Opinion: Poonam Munjal and Asrar Alam
Policies to encourage vocational education among youth, including NEP-2020, can gradually, effectively and schematically address the limitations in implementing them.
The emphasis on inculcating vocational education among students at school level has been there since more than three decades when India’s second National Policy of Education was put into effect in 1986.
The NPE-1986 stated that ‘The introduction of a systematic, well-planned and rigorously implemented program of vocational education is crucial in the proposed educational re-organization. Vocational education will be a distinct stream intended to prepare students for identified vocations spanning several areas of activity.’ This policy set the target of covering 10 percent higher secondary students (+2 level) under vocational courses by 1990 and 25 percent by 1995.
To achieve this target, a centrally sponsored scheme of ‘Vocationalisation of Higher Secondary Education’ was launched in 1988. This scheme was later revised in 1992-93, to align with the Framework for Vocational Education and Training in India developed by the MHRD, 2007. This framework integrates general academic education, vocational education, vocational training, and higher education as a comprehensive system under the Indian Qualifications Framework (IQF).
The policy aimed to give greater emphasis on the development of employability skills, in addition to technical skills. In 2014, the scheme ‘Vocationalisation of Higher Secondary Education’ was revised to ‘Vocationalisation of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education’ after it was subsumed under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan scheme with effect from the 1st of April, 2013.
These objectives of incorporating skilling in the school curriculum and make Indian youth self-reliant and employable were further strengthened and streamlined with the announcement of National Education Policy-2020 with an agenda to integrate vocational education programs into mainstream education in all educational institutions in a phased manner.
The purpose is to smoothly integrate quality vocational education into higher education. The policy aims to ensure that every child learns at least one vocational course and is exposed to several more.
The ground reality, however, shows that while the policies, to great extent, have popularised the vocational education in schools but a lot needs to be done, particularly in dealing with the specific roadblocks in the way of implementation of vocational education in schools.
As per U-DISE (Unified District Information System for Education Plus) data for 2019-20, compiled by the Ministry of Education, a tad less than 2 percent of the students enrolled in secondary or higher secondary level of education are vocationally trained under NSQF (National Skills Qualifications Framework). The Periodic Labour Force Surveys, conducted by National Sample Survey Office, paint the similar picture.
An ongoing study undertaken by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) attempts to explore the reasons behind such low participation of students in vocational education through school level data provided by the CBSE, and data collected through an online survey conducted at both school and student level.
According to the data provided by CBSE, of the total over 26000 CBSE schools, only about 12000 offer vocational courses. And of these, as many as 81.6 percent offer only one course for class 9 and 83.1 percent do so for class 10.
Another over 10 percent offer 2 courses in these classes. This indicates that there are hardly any choices available for students, as a result of which they pick whatever course is available. For classes 11 and 12 also, a majority of schools offer 1 to 3 number of courses.
All this is despite the fact that CBSE provides a list of 11 courses for middle level (Classes 6 to 8); 18 for secondary-level (classes 9 and 10); and 39 for senior secondary level (classes 11 and 12) to all the schools.
In most cases, the only course offered in schools for secondary level students is IT, which requires minimal infrastructure – a computer, a one-room lab and a trainer can suffice. The data reveals that about 85 percent of the secondary-level students are enrolled in IT course.
Introduction of multiple vocational courses in schools requires specialised trainers; essential infrastructure; and other resources. Inability to obtain any of them can be one of the possible reasons for the schools not introducing multiple courses.
The NCAER School Survey, covering about 2000 schools from all over India, validates this. A majority of schools which do no not offer any vocational course to students reported the unavailability of good trainer as one of the major reasons. About 26.3 percent, 33.2 percent and 23.6 percent schools at middle, secondary and senior secondary level respectively reported this as the biggest reason.
If not offering currently, the survey further finds out whether the school administration intends to start the vocational courses in near future, about which 36.4 percent of the schools were unsure and another 20.0 percent had no plan. However, 26.8 percent reported that they plan to start it by the next academic session, and 16.8 percent plan to start within the next two years.
Meanwhile, about 46,000 students responded to NCEAR Student Survey and 32.4 percent of those who are not enrolled in any vocational courses reported that the course of their preference is not offered in their respective schools.
A larger proportion, 34.9 percent, think that enrolling for a vocational course will result in their regular studies getting disturbed and another 28.4 percent think that it will require extra time after school. This suggests that students are not well aware of the benefits and relevance of vocational education – the school survey reveals that about 60 percent of the schools either do not conduct or conduct occasionally the awareness sessions on vocational courses.
Nonetheless, in the recent years, CBSE has undertaken a number of measures to support skill education in schools, including awareness workshops, capacity building programmes, and sessions by industry experts on careers, etc. However, given the current circumstances, more extensive motivational campaigns are needed to educate parents and prospective students about the career prospects of VET in many disciplines.
Dr. Poonam Munjal is Senior Fellow and Mr. Asrar Alam is Senior Research Analyst at National Council of Applied Economic Research. Views are personal.