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From ‘Hands-on’ to ‘Minds-on’ education

Traditionally, vocational education has often been considered as a poor cousin of conventional academics. However, when we begin with the end in mind and ponder over the real purpose of education, increasingly we find the reality to be otherwise. We need to ask ourselves the basic question whether education is only to gain knowledge for namesake it or is it to adopt a set of skills and competencies for pursuing a career of choice and earn a decent livelihood? In fact, the focus of policy makers promoting vocational education today is based on the conviction that this is very essential for the overall development of a student.

Surprisingly, the debate over vocational versus academic education has been raging across the world and is not restricted to under-developed economies alone. A recent higher education event in the U.S concluded with wide- scale agreement amongst academia, business and government that students graduating from the US education system are not fit for the world of work.

The challenge, therefore, is to vocationalise mainstream education and transform it from ‘hands-on’ education to ‘Minds-on’ education. The key issue is to look at how we position vocational education; whether it is in the developed countries like UK, U.S or Sweden or in developing nations like India, vocational education is usually considered something for those who did not make it; these are children of a lesser God.

In this day and age it extremely important to shed this regressive thought. One way to overcome this is to establish the cause and effect linkages of vocational education with employment. The youth today is ready to learn new skills and step into new professions that demand practical skills and are looking out for vocational education which can directly lead them to jobs.

According to ‘Reports and Reviews on Vocational Education and Training’, different countries have explored ways and means of adding value to vocational education. Sweden, for example, has forged partnership between training providers and employers. On the other hand, countries like Tunisia, in North Africa, have been fairly successful in developing this linkage with industry majors. In China, there is greater emphasis on ‘institutional leadership’ with teachers (or the vocational educators) themselves getting interned with industry leaders. In India, too, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has been actively engaged in promoting vocational education and skill development at different levels.

With an aim to mainstream skills into higher education and facilitating vertical mobility for students aspiring to pursue a degree program through 6 -24 months duration programs, Wadhwani Foundations Skill development Network (SDN) has worked closely with Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), drafting a community college scheme with MHRD/UGC and hosting committee of state education ministers to U.S Community Colleges for establishing Community Colleges. This led to a MHRD funded pilot of 200 Community Colleges. In addition UGC has funded 103 Community Colleges and 127 Colleges for B.Voc.

But there’s still a long way to go. Vocational education needs healthy public-private partnership which can add quality and value at every stage of the syllabi roll-out. Youth needs a healthy dose of confidence and self-esteem as they step out into a more demanding labour market. State and National board curriculum must be modified to formally account for vocational subjects that inculcate ‘doing’ in addition to ‘knowing’. The existing national schemes for apprenticeship and training can be revisited and overhauled in the light of best-practices. These can prove to be game changers as India strives to become a more industrialized economy, with a greater thrust on vocational education and training.

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