Time for vocational education: introduce hands-on alternate skills starting with Class XI in school

23 Dec, 2016
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An authored article of Neeti Sharma on Times of India talks about introducing vocational skills at school and college level to enable students to have at least some skill that will help them gain employment.

A large part of our population is young and will in the next few years seek employment. Many of them are at a crossroads today, trying to find answers to what they want to or what they can do in their careers. It is imperative that every individual be equipped with at least a skill such that they can earn their livelihood and contribute within their families. And in order to do that they need to be made aware of all possible options available to them.

Many still believe that vocational education is for students who are not good in academics. However, that is not how it is meant to be. Let’s understand what vocational skills mean. The term vocational actually means learning a skill that is related to work. It’s not just another easier option, rather it should provide practical skills needed for employment. In fact, with the right vocational skill the learner is better equipped for employment in the long run.

Another opinion many people have is that academic learning and vocational learning are mutually exclusive of each other. But they should be seen as complementing each other. For example, it is important for a mechanical engineering student to learn hands on skills such as hydraulics and machine operations to be able to get the right employment.

Over the last few years, departments of school, higher and technical education have introduced short-term vocational skilling programmes, starting with Class 9 and then to Class 11 and so on. Is it effective to introduce a skill, let’s say customer service agent for the retail industry, at Class 9? If not, when should vocational skills be introduced to students? There is no right or wrong answer but it calls for understanding the pros and cons of introducing vocational skilling at different stages.

The premise behind introducing vocational skills at school and college level was to enable students who drop out of school or college to have at least some skill that will help them gain employment. However, introducing vocational skilling too early may not serve the purpose. It would be good to introduce cognitive skills to students as early as Class 7 or 8 – skills that have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, solve problems and pay attention rather than actual knowledge. Also provide them with basic hand skills such as carpentry and cooking which will be useful to them at any given point of time.

In my opinion introducing hands on vocational skills for Class 11 students will be advisable. Encourage learning by providing them credits, upward mobility and linkages with university and industry parallel to their education. This would ensure focus as well as continuous learning of the skill(s).

The learnability of alternate skills at this stage is far higher and thus students will be able to assimilate information more effectively. Also, many of these students would have started thinking about their career and any type of hands on skills provided to them would help them take better decisions. Alternatively, if they choose to discontinue their education post Class 12, they will still possess a skill by way of which they can seek decent wage employment.

It is no secret that the ever increasing competitive world of employment continues to seek people with the right skills and experience; hence there will be a greater need for skilled people across all sectors and job roles.

Vocational education serves as a great alternative for those who want to learn early and cannot afford to invest three or four years to earn a university degree. It offers a wide range of job opportunities and doesn’t cost much compared to the tremendous amount of money a conventional degree requires. And hence a much thought out vocational training policy should be evolved.

Vocational education should form an important component of our education system across universities and technical institutes. Education policies should view this in totality – develop a path for vocational skilling right from school till college. As the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.”

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This article was published in Times of India: https://goo.gl/r5VahM

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