. Avanish Kumar, Chairperson  Public Policy & Governance Area ,MDI Gurgaon, in India, “Higher education is limited to primarily teaching institutions. One reason is lack of funding for research. It is difficult in India to get funds on new areas of research, especially to budding scholars.”

Children are citizens & builders of tomorrow and need holistic development — physical, emotional, cognitive, creative, learning etc. However, their rights have not been always respected. About half (48 per cent) of children under the age of 5 are under nourished and malnourished. 29 per cent of children drop out between class I and V and 46 per cent between class I and VIII.  A beginning has been made through the Right to Education but the right has to be stretched at both ends to include the entire childhood from birth to adulthood (0-18 years). The critical importance of secondary education  in a country like India is more than ever. If it is brought under the ambit of RTE, it will have a huge social benefit.  It will delay marriages of girls in countryside and more so in tribal population thereby allowing these girls to pursue their educational potential and proper health & hygiene. According to experts schemes like RMSA (National Secondary Education Campaign) and ICDS (integrated Child Development Scheme) can be redesigned to extend the RTE to 0-18 years without much difficulty but it needs a  huge  political will.  According to  Adit Gupta, founder Function Space, social learning platform for science education, overall productivity of the country can improve dramatically if we can provide primary and secondary education for everyone.  “We have to encourage curiosity and deep learning to raise a whole generation of smart learners, thinkers, tinkerers and makers who can demonstrate their value to the world at large,” says Prof Pant.

That brings into picture the importance of good or quality teachers in the system. There is already an acute shortage of teachers at all levels. Perhaps the time has come for India to start teacher services similar to civil services where a cadre of professional teachers is recruited every year. The concept of a’ National Testing Service’ was proposed in the 1986 education policy, but was not taken up yet. The damage done for not having implemented this may be intangibly substantial. “We need adequate number of executive trained teachers may be 1000 for a state, who would become coaches and mentors to teachers in schools. This will pull up the vast pool of teachers, who lack learning or training resources,” says Maya Menon, a Bangalore-based teacher education expert.  According to Kamini Prasad, COO Centum Learning Limited, the major challenge here lies in insufficient number of Mathematics and Science Teachers and Methodologies, Tools and Technique remaining ineffective. A special emphasis required in Teacher Training and Development programs.

“Allow for cross migration from other professions into education with strict norms. For example, the national teacher of the year in the United States 2009, Anthony Mullen is a former policeman. Also, introduce   National Teacher of the Year Awards who would qualify from the State teacher Awards and then make them formal ambassadors of good scholastic practices and the NCF for a full academic year right across states/India.  Besides, revisit the Teacher proficiency tests with significant weightage for class room competencies if teachers have be galvanized,” suggests Lt Col A Sekhar(Retd), Principal of Atul Vidyalaya, Valsad (Gujarat). An area to focus would be to bridge the gap that is exists between the rural and urban education system. With respect to this, one of defining gaps lies in imparting of STEM Education  Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Education in rural and urban schools.

While substantial background papers do exit for these changes, there is one area where India has to a wage a war. Millions of jobs have to be created. The emphasis has to be on creation of jobs and vocational education will have to be mainstreamed in a one go instead of piece-meal approach adopted by UPA government.  “India can live as a corrupt nation, it can live by poor infrastructure as long as it provides its youth livelihood. But if the avenues to earn livelihood are not there , it will be demographic disaster of unforeseen scale. So, the whole thought process, policy making and national agenda has to shift gear and create jobs,” says Navin Bhatia, a skills education expert and CEO of Navkar Skills Centre. This calls for innovations and some tweaking in the existing system.

For instance the Midday Meal Scheme which feeds lunch to about 12 crore children needs an overhaul.  The issues of quality, safety and delivery mechanism of Midday meal will have to be sorted out and teachers given just supervisory roles. “The provision of cooks in the scheme could have provided marginalized women, widows, and other destitute women a window to empowerment and a better life. Nobody is better at feeding than mother. We should go for women enterprise, train women in communities and make it a women-driven meal program. It will have a cascading good effect for these women and children,” says Ashok Rao, General Secretary, Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute (SSMI), Delhi. In fact, the education system holds many an answers and solutions to our challenges on jobs and skills front. Educationists want inclusion of skills education compulsorily from class eighth onward across all boards. “There is a case for fully revising schools curricula framework for optimized integration of vocational skills with academic learning,” says Lt Col  Sekhar(Retd),

According to  Prashant Bhalla, Chancellor of Faridabad-based Manav Rachna International University, the new government should focus on a putting in place a strong technical education stream linked to industry and foster up gradation of Vocational/technical curricula and link it to labour market demands. Development of skill-set should be in the priority list of the government.

There is a big  concern  that currently there is no National Standard of Vocational Training in India. “Absence of integration of Vocational Education with main stream education  through parallel tracks, credit exchange mechanisms and multiple entry & exit points, have all been very well defined under NVEQF. But we seem to make little or no progress in the implementation. These bottlenecks need to be removed,” adds Kamini Prasad. The Industrial Training Institutes'(IT Is), which did India proud in the pre-liberalization period since their inception in 1963 in a well-orchestrated nation building program soon after independence and  these helped in rapid industrialization need of the country with supply of skilled workers, are today much like forgotten heroes without their share of glory and purpose. So far by not making skill certification mandatory for jobs, the government has not helped its own objectives.

According to Navin Bhatia, “For 30 critical industry sectors across India there is need to create 1200 learner centric NOS(national occupational standard) aligned content which does not exist at all. For these 30 critical industry sectors across key district town in India in order to effectively assess and certify candidates nation needs 50,000 certified assessors which do not exist at all. In order to skill 240 lakh youth every year(youth which are entering job market every year) across key district &block towns nation needs 6,00,000 skilled &certified trainers across 30 sectors and 1200 courses which do not exist at all.”

“Banks including PSU banks don’t want to deal with small borrowers of a few lakhs and lack of this critical loan money mars millions of dreams in this country,” says Santosh Mehrotra, DG, Insitutite of Applied Manpower & Research (Planning Commission) while emphasizing a need of making help and information on  government schemes  including non-financial incentives available to small entrepreneurs through trained counselors.

Job creation should be an endeavor mapped to the DNA of the local communities, area and region. India will have to for localized solutions. Like green, white and blue revolutions, this must get strong and enlightened leadership. Creating global Indian brands in some areas like handicrafts will help in generating international market linkages to take Indian products to the world. Our Farukbad glass bangles, Bhagalpur chadars (bed sheets), Kashmiri embroidered shawls, Meghalay Roses and many more unique products can lift our status in world markets. Our very own Amul dairy model is awesome and inspiring, and to say we can do it for manufacturing and umpteen things.

Aligning existing schemes like MGNREGA for creating assets at block level, which will engage local talent, offer them skilling and information is expected from a responsive government. The scheme could well be linked to skill development of the people.

In nutshell, the government leadership will have to step out and take identified challenges head on, solutions will emerge. A revitalized education ecosystem will certainly propel India to glory!

 

The previous government had a potential to do something path breaking in the area of education but revenues generated by education cess was wasted in dubious schemes that indirectly has llowed certain sections to benefit. NSDC should change from being a donating agency to a facilitator. Education should lead to employment. e-learning  should be encouraged to spread quality education to masses.  – Kapil Rampal,  Director Ivory Education Pvt  Ltd

 

 Women’s participation in job industry and education should be incentivized. Both of these will contribute to greater social equality between the two genders and drive up overall productivity of the country. –  Adit Gupta, Founder Function Space

 

Expectations are high. India must meet the globally accepted norm of central and state governments spending at least 6% of GDP on education rather than the roughly 4% that states and Centre put together currently.  Ideally we should be aiming to double this figure, in tune with other countries. I hope the new government would emphasize on education reforms and support and encourage the private sector to play a much larger role in higher education.     Dr. Prashant Bhalla, Chancellor, Manav Rachna International University

a13New Government should develop feasible and practical models to integrate Private Partnerships and make it simpler for the newer and competent players to foray into augmenting skill capacity building. The statistics clearly state that the major challenges faced by the Skill Education in India is Capacity building. 80% of the new entrants to the Workforce have no opportunity for Skill Training. Against 12.8 million p.a. new entrants to the Workforce, the existing Training capacity is only 3.1 million, per annum.  Government through its various schemes has been providing financial support for Vocational Training. But the delays and lengthy processes stifles the delivery of Vocational Training. A very well defined Turnaround time, along with these processes will help the segment grow faster. – Kamini Prasad, COO Centum Learning Limited

 

Revisit certain provisions of RTE; especially those relating to the no retention policy. Retain the policy till class five. Reign in (through formal legislation) the unregulated coaching industry whose tentacles are stifling education. Harness the fast vanishing rural based skills such as carpet weaving etc with significant concessions for professionals in those spheres without formal degrees/qualification. Establish national, regional, state level model Schools for vocational trainers.Lt Col A Sekhar(Retd), Principal of Atul Vidyalaya, Valsad (Gujarat).

In India higher education is clustered in metros and state capitals. There is a divide in professional education institutions between Southern and Northern states. Government need to ensure access to quality education institution across India. There are multiple regulatory bodies making it difficult for education institution to plan for long term due to inconsistency of policy across these regulatory institutions, such as UGC, AICTE, etc. They need to evolve long term complimentary vision plan. Education institutions are finding it difficult to sustain courses on sustainability, public policy, energy , development etc. Government needs to carve a strategy for seed funding as knowledge banks or else India will only have some popular monotonous courses running across the institutes. Though there are initiative at institute level, however, industry and education institution still run in parallel without any tangible confluence. There is a need to establish knowledge platforms for the state, industry and academia across India. Prof. Avanish Kumar, Chairperson  Public Policy & Governance Area ,MDI Gurgaon 

Our school-going youngsters require skills to help them keep up with the challenges of a global village. Children coming from lower strata suffer from a weakness in the English language. This calls for a redesigning of our curriculum in which English should be taught to students from primary school. The English language will help provide better opportunities for all classes of society. The regional language must also be given equal importance in the curriculum, so that the students have mastery in their own language as well. This will ensure the connection with their own culture,” Sabiha Al-Issa,  educationist& facilitator based in Mumbai