Volunteering and Skills Education

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By Ananya S Guha

Volunteering can be `defined` in many ways as far as theoretical jargon goes, or if we have to go by abstruse word play. To me, it is simple. Any gesture of rendering positive and genuine help, without any profit motive, and with a degree of altruism is volunteering.

A person volunteers to donate blood, to an ailing person, who he knows or does not know is rendering service not only to that person, but to the person`s family and by larger implications, to society. Volunteering is prompted by the inner being to help, devoid of recognition, and guided by a disinterested pursuit of recognition, honour or fame. It can be both organized and unorganized.

A person could volunteer as part of an organization or club, or purely at the individual level. Education, is something which should be engendered by the spirit of volunteering, reaching out to poorer students, weak students, the differently abled, students with personal and familial problems, students who are economically and geographically marginalized etc. In fact like the medical profession, education is the spirit of volunteerism, where the self is selfless. This becomes especially true if we are educators for drop outs, economically weak students, students without much formal education, `failed` students, street children, domestic workers, people engaged in technical skills in the unorganized sector to eke out a living etc.

With the kind of emphasis given on vocational education, which strips education of all bias, subverts the degree mania, makes it more egalitarian, and above all takes it to the masses; the spirit of volunteering should not only be evident, but should be consciously infused in this type of para education, literacy and linking skills to work. This emphasis on vocational education and skills by the Government of India, is very good augury, because it links skills and vocation, directly with work, and earning; it also demolishes the myth of acquiring degrees by any means, only to discover woefully, the mismatch of education, and requirements of industry.

If one volunteers for promoting education, and helping disadvantaged people to be equipped with knowledge which is practical and hands on, then we are training people to be self reliant, so that even if direct employment is elusive, self employment is a very viable recourse. For this, the educator or the volunteer has to think about, and be sensitive to different levels of target groups existing at the same time from street children to the professional wanting further up gradation.

Volunteering is `motivated` by the spirit of selfless help, and so is education, if we have to stem the rot of massive unemployment, disability, non inclusive education, illiteracy, and rampant drop outs who pose a threat to the fabric and well being of societies. The true educator is a person with missionary zeal, where the profession as such takes a back seat, and the zeal to help gains primacy, undiluted by and going beyond, temptations of coffers or recognition.

A significant bulwark of vocational education and training is related to Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET). This is related to the greening of the economy, sustainability and environmental matters. Sustainable development also refers to three types of development, namely, social, environmental and economic. This brings us to the question of social responsibility. Greening of TVET is related to agriculture and a green economy. Agricultural related vocational education & training are a composite part of the greening of the environment. The IGNOU Institute for Vocational Education & Training, Shillong has made forays into TVET by introducing training programmes on low cost bamboo housing, welding etc. It has also introduced a discussion forum on agriculture and horticulture, which can be accessed through its website: www.iivetshillong.org. One can enter the discussion forum through the website and then register and take part in agriculture and horticulture related issues such as cropping, and post harvesting problems.

The greening of TVET is closely associated with economy, societal concerns, community concerns and social responsibility. Social responsibility in this context is both individual and collective, and is community based. For this one needs the right kind of trainers as well as to integrate this aspect into the curriculum of vocational education and training in schools and colleges, as well as for the welfare of the general public and the community. TVET and its greening will be community centric.

There is a lot of talk about skills and skills development. The publication on the National Skills Mission Report (Dept. of Labour Govt. of India) 2008 clearly indicates that skills are related to a notional thinking that it is labour intensive and technical.

It is said that the construction industry in the country requires 500 million workers in the next two decades or so. I am struck by a certain thought. If the population of the country is accumulating at phenomenal rates, then why are we saying that there is acute shortage in this sector? On the one hand we talk of the overweening population, and on the other we complain of an inveterate lack of man power. Then there is the contention that there is mismatch of skills and the kind of education we provide. Then again there is the much bandied ‘unorganized sector’.

What attempts are being made to make these sectors organized by modernization and valure addition of techniques? If 500 million of workers are required for the construction industry, then this sector cannot be organized? Similarly is the case with masonry, carpentry and welding.

There is a huge demand of welders in fabrication units especially in South India. How can modern techniques of welding replace dated machines? Companies like Ador Fontech are contributing to this and can do more by Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. The Indian Welding Society New Delhi consisting of industrialists and academics including IIT Professors are attempting to train welders in Institutes so as to update infrastructure and create more employable manpower and employability. They have associated with Welding Research Institute (WRI) Tiruchirapalli and established chapters in different zones of the country such as North East India, in association with IIT Guwahati, IGNOU Institute For Vocational Education & Training (IIVET), Shillong and Don Bosco Technical School Shillong.

A second question arises regarding the concept of skills. Is it only related to technical skills, vocaitonal in nature? I fail to understand terminologies such as ‘soft skills’. Then this implies that there are ‘hard’ skills as well. Skills are inherent and aesthetic; skills cannot exclude this purview as well. A child talented in music, theatre, writing and painting is endowed with skills. Any National Policy on Skills Development cannot preclude school education. The problem is that all these years vocational education was lowly placed; because we made education class based and hierachical.

This calls for subversion of hierarchy in our very educational systems. If Communication Skills are considered to be ‘soft skills’ (for whatever reason) we forget that communication is very important in any profession or vocation. Regional mapping of need based skills must be done on a war footing by institutions such as CII, NSDC, Chamber of Commerce, National Skills Mission, IGNOU, NIOS etc. A concerted policy must be adopted state wise so that skills initiatives are a mission of each state government. The Meghalaya Government has recently initiated Skills Mission objectives in the areas of Computer Hardware & Networking, BPO industry, Construction, Animation, Oracle Software, Life Skills etc. Training has begun in batches for selected trainees.

If we are to identify skills development with Vocational Education & Training then the latter has to have larger bases, and view perspectives of VET in multiple ways. Arts and aesthetics, performance and visual must be brought under the gamut.

This leads us to the question of artisanship in pottery, handicrafts, weaving and tailoring. Artisanship is aesthetic in intent but it leads to livelihoods.

The National Small Industries Corporation has a range of skills initiatives including leather technology, food processing and fashion designing where the elements of modernized equipments have been introduced. In trying to promote in indigenity we may have to complement this with the use of modernized techniques and equipments.

Skills development and vocational training are of cardinal importance for employment and self employment. What is needed is not so much vocational education as a subject or discipline; but a massive vocationalization of education, where the emphasis will be on practical work and what is called hands on training which includes the connotation of ‘performance’. Short term training programmes ranging from 2 – 6 months can be very handy in this context.

In this manner a workforce to sustain knowledge based economy; a creative work force will be formulated and shaped. This will be a silent revolution in educational history.

Thankfully changes have been taking place, in our notions of education and the degree obsession is being gradually attenuated. This is a good sign for a major revolution to usher in, in the dynamics of education; job and industry oriented.

But target groups as enunciated by the National Skills Mission are of great significance. What do we mean by drop outs? Over the years this expression has attained pejorative connotations. But the fact is that this is a large segment of our population which needs endearing and empathetic consideration when it comes to vocational education / skills: people, the youth who may have missed out on formal education for reasons beyond their control. The question of one – time failure has to be addressed and not consigned to reprobation.

Target groups such as street children, domestic workers and the differently abled must be considered for skills initiatives. In fact the large chunk of the so-called ‘drop outs’ are in the age of 18 – 35 years.

Recently, I had been invited to a certificate distribution on vocational education and skills on Desktop Publishing organized by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan and supported by the Meghalaya Government. Forty youth from all districts of the state received certificates of completion after one month training mentored by the Don Bosco Technical School, Shillong. Even short term training programmes such as this or say on Tour Travel and Operations can help in skills development and create a workforce. But to generate such training programmes which in turn can lead to some kind of sustainable livelihood is a mission transcending the borders of mere classroom teaching.

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