Re-engineering Skill Development in India

The number of skilled people in India has been pegged to as low as 2.6 percent as compared to the 97 percent in South Korea. While we may not agree with the 2.6 percent as the correct number and it surely does not include those who are informally trained, the concern that India is woefully behind in skill development is loud and clear. India is expected to have 64.8% youth by 2026 in stark contrast to most other nations comprised of aged populations of similar or greater proportions. The opportunity that India has of supplying youth to the world has been named as the "demographic dividend". However, the dividend can only pay returns if and only if the youth are skilled to perform at international standards.

Skill India has been a mission and imperative for India which has been elusive and a difficult problem to crack. Several notable developments in the past thirty years have been the establishment of an independent skill ministry, enhanced budgetary allocations for skill development, setting up of 15,000+ ITIs, National Apprenticeship Policy, National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF). Each of them have met with limited success and we still have a long way to go.

If India has to establish its dominance in the world skill market it has to think differently and indigenously. It is important to look inward and see what in our own traditions has contributed to our success. We believe that there are lessons that can be drawn from the past to develop skills in India today. This article focuses on the same.

Historical context of skill and skill development in India:

Individual skills formed the root of the Varna System as enumerated in the Manu Smriti, where people had a choice to pick their preferred vocation, which became the basis of their social gradation. Maharshi Manu took inspiration from Vedas (refer Rigveda 10.10.11-12, Yajurveda 31.10-11, Atharvaveda 19.6.5-6) and proposed a social system based on qualities, actions and nature of the individual. This is called Varna System. The very word Varna is derived from root word "Vrinja" means "Choice".

Given the importance skills were accorded in the Indian society it steadily became one's identity and pride with skills being passed on from one generation to another. The pride in skills is the reason why Indian handicrafts, textiles and other articles produced by Indian skilled craftsmen enjoyed high acclaim across the globe. It is believed that Indian Muslin cloth was so fine that it could pass through a small ring.

Skill Development in Modern India:

Important role of 'Gurus':

If we want to create excellent pupils we need to first create even better teachers. The tradition of Guru, Chela or Ustad, Shagird has been mentioned and discussed in several traditions. Master craftspeople in Europe are celebrities in their own right.

If India wants to create skilled manpower, it has to invest in great teachers. The system has to invest in ensuring that the best turn towards becoming teachers in the skill segment and create more like them. The teachers should not only be paid well but they must be celebrated and showcased to create a sense of pride in their achievements. We need to invest in teacher education and preparation

Importance of Gharanas:

We all have heard of Gharanas in music and in art, which essentially are 'Centres of Excellence' for a particular field of art or music. They are revered both by the students and the society because they have delivered excellence consistently over time. Their strong track record was on account of their focused approach and strong research.

In skills as well we need to establish Centres of Excellence, which work pretty much like Gharanas.

Establishing Skill Gurukuls:

Like the Gurukuls which were residential temples of learning where both technical and soft skills were honed and respected skill universities need to be created which have a special emphasis on practical training, learning through immersion, and wholistic development. The hand, mind and soul need to be aligned and equally developed for leading of balanced sustainable lives. Places of learning where the development of all are emphasized rather than any one would be helpful.

Prepare for the changing times:

While we would like to go back to our simple lives, we know that technology has changed our lives profoundly. Many of the jobs that may exist tomorrow might not even exist today. It is therefore, an imperative to promote skills for adaptability such as creativity and problem solving. The key rule of survival will be the application of these skills at the workplace.

Teaching Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family):

Skills has no language and is the most transactable currency. It is most important to teach people skills with an international context. The learners should be taught to work in multi-cultural environments, removing gender bias and promoting inclusivity. Given our "demographic dividend" and our expectation to be providers of talent across the world this becomes even more relevant.

Dr. Neeta Pradhan Das is the Head of Partnerships at Delhi Skill and Entrepreneurship University.

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