21st century challenge

World Youth Skills Day

By Dr. S Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

Celebrating the World Youth Skills Day, we cannot but feel ashamed that on the “Skilling Index” of the World Economic Forum, India stood at rank 65 out of 130 countries hardly a year ago. The country that can be proud of its many achievements through skills of a few, however, lags behind when its overall status is evaluated.
The index pertains to development of human capital by teaching, learning, and training. It is made across four sub-indexes – capacity, deployment, development, and know-how.
India Skill Report confirms the backwardness of the country by its finding that only 47 per cent of students coming out of educational institutions are employable. The disconnect between education and skills is alarming.
Skills, like knowledge and education, have the power to change lives. Through the capacity of skills, individuals, communities, countries, and the whole world are propelled towards a more prosperous future. Long-term success of nations in economic progress depends to a large extent on how they develop their human capital. Realisation of this secret of success underlies skill development missions spreading in all countries. Skill development enables youth to make a smooth migration from educational institutions to the world of work. Where it is part of education, it makes the transition easier and provides continuity for life-long learning.
In the pursuit after what is known as “21st Century Skills”, young people today are seeking skills along with and through knowledge. Educational institutions are asked to prepare students with such skills as “problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management”, which are needed for any work.
UN General Assembly, accepting a resolution sponsored by Sri Lanka and supported by G-77 and China to highlight the importance of skill development for youth, declared 15th July as World Youth Skills Day (WYSD) in 2014. The goal was “to achieve better social-economic conditions for youth including as a means of addressing the challenges of employment and unemployment”.
WYSD was declared with a view to generating awareness of the importance of technical and vocational education, training and development of skills relevant for promotion of local and global economies, and to address problems of unemployment and underemployment confronting young people everywhere.
The Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved in 2015-30 include two goals specifically on education and skills for employment. Goal 4 is “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. One of its targets is to increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills including technical and vocational skills for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship. Goal 8 is “to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.
The age-group 15-59 years, technically regarded as workforce, comprises about 62 per cent of India’s population. Child labour (5 to 14 years) and adolescent labour (14 to 18 years) are still going on despite prohibitory legislations. The workforce needs skill development for personal and the country’s development.
To take full advantage of its demographic dividends in terms of large working age population, our country has to build up the skills of its young workforce. Shift from predominantly manual work to thinking and mental work is taking place and it requires new skills and capabilities. Skill deficit in India is indeed too high to help realise the ambition of “make India” and the government has set a target of creating a skilled workforce of 500 million by 2022. A Minister of State with independent charge was also appointed in 2014 for Skill Development.
Skill India campaign was launched by the PM in 2015, which aims to train over 40 crore people in different skills by 2022. Two major schemes have been launched to persuade youth to acquire job-oriented skills – Deen Dayal Updhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana, and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. Structures and incentives to enable skilling in new age techniques across various sectors are created.
In the present Modi-II government, skill is treated as part of education and a single Ministry of Education and Skill Development has been created. The demands for “change and creativity” are growing day by day, which in turn demands changes in the educational system.
Skill is essentially about practical training and comes when knowledge is put in use. It improves by practice. Even creativity, believed to be a gift, can be learnt and nurtured by efforts to apply knowledge and skills in new ways to new situations and to reach new goals. It requires proper mindset which can be imbibed through education and upbringing. Skills acquired through heredity may play a role in individual cases.
Young people today have a larger responsibility in four traits — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity — collectively called VCCA. Major changes in the educational system and teaching methods must go on to cope with new demands and challenges.
Skills in olden days were associated with manual work and handicrafts. That mental and intellectual work and even politics also require appropriate skills that can be taught and learnt is a late realisation. Technical innovations, organisational changes, and globalisation have hastened the process of transformation from manual to mechanical and mental skills. They have intensified the demands for skills education.
Bridging the gap between education and skill development has started very late in India. There has been an inherent void between the two ever since curriculum-based and examination-oriented school and college education was established.
Classroom teaching has not much scope for skill training as long as the focus still remains largely on what we should know, remember, and reproduce. How we should use knowledge has now become the concern of education.
Under the scheme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the legislation on Right to Education, enrolment in schools has remarkably increased, but it has not helped enhancement of skills. Nor is it the direct object of these schemes to instill skills. When the boundaries between learning and work are vanishing, the education system should change.
It is, therefore, necessary for us to get over our inertia to make changes in the education system to include skills training. This should be in addition to basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, language, and knowledge of core subjects, presently taught in schools and which form the base for any knowledge and even skills. Teaching methods have to change keeping in view the world of work awaiting the students.
At the same time, work places, to remain relevant and useful, have to keep pace with the changes taking place. This involves continuing education and upgrading skills. Indeed, like knowledge, skills are unlimited. It is doubtless easy to write, lecture, and comment on this matter. But, we have to handle a sizeable proportion of population still out of school. This must end.
To move with changing times and adapt ourselves to new needs, we have to resist the common tendency to stick to the line of least resistance, which will leave us in the rank we are at present in the Skill Index.—(INFA)