Comments on Vocational Education (VocEd),(with some Comments on related aspects of Technical/Professional Education)

Comments on Vocational Education (VocEd),(with some Comments on related aspects of Technical/Professional Education)

  1. The proposals in NEP2019 on Vocational Education are to be seen in the context of the overall new policy framework on Secondary School Education and Higher Education. Detailed comments on different aspects of the NEP2019 are given in separate Annexures. This Note confines itself to Vocational Education. However, some Comments on a few related aspects pertaining to Technical and Professional Education are also given so as to round off the discussion on VocEd.

  1. The Perspective The broad perspective with which Vocation Education (or Technical & Vocational Education and Training as it is more widely known) is approached in NEP2019 has been well stated as follows: “The matter of social status hierarchy of occupations has vexed higher education [in India] in multiple ways. It has significantly influenced the public perception of vocational education and thus the choices that students make in higher education. There is no gainsaying the fact that vocational education has been less desirable to students making these choices. [The] ‘hard’ separation of vocational education from academic and professional education, most clearly manifested in complete institutional and curricular separation from school onwards, has had a role to play as has the mostly indifferent quality of vocational education institutions. This situation is in urgent need of change. Vocational education must become an attractive option for students to choose from. This is crucial for the wellbeing of the millions of people joining and already in the workforce. It is equally important for the national economy.” (P.20 page 357) (emphasis added throughout).

2.1 This marks a clear and welcome departure from the manner in which VocEd has been viewed and institutionalized thus far, from being seen as an inferior option for academically weak students and potential school drop-outs, leading to a rigid separation of “education” from “skills,” the former being for middle-class white collar students and the latter being for working/lower class, blue collar youth who need only physically skills but no knowledge inputs. Correlation with India’s caste system and division of occupations between the “upper” castes in intellectual work and business, and the “lower” castes in manual work including artisanal crafts and trades, is inescapable.

2.2 This past and current state of affairs has not only limited skills that may be imbibed by youth, since commensurate educational or knowledge components are missing, but has also hampered the development of modern industry in India where a severe shortage of adequately skilled and educated workforce is one of two major deficits of the Indian economy cited by both foreign and domestic industrialists/ investors along with poor infrastructure. The XIIth Plan data cited in NEP2019 of less than 5% youth (19-24 years) workforce in India having had formal [quality] VocEd training and education compared with 55% in the US, 75% in Germany and 96% in South Korea, (p.357) as well as other comparatively advanced industrial economies in the latter set of countries, is proof enough of the impact systematic, quality VocEd can have on the economic status of workers and on the national economy in general. China too has been moving n this direction, and is therefore poised to make a huge transition from low-end mass manufacturing to playing a global lead role in high-end high-tech research and manufacturing in frontier areas of AI, robotics, autonomous and electric cars etc.

    1. A corollary missed in NEP2019 is that professionals with Technical Education in India also lack adequate manual skills, which severely reduces their professional competence and also impairs their design-development and innovation capabilities in several sectors. This has also created a vast middle-class in India with poor manual and technical skills, even for simple household repairs and DIY tasks, dampening the skills and technical knowledge ecosystem in the country. India is perhaps the only country where renowned furniture maker Ikea, which elsewhere in the world sells furniture in the form of CKD kits, sells its furniture kits in India accompanied by skilled workmen from services aggregator UrbanClap to assemble the kits at the buyer’s home, market study having taught Ikea clearly that middle-class buyers in India are incapable or unwilling to undertake the final assembly themselves! Therefore integrating VocEd in some form with tertiary education will be socially transformative too, especially as regards broad-basing what may be termed “technological temper” in India.

    1. However, there are serious lacunae in many of the specific policy suggestions made in NEP2019 regarding VocEd that would run counter to the stated objectives, such as in:

    • the design, duration, curriculum and institutional locus of VocEd courses;

    • entry and exit points in higher education institutions (HEI) and corresponding qualifications at entry and exit;

    • correlation with demands for skills and knowledge in industry and professions linked to job mobility, skill upgradation and facilitation of life-long education (LLE);

    • institutional location of imparting practical training/skills in HEI, polytechnics, training institutes etc towards effective VocEd; and

    • the role envisaged for high schools/secondary education in VocEd

    1. This note offers some comments and suggestions in this regard in the hope that these would be taken seriously and incorporated in the form of modifications in the NEP2019. It would be a great pity if what has been put forward as a transformative policy frame for VocEd starts off on the wrong foot and, because of practical infirmities, is soon rolled back towards the current dysfunctional VocEd set-up.

3. VocEd in HEI and Secondary Schools NEP2019 proposes that “the National Policy on Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (NPSDE) announced in 2015 specified that 25% of educational institutions would target offering vocational education. We make a major departure from this policy to specify that not just 25%, but all educational institutions – schools, colleges and universities – must integrate vocational education programmes in a phased manner” (emphasis added) (p.359) and that 50% of learners are covered by VocEd by 2025 (p.357).

3.1 This Note is in full agreement that all HEIs should offer VocEd, but strongly opposes VocEd in Secondary Schools (Classes 8-12) up to NSQF 1 to 4. In brief, this Note asserts that VocEd is a part of tertiary education, hence to be conducted in HEI only, and has no place in the School system. This is explained in greater detail below. Subsequent remarks and suggestions in this Note regarding VocEd therefore assume that it is conducted in HEI only.

3.2 The idea that VocEd is conducted in all HEI is welcome, with the proviso that this covers NSQF 1-7 rather than only 5-7. This will ensure that VocEd is not walled-off in separate and “second class” trade institutions but is offered in normal HEIs, allowing for interaction with other disciplines and for actualizing student aspirations to migrate upwards to higher qualifications than they currently possess and to mainstream under-graduate/professional degrees and beyond, and at different stages of their careers.

3.2.1 It is further suggested that, whereas NEP2019 does not include Polytechnics and other such institutions offering education only upto Diploma level as HEI, Polytechnics should also be fully included in the VocEd ecosystem and encouraged to offer VocEd upto appropriate NSQF.

3.3 The idea in NEP2019 that VocEd would be conducted in all Secondary Schools (Chapter 20), with students receiving VocEd during Classes 9-12 in at least one Vocation covering NSQF 1-4 is completely untenable. Absurdly, NEP2019 even takes this a step further and suggests that students be providd foundational training in some Vocations in Classes 6-8 so as to enable them to make informed choices in Classes 9-12 (P.20.3)! This entire framework is a carry-over from antiquated past and present educational policies, and is a hangover from an earlier time when VocEd was viewed as an alternative stream in Secondary Schools to assist (read push) academically weaker or economically poorer students into jobs right after School with lower competencies and career prospects than “normal stream” students. It is also directly contrary to the perspective articulated by NEP2019 elsewhere in Chapter 9 (which speaks of “more and more students aspiring to higher education” as “India moves towards becoming a true knowledge society and economy — and in view of the forthcoming fourth industrial revolution” — p.201), Chapter 16 on Professional Education (see especially P.16.1.3 and P.16.1.4) and Chapter 20 itself on VocEd, all of which make clear that the knowledge and skills deliverables expected from VocEd can only be obtained through HEIs. This is especially true in the very examples cited in NEP2019 of VocEd in Secondary Schools “in disciplines related to agriculture, law, technical and healthcare education” (P.16.1.5).

      1. It should also be stressed that the modern, international experience and practice suggests that all students should complete full 12 years of School education. Academically weaker students may not clear all subjects, but would obtain whatever credits they are entitled to commensurate to their school leaving performance, allowing for subsequent completion of full 12th standard qualifications or subsequent mid-career entry into VocEd at HEIs at appropriate NSQF levels based on secondary school credits obtained and appropriate Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as per their work experience and any other educational qualifications.

      1. Skill, crafts etc vocational training can and indeed must be offered in Secondary Schools Classes 9-12 as suggested in NEP2019 but at foundational level only, enabling students to gain insight into their aptitudes and preferences, build skills including towards future tertiary VocEd training and/or careers. Appropriate credits may also be awarded for this, and count towards RPL.

3.3.3 NEP2019 itself acknowledges that choices of subjects for VocEd would be limited in the Secondary School system, shaped by availability of skill training institutions nearby, jobs available locally and so on (p.359 & ff). Further, NEP2019 suggests (P.20.3) that VocEd students in Secondary Schools spend time in local industries etc gaining work experience, further detracting from academic achievement and prematurely forcing them into work environments. None of these are ideal ways for preparing young students to face the modern world of work, especially for equipping them with capacities suited for the demanding, knowledge- and tech-based contemporary and future employment scenarios.

4. VocEd Entry & Exit Points, Duration and Qualifications NEP2019 proposes that HEIs would be empowered to offer vocational education “through Diploma, Advanced Diploma and B.Voc. degrees that are aligned with NSQF (National Skills & Qualification Framework) Levels 5, 6 and 7.” Firstly, of course, this should be extended to all NSQF levels 1-7. It is also not clear what duration these courses are intended to be. And the hierarchy of Qualifications, starting with a lowly Diploma and ending with the much vaunted Degree so highly prized in India, betrays a carry-forward of older concepts of education, superimposed onto VocEd, and does not match the vision of VocEd as a modern system of acquiring progressively higher knowledge and skills, especially as part of Life-Long Learning (LLL) for workers and professionals. There is therefore absolutely no need for a “B.Voc. Degree

4.1 The main point under discussion here, however, is that just 3 Qualifications aligned with NSQF 5, 6 and 7 are not enough, and severely limits the scope of entry into and exit from VocEd courses, especially in the context of upgradation of qualifications, re-skilling/re-training, and mid-career higher qualifications. Qualifications obtained through VocEd should be telescopic, enabling easy movement to higher qualifications at any stage of the student’s career, and taking into account work experience and RPL. The highest VocEd qualification, along with work experience and RPL, should enable transition to full-fledged undergraduate academic or professional education and beyond. In this context, the NEP2019 suggestion that “the NSQF, and the equivalent of the NHEQF (QFs for Higher Education) for each of the professional disciplines, must be brought together to enable this,” (P.16.1.6) is correct.

4.2 Courses of different duration, both full-time and part-time, day and evening, would require to be designed, allowing students to take a break from careers or attend VocEd courses while working as suitable. Full-time “Sandwich” courses of durations, varying from 18 weeks to 36 weeks for different NSQF levels and Qualifications, with the remaining period being spent in the work place, would also permit suitable employer sponsorships and/or study leave and could also be suitable for Apprenticeship programmes.

5. Curricula, Skill Development & Standards NEP2019 suffers from considerable confusion regarding setting of curricula for VocEd Courses, linking with industry and Training Institutions for the skills component, and institutional responsibility for all these tasks.

5.1 NEP2019 states that “integrating vocational education poses additional challenges for academia. They will also have to work closely with standards bodies within industry and with potential employers, so that the graduates from schools and colleges have adequate employment opportunities at the end of their education. Educational institutions will therefore have to develop considerable expertise to be able

to deliver on these expectations from them” (Chapter 20, p.360, emphasis added). This idea is reiterated in many other sections of NEP2019 too. HEI and other tertiary education institutions providing VocEd should not have to be answerable for employment opportunities after education. Broad VocEd Course structure, educational and skill standards, as well as curricula and expected knowledge/skills deliverables should all be specified by appropriate Higher Education/Professional authorities based on periodic assessment of industry and market demand updated from time to time. Institutes of manpower planning, industry associations and management institutes could also be brought into this process. At one time, the Planning Commission could have played a nodalizing role, but now that perhaps “planning” itself is a dirty word, maybe the Niti Aayog could conduct studies towards this end. In no other country are the HEIs made responsible for employment opportunities of VocEd students.

5.2 The above statement in NEP2019 is followed by a long to-do list for individual HEIs providing VocEd which includes liaising with ITIs, Polytechnics, Industry etc for skill-training etc, collaborating with National level institutions for VocEd and SCERT for training of VocEd teachers, curriculum preparation for VocEd courses etc. This is an unnecessary and in fact impossible task for individual HEIs which will collapse under this burden and also bring down the entire VocEd edifice. The co-ordination between the Skill Training component and the educational component of VocEd should be handled in a structurally integrated manner involving both MHRD and MSDE (Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship), so that the VocEd courses are planned and implemented in an integrated manner covering both the Educational and Skills components.

5.3 In fact, NEP2019 completely over-burdens HEIs with responsibilities for VocEd including primary responsibility for practical Skills too, proposing that funds be provided to them for acquiring labs and equipment (P.20.1.4). This is again an impossible task and responsibility. This is virtually calling upon HEIs to also act as ITIs with all the additional infrastructure, trainers etc., duplicating similar infraastructure Surely it makes more sense to strengthen both HEIs and Skill training institutions such as ITIs, Polytechnics etc, and working out an Institutional arrangement that would enroll students for VocEd simultaneously placing them at HEIs for the Educational component and Skill Training Institutions for the practical skills component. A District-level body set up and overseen jointly by MHRD and MSDE could handle student applications and enrolment at respective Institutions for both components of VocEd. Integration of VocEd with HEI, and Skills with Education, does not necessarily mean that both have to be done in the same institution! NEP2019 suggests setting up of an inter-ministerial National Committee for Integration of Vocational Education (NCIVE) (see Chapter 20). Although this sounds somewhat like kicking the can down the road, perhaps the proposed NCIVE could work out the necessary details.

5.4 Similarly, NEP2019 also burdens HEI with curriculum preparation, stating that “the respective professional councils and the SSCs [Sector Skill Councils] will set the professional standards for each occupation in conjunction with the National Skill Development Authority (NSDA), based on the National Occupational Standards-Qualification Packs (NOS-QPs). It will be left to the universities and autonomous colleges to develop syllabus and curriculum for these courses (emphasis added) (P.16.1.4).” If each HEI prepares its own syllabus and curriculum for each VocEd course, this would lead to complete chaos. The same applies to the NSQF where NEP2019 requires that “course content and assessment criteria, and appropriate curricular and assessment frameworks will be standardised by academic institutions” (P.20.2.1).

Based on standards set as above, model syllabi, curricula and assessment frameworks should be developed by designated committees/bodies of MHRD and MSDE, leaving some freedom to individual HEIs to slightly modify these within specified limits, not affecting learning outcomes, to suit local employment needs and other conditions.

5.5 Incidentally, NEP2019 calls for close co-ordination between MHRD and MSDE, and all other ministries involved in providing skills training, “given the crucial role that mainstream academic institutions can play in delivering vocational education to millions of young Indians at the earliest” (P.20.1.5). Indeed, NEP2019 offers an excellent opportunity to revisit the very decision to constitute a separate Ministry for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, guiding functions that earlier came under the Ministry of Labour. Both institutional arrangements perpetuate the very same “hard separation between vocational from academic and professional education” that NEP2019 bemoans at the very outset and therefore suggests a framework that integrates VocEd with academic/professional education. It is strongly urged that MSDE be once again brought as a Department under MHRD, whose very terminology of “human resource development” suggests an integrated approach to both skills and academic education.