During a discussion with teachers and students at Birla House in Delhi on December 10, 1947, Gandhiji said “only through imparting education through crafts can India stand before the world'’. Taking the Gandhian principle ahead, successive governments in India have concentrated on education as a tool to develop human resource of the country. While the initial focus was on literacy and enrolment, gradually the target shifted to quality education and imparting skills to prepare for future challenges. The UPA government had started the Honhaar Bharat programme and launched the National Skill Development Mission in 2010 with the objective of skilling 50 crore people by 2022. The NDA government, after it came to power in May, 2014, retooled the UPA policies on skill development and has set the target of skilling 40.2 crore workers by 2022. Therefore, the call for Skill India is not an innovation, but continuation of the education and human resource policies followed by the successive governments since independence.
But are we equipped to achieve this target?
UN reports suggest that India is on course to be the world’s most populous nation by 2022. By 2022, India, with 60 crore working age population, would have the world’s largest workforce. UN estimates further suggest that India will have an additional 30 crore people in the working age group (15-64 years) between 2010 and 2040. Yet, India’s workforce is among the least skilled – only 3.5 per cent of country’s workforce possess some or the other skills. The skill development minister himself had candidly admitted in January this year that the 2022 target is almost impossible to achieve.
Who are the agents that will make it happen and are they equipped to do so? For example, the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) are not equipped, in terms of resource, infrastructure and manpower, to meet the requirements of the industry and market. We need to upgrade the ITIs and polytechnics to fill the skill gaps in the long run, but for the present the industry will have to help itself primarily by way of apprenticeship.
Secondly, skills without education will not build a quality human resource base. In our country, 50 per cent of the kids lack skills for the grades they are in. Teachers are not trained to impart skills to students. Students are being schooled against innovation, for the teachers themselves are not trained. Therefore, quality education is a must, to provide a strong platform to the youth. Primary education should be strengthened. Right to Education and Sarva Sikhya Abhiyan were the right steps in this regard and they should be provided impetus with large budgetary allocations and proper monitoring without diluting their basic objectives.
Nature magazine in its May, 2015 report states that India lags behind Kenya in research, with only four researchers per 10,000 working population. In this background, higher education institutions facing resource crunch following cut in social sector spending by the NDA government is not a good omen. We need to increase the centres of quality education without diluting their core brand value.
Will a better skill-set ensure jobs? The possible answer is no. Surveys have found that joblessness is also high among the skilled workers. More than 20 per cent of young Indians are jobless. Rise in India’s GDP has not resulted in a proportional rise in job creation. Employment generation has been led by the informal segment. If faster growth is unable to generate sufficient employment, then recovery will not be inclusive. According to the latest Labour Bureau survey, among those who got formal training, the unemployment rate was high at 14.5 per cent. Therefore, unless new jobs are created, particularly in the manufacturing sector, imparting skills to millions is not going to solve the problem.
Skill development is important not only to reap the benefits of India’s demographic dividend, but also to fuel inclusive growth. For that we need to have policy consistencies. We need to avoid disputes such as the one whether FIIs are subject to MAT or not. Secondly, there should not be a disconnect between the skill development programmes and employment policies of the government.
The intended legislation of the government to dilute the brand value of IIMs and implementation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) module of education are not going to help either the youth of India nor positioning of our country in the global platform of education and skills. Indian education institutions should not be further alienated from their global partners. Rather, they have to engage with the rest of the world. They have to collaborate, partner and learn what is appropriate for our country.
Universalism and not exclusivity should guide our education policies. The government is planning to make skill training a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, but according to the plan proposal, states will be the implementing agencies. Before going ahead with the proposal, the government should seriously consider the position of the states in terms of available infrastructure and financial viability, for implementation of the scheme. Unlessthere is a sustainable source of funding, implementation would be practically impossible.
A lot needs to be done if India is to reap the benefits of demographic dividend. India’s demographic dividend could turn into a nightmare if its youth are not employable and provided with suitable employment opportunities.