Why is no one even talking about Skill India today? This is in sharp contrast to the initial euphoria and ‘josh’ exhibited in 2015 when the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was launched. Is India’s skill challenge over?
No doubt, a stagnating economy, further bludgeoned by Covid-19 did not help, but the unidimensional manner in which we went about implementing vocational education ensured its plebeian outcomes. From the start, the Union government was bitten by the target bug. It is partly understandable because it was confronted with a huge task of training and providing jobs to 12 million people annually who join the Indian workforce. In this race to catch up with the ever-mounting target, the Union government perhaps overlooked the finer points of the Skills Policy and National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF).
The most important point that the policy states is that skilling is to be seen as a part and parcel of education and not a separate entity. They are like the Siamese twins, artificially separating them would be disastrous for both. Secondly, its success depends upon the collaborative working of as many as 18 ministries involved in skilling apart from the state governments, school boards, universities, and 37 Sector Skill Councils like construction, retailing, hospitality, automobile etc. Earlier, the Ministry of Labour and Employment broadly fulfilled this role, which has now been passed on to its new avatar — the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE).
The role of education
The NSQF, which was approved by the Union government more than a decade ago in 2013, lays down the manner in which general education, vocational education, and work would interface across the country. It starts by streamlining the students into general or vocational education according to their capacity in class IX in schools as it is done in all countries with successful Technical and Vocational Education and Training programmes like in Norway, Finland, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, or even China. Unlike the skill certifications and diplomas granted by the MSDE, which are standalone, under the NSQF, a person can constantly upgrade their skills and get certification that is uniform and valid throughout the country. It seamlessly provides the much-needed pathway between education, skills, and the job market. Subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and science provide students with the basics of education. By making the system a part-and-parcel of general education, it de-stigmatises vocational education as well. Lastly, the NSQF lays a strong emphasis on recognition of prior learning, which gives school dropouts a second chance.
The Ministry of Education and its bodies like CBSE, State Boards, University Grants Commission (UGC), and the universities, made no serious effort in understanding the NSQF leave alone adopting the framework into their curriculum and moulding new courseware accordingly. Unfortunately, apart from several workshops conducted by the All India Council for Technical Education from 2010 to 2014 involving state governments, universities and colleges, nothing tangible was done by the others. The UGC, on its part, did not go beyond promoting BVoc, which is a low-hanging fruit as it caters mostly to students from the education stream. Many universities implemented the NSQF under BVoc as they understood and eventually gave up for want of proper guidelines.
Perhaps this tepid response led the MSDE to notify the NCVET (National Council for Vocational Education and Training) in December 2018 as the overarching regulatory body for skilling and subsuming bodies like the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) and National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT). This also unfortunately signaled the gradual severance of ties with education. The focus now remains mainly on Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY). After six years of implementation, the PMKVY dashboard says that it has trained 132 million candidates out of which 105 million were certified. The initial target of training 400 million by 2022 still remains a dream. Besides, those trained are mostly of the lowest levels, that is, 1 to 4. It states a placement performance of 54 per cent, which could be mostly in the unorganised sector.
Rebooting Skill India programme
To reboot Skill India, the government needs to take two steps soon. First, it needs to set up a National Skills University (NSU) under MSDE/NCVET, on the lines of Indira Gandhi National Open University with pan-India jurisdiction. This would ensure skilling and education remain together, which is a key recommendation of National Skill Policy 2015. The country does not have the luxury of waiting for the school boards and universities to wake up and start implementing the NSQF. We have a small window of only 20 years to reap the demographic dividend. IGNOU’s story of making India a world leader in distance education in a very short time in the 1980s should act as an inspiration. The NSU can affiliate with all Skill Centres through the provision of its Act and set standards for them. Functioning under the umbrella of NCVET, it can work closely with the Sector Skills Councils (read industry partners) to develop teaching pedagogies, learning methodologies, evaluation systems, conduct “Training the Trainers programmes”, and develop accreditation models.
Second, skilling is too serious a matter to be left to the ministries, which sometimes can be rigid. In order to jumpstart Skill India, the PMO needs to do a Gati Shakti on the Skill India, like it is doing for infrastructure development, bringing 16 ministries together primarily with a view to “break down silos”. Incidentally, PM Modi also happens to be the Chairperson of the National Council for Skill Development. His intervention will be crucial not only for securing the much-needed funds on a large scale for upgrading infrastructure in schools for vocational education but also in bringing about the essential synergy amongst the various organs of the Modi government. This model then needs to be replicated in different states as well where the chief minister/chief secretary could play a critical role in generating synergies between the departments, skills, and education, which alone can heal Skill India in the long run.
Ashok Thakur is the former Education Secretary, Government of India.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)