In many ways, 2021 has made us think, reflect and act differently when it comes to designing, implementing and evaluating skill-based courses. The agenda for skilling saw innovative adoption of technology, in the midst of inordinate and demanding impositions from COVID-19.
The fledgling skill development ecosystem in India was also tested for its sturdiness to withstand the vagaries of pandemic-induced adjustments that were absolutely necessary to demonstrate empathy and incredible willingness to overcome many impediments.
Cheers to the invincible courage and unfazed energy and enthusiasm of all the stakeholders for navigating through the arduous journey!
The battle against COVID-19 is far from over as we step into the new year with restrictions and brace ourselves as it transforms into an epidemic. Can business be as usual when normal life is under constant threat and uncertainty? How will it impact students? How will it impact the training centres?
While we are trying to accept the reality and calibrate our efforts, there are a few important developments during the past year that have set new trends in the way we conduct skill development programs.
1. MSDE and ME synergy and district level focus (Vocationalisation of education)
The landmark decision in 2021 was the coming together of the Ministry of Education (ME) and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). In the coming years, this could transform the way we perceive and practice vocational training programs in India. Something that was long due when these two Ministries work closer, the synergies will definitely disrupt the vocationalisation of education in India both at the macro and micro levels.
We also saw several events, webinars, virtual conferences and discussions on implementing National Education Policy 2020 which perhaps is paving the way for options to align work-integrated learning with conventional education and to reimagine and rethink the short-term training courses like PMKVY and DDUGKY.
While we talk about district-level skill focus, it is imperative to mention the Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) program. MGNF Phase 2 was rolled out across the country in collaboration with IIMs in an attempt to create change at the ground level for a district-based and decentralized system in India. In the second phase, the program was launched for 661 Fellows in nine IIMs.
2. Blended learning and hybrid forms of training (From impetus to implementation)
From expressing basic doubts about the feasibility of vocational training through virtual or e-learning mode to finding ways to come up with innovative approaches to blend physical and digital, the year saw optimism and confidence in going digital.
With the most unexpected impetus to Edtech, digitisation and technology are changing the way we deliver training programs through hybrid models and we accepted it as something that’s going to stay and expand the reach.
The outbreak of COVID-19 necessitated technology adoption in delivering training with many training centres and training institutions investing in blended forms of learning. This continued to take root and become a part of the strategy to provide access anytime, anywhere. In the coming years, this could be the way to offer vocational training programs.
Undoubtedly, it helped in scaling the programs but it also raises issues about the quality of delivery and access to students who are not equipped with proper devices to learn and also the dependence on connectivity, especially in rural areas. It raises important issues pertaining to the readiness of trainers and teachers to teach in this fashion and their comfort in using technology. There is a need for training programs to equip the trainers and teachers with the right skills and knowledge to make efficient use of online resources.
3. Digital technology adoption and digital skills (Towards effective administration and process efficiency)
Dependence on technology in every aspect of our life has been the defining moment of 2021. This was equally prominent in the labour market. There has also been an incredible increase in the jobs that need digital skills both for individuals and organisations.
The launch of Nasscom Future Skills Prime to offer access to training in the latest technology skills could be seen as a start of mandatory knowledge and technical competence.
The trend towards attracting students to the most in-demand tech skills and preparing them for jobs that don’t need an engineering degree has gathered considerable momentum.
When it comes to enablers of the skilling ecosystem, adopting technology and using digital platforms are also commonly seen among the Sector Skill Council (SSCs) for effective administration and process efficiency In the training of trainers and certification.
Work from home is a luxury for few in India. But with the huge informal sector, more than 80% of the workforce had to get back to work. They had to adapt to COVID protocols for health and hygiene reasons. This needed upskilling along with imbibing several life skills such as empathy, positive thinking, and a growth mindset for better productivity and customer satisfaction.
4. Industry-integrated higher education (Shift from supply-side to industry demand)
A few years ago when one browsed for B.Voc courses, we could hardly find any search results. But today, Google shows up hundreds of pages with details about various colleges and universities offering B.Voc courses in several disciplines.
Are we in for flexible models of higher education that are much needed in India and highly advocated by National Education Policy 2020? With multiple entry, exit and options to work while learning and opportunities to take up an apprenticeship, there is a need to consciously break the traditional mindset and expectations from a typical degree program that hardly leads to employment.
Along with it, the setting up of skill universities in various states marks a decisive phenomenon that perhaps will gradually transform the image of vocational courses in India. That said, the question remains how much of industry engagement and active participation is needed and how is it to execute ideas for innovative ways of academic-industry collaboration for work-oriented learning in the most impactful ways.
The picking up of work-integrated learning definitely saw a study start in 2021. But how these courses are going to attract students, retain them, convince the parents and bring the much-needed industry involvement is something that needs to be seen as we go along.
5. Transforming Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) – (Re-imagining and rebranding of ITIs)
Is the popularity of ITI courses on the wane? How do we make youth understand the importance of employability through these courses and tell them that it is not just for dropouts or for those who are socioeconomically challenged? The challenge thrown by COVID-19 at these institutions was not easy to handle but we did hear about many ITIs adopting technology to continue their courses and ensure that there is no loss of the academic year for the students.
Corporate investment in improving and modernising industrial training made headlines very often and one could see that the need to improve long-term technical training and vocational education was definitely on the radar for the industry.
With proposed investments from the industry in ITIs in various states, 2021 also witnessed other initiatives in branding and enhancing the image of ITI in society. The MSDE is also looking at setting up a committee to look into issues of rebranding ITIs and making the courses aspirational for the youth in India.
For the skilling and education sector, if the year 2020 was all about coming to terms with COVID-19, the year 2021 was definitely about living with it and coping with the challenges. However, in the year 2022, with the learning we’ve acquired over the last two years, we should be able to leverage technology and explore newer possibilities and innovations in implementing skill-based learning.
Let us look forward to better coordination and understanding between the stakeholders and consolidated efforts to make skill-based education aspirational, youth employable and self-reliant and full-fledged implementation of NEP 2020.