By Ananya S Guha
We are all talking about skills initiatives today in the rapidly changing contexts of education. We have suddenly realized that our tailor made educational systems do not suit conventional aptitudes, and predilections of every one. The Government has constituted a Committee for it and is asking the State Governments to follow suit. One is not sure what the state governments are doing in this regard.The HRD Minister has said clearly that we have unravelled the bitter truth that we are placing the proverbial cart before the horse in traditional education systems. We are gearing courses for students, which we think are necessary, and not what is required for them. In other words when students are armed with degrees, they are not sure where to go, because the market is not commensurate with the degrees received. This is perhaps the truth, but is a bitter pill to swallow. So talk of skills, skills and skills. And what are these skills? They could be anything from language expression, to hewing stones! Please don’t get me wrong, this not a diatribe against our educational system, but the Government is clearly saying that there are not enough colleges for taking admission, to students, the teacher student ratio is absurdly and preponderantly high. Yes, this is realistic. What are alternatives, more colleges, but the Government cannot open all of them, so we will have to rely heavily on private institutions, which will on most accounts charge high, and even capitation fees.
The next option is open institutions which impart vocational training, and that much cliched word: “Skills”. So here also there will be private intervention, with the brides maid and groom being the Public Private Partnership(PPP). Fair enough and these private institutions could be any one from corporate houses to any private undertaking. So, education may go to people who do hot have any teaching experience, but the euphemism here is ‘training’. Again there is Corporate Social Responsibility, and multi nationals can throw in their weight and actually contribute to education, skills and so on.
So the Government is now in full throated view of vocational education, short term training, and skills development. Then there is need bias, we have to go by the employability of the market. Again fair enough, we identify these skills, and obviate them by starting something like Life Skills, which many private players are encashing on.
What the private players are not thinking of are the target groups, which have been clearly underlined in the National Skills Mission Report, Ministry Of Labour (2008). These are of immense significance and could be the right prophylactic for our educational system. These are: educated unemployed, uneducated unemployed, domestic workers, street children, women, people in interior areas, the differently abled etc. These target groups have a great import and are of oracular significance because they are attempts to take education to the downtrodden, the remote, the severely disadvantaged and the poor. Another important feature of the National Skills Mission Report is establishment of Career Guidance Cells which I think is very central as an extension of vocational education, to explore more opportunities.
Recently I went to a small school which is being funded by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). This school is meant for children in slum areas to give them some taste of the classroom through vocational training and finally prepare them for the conventional classroom situation. Our institute of IGNOU in Shillong has been targeting street children for the last six months. The final round of two months targeted children of migrant labourers from different states of the country, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe children also constituted part of this group. The children who to begin with, were uneasy and restless at the end of two months completion could produce things like greeting cards, paintings, handicrafts etc. They were also given access to computers to fiddle around with and learn by doing. These children live in wretched conditions, in slums and in very unhygienic surroundings. However, some para education seems to be in the betterment for them and they look more confident and relaxed now. In these six months of vocational training for street children which included inculcating habits such as cleanliness there has been a drastic change in the behaviour and confidence of such children. Many of their backgrounds reveal victims obviously not only of poverty but crimes such as sexual abuse. If we are seriously thinking about the Right To Education and Child’s Rights then we must radicalize our very notions of educational jargon and
The central question of education in disadvantaged contexts is education for whom and by whom. If corporate houses take the roles of social responsibility in an unmitigated manner then undoubtedly out of all this chaos some good will emerge, but dissembling as educators with pseudo moral worth is something that we not only have to be vary of but actually demolish. It is saddening to see children pick the garbage when they should be in schools and enjoying the vivacity of the classroom. And also, unless and until we make education a contiguous and linear process, without the narrow walls of fragmentation, compartmentalization we will not be able to have a perceptual understanding of this word. And we will continue to forever miss the wood for the trees!