The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has defined ‘demographic dividend’ as the growth potential that results from shifts in a population’s age structure. A study conducted by the UNFPA noted that India has an important window of demographic dividend opportunity from about 2005-06 to 2055-56 with 62.5% of the population falling in the working age group of 15 and 59 years. It is expected that the slice of working age group will rise to 65% (approximately) by 2036. This study also recognised the importance of imparting vocational education (VE) to avail the benefits of the demographic dividend.
The National Education Policy, 2020 (Policy) recognises the seminal role of VE in building the Indian demographic dividend. The Policy observes that less than 5% of the Indian workforce within the age bracket of 19–24 years received formal VE when compared to countries such as the USA (52%), Germany (75%), and South Korea (96%). While identifying the need to hasten the development of vocational skills, the Policy highlights the importance of removing rigid distinctions between vocational and academic streams, and eliminating harmful hierarchies between different areas of learning.
Key Aspects of the Policy:
The Policy prescribes the need to facilitate universal access to quality holistic education to all children . Students will be given the opportunity to be flexible in their choice of subjects and there will be no firm division between ‘arts’, ‘academic’, ‘curricular’, ‘extra-curricular’ or ‘vocational’ streams as the objective is to ensure holistic development. The Policy also aims to incorporate the teaching of vocational skills within the school curriculum to augment innovation, adaptability, and productivity.
In a major move towards ensuring vocational exposure, students will have an opportunity to sample various vocational crafts (as may be determined by the states and local communities and mapped by local skilling needs). Students from grades 6 to 8 will also be encouraged to participate in a ‘10-day bagless period’, wherein they may intern with local vocational experts. Similar internship opportunities to learn vocational subjects will also be available to students throughout grades 6 to 12 (including during holiday periods). The Policy also seeks to promote the provision of online vocational courses.
Correspondingly, in Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), it has been recognised that quality higher education with a focus on vocational subjects is necessary to build capable and competent individuals for the Twenty First century. The policy is focussed on increasing the gross enrolment ratio in higher education, including VE from 26.3% in 2018 to 50% by 2035.
The Policy also provides for the National Testing Agency to offer a high-quality common aptitude test, as well as specialised common subject exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects, at least twice every year.
States/union territories have been urged to adopt innovative mechanisms to ensure:
(a) access to adequate number of resources, counsellors/teachers teaching all subjects (including vocational subjects); and
(b) creation of a sense of community, co-operation and improved governance.
The Policy notes the necessity to recruit an adequate number of teachers across subjects and recommends the sharing of teachers across schools in accordance with the grouping of school norms adopted by the state/union territories. Schools/school complexes have also been encouraged to hire local eminent persons or experts as ‘master instructors’ in various subjects, such as in traditional local arts, vocational crafts or entrepreneurship to benefit students and help preserve and promote local knowledge and professions.
The Policy also envisions the establishment of the National Professional Standards for teachers by 2022 in consultation with various bodies/authorities, including expert bodies on VE. A new and comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) is also proposed to be established by 2021, which will take into account the requirements of teacher education curricula for VE. The NCFTE will be revised once every 5-10 years based on emerging needs in teacher education.
The National Council for Vocational Education and Training will function as a professional standard setting body for VE.
Deeper Impact of VE in the future:
The Policy aims to ensure that by 2025, at least 50% of the learners across schools and higher education systems have exposure to VE. In this regard, the Policy notes the need to effectively integrate VE into mainstream education across all educational institutions in a phased manner using various measures which include: facilitating collaboration with local industries, establishment of incubation centres or skill labs and the conduct of shorter term certificate courses.
To facilitate such integration, the Policy also calls for the creation of a National Committee for the Integration of Vocational Education (NCIVE), consisting of experts in VE and representatives from ministries in collaboration with industry.
Information-sharing across institutions (through mechanisms set up by the NCIVE) has also been encouraged to further expand the reach of VE. A National Higher Education Qualification Framework will also be formulated which shall be in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education.
The Policy is novel in its recognition of the value of VE. It rightly identifies the need to integrate VE into mainstream education (rather than developing it independently) and dispel the belief that VE is inferior to mainstream education as this impacts the choices students make. The focus is also on ensuring the dignity of labour.
Access to vocation exposure is likely to enhance the learning experience and provide for holistic development, both at a professional and personal level. By introducing VE at a young age, the Policy enables young students to obtain a hands-on experience of the subject matter thereby allowing them to make more confident and informed professional choices. It is perceived that this could create more ‘satisfied professionals’ in the long run. Regular access to internship opportunities would also provide an impetus towards building entrepreneurial skills.
Another important facet of the Policy is its recognition of the value of practical experience. For instance, the Policy proposes the development of a framework to recognise prior learning with an aim to reintegrate dropouts from the formal education system based on their practical experience; and also permits HEIs to grant a certificate upon completion of one year in a discipline/field which may even include vocational/professional areas. However, it is equally important that the students and their guardians absorb this intent in its right spirit and actually engage in practical learnings instead of procuring “dummy” internships/certificates which will stifle the entire outlook for promoting VE. It is imperative that adequate regulations are made to ensure that practical learning opportunities for students do not become an indirect means to exploit them.
Concerns have emerged that the importance accorded to VE in the Policy could widen existing inequalities and lead to the ‘vocationalisation’ of education. It is feared that since VE is proposed to be imparted from grade 6, students from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds may tend to focus only on vocational subjects with a view to obtain gainful employment thereby undermining the importance of ensuring basic mainstream education for all until grade 10. While VE has been introduced with the aim of providing a holistic learning experience, it is imperative that this vision does not translate into an alienation of the underprivileged students.
The focus on VE will require substantial investment and adequate participation from industry players. In this regard, the Policy is comprehensive for it acknowledges the need to ensure active collaboration with industry players as well as the need to equip teachers with skills to impart VE. It is also essential that the industry players and the educators engage in constructive discussions while determining the curriculum for VE, so that students can keep abreast of the relevant vocational skills that are being sought from within the industry.
The Policy puts India on track to achieve the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations, “guaranteeing equal access to opportunities for access to quality technical and vocational education for everyone”. It is now the need to engage all stakeholders i.e. the industry, governments, and the students themselves to construct a roadmap to effectively realise the potential of India’s demographic dividend. A young workforce equipped with practical industrial acumen will enhance productivity and play a vital role in building a self-sufficient India.
*The authors would like to thank Aishwaria Ramanan, Associate for her assistance
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