How vocational education should be designed and taught is often overshadowed by more commonly held discussions on what vocational education is.
The draft National Education Policy (NEP) released earlier this year shines the spotlight sharply on revamping Indian education to meet the challenges of gaping gaps in skills and employment. The NEP is indicative of serious resolve- the first comprehensive education policy reform in the country since 1986 when India’s National Education Policy was tabled.
Vocational education and training have found a well-deserving position of significance in the Key Focus Areas section of the draft NEP. Singularly, the NEP calls for integrating vocational and mainstream education across all schools, colleges and universities and for all students in Grades 9-12 to have exposure to vocational education in at least one vocation or trade.
The NEP also highlights curriculum and pedagogy restructuring focused on core capacity development through a ‘learning to learn’ experiential model signaling a radical departure from an existing culture of rote learning. The pedagogical changes will remove compartmentalisation between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ streams to achieve stage-wise learning outcomes.
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Albeit these are extremely welcome proposals to align education with employment, a word of caution though. A relevant education is one where knowledge and skill development follow on a continuum right from elementary school to employment. Unless we build a strong foundation for vocational pedagogy based on clear objectives of vocational education and desired outcomes, national agendas for pushing vocational education and training could well become a case of misplaced enthusiasm.
What is Vocational Pedagogy?
Vocational pedagogy is the practice of teaching of and learning from vocational education, where teachers and trainers take centerstage. Clarity on what vocational pedagogy is, and how well national skill development agendas integrate it in mainstream education is a key enabler in vocational education having a real impact on skills and employment. When understood systematically, vocational pedagogy aids the development of methods, tools and models to help teachers and trainers impart theoretical and practical vocational knowledge more effectively.
A successful vocational pedagogy framework relies on serious thought leading to well-informed decisions. It starts with answering some cardinal questions about vocational education.
Learner Centric Vocational Pedagogy
What do we want to achieve from vocational education and training? Is it merely racking up enrollment numbers (an extremely narrow and pointless exercise), or do we want to see a real difference in employment-linked skill development? Unfortunately, many schemes of skills training fall prey to the former due to non-existent or limited understanding and appreciation of vocational pedagogy.
A learner centred approach to vocational pedagogy, where the pivotal role of trainers and teachers is recognised, can directly impact the quality of training and learning, thus accomplishing the broader goals of vocational education.
Also read: Training the Trainer – Often Overlooked?
Vocational pedagogy stays true to learning outcomes when it does two things– builds labour market needs into curricula to set performance standards for teachers and students; and allows greater autonomy to educational institutes and teachers to adapt and teach curricula to fill the needs of students and different contexts.
An experience or activity based theoretical model of learner centred teaching and learning in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) clarifies this further:
Drivers of Pedagogy Change
Where pedagogical change is being pushed for, such as in the draft NEP, it is imperative that policymakers and educators invest ample time and energy in due diligence before formalising proposals. Existing international research has identified five main drivers from the countries studied:
- Introduction of learning outcomes- this we believe is key to setting clear goals for vocational education and training
- Development of a dual system- this refers to a mix of classroom learning and work-based training such as apprenticeships.
- Increasing permeability- vocational education should be inextricably threaded to the vast network of a national education system and also to informal learning.
- Reducing high non-completion rates- a major spanner in the works for skill development especially in the Indian context, stakeholders need to take a hard look at ways to reduce attrition and drop-out rates from skills training courses
- Addressing the increasing diversity of learners- this we think not only encompasses different categories of learners (such as children in the education system, professionals looking to up-skill or re-skill, bringing informal workers into the organised workforce through Recognition of Prior Learning etc) but also different ways of imparting vocational education- such as classroom, online, workplace based, or a blend of all.
Other drivers of positive pedagogical change are raising the attractiveness of TVET and linking pedagogy to changing labour market skill needs. Furthermore, policy priority areas of the Riga conclusions– which is a set of new medium-term deliverables for vocational education and training (2015-20) endorsed by EU countries- are:
- Greater focus of vocational pedagogy on strengthening key competences both through initial TVET and continuous professional development.
- Advance work-based learning with greater focus on apprenticeships
A vocational teacher’s understanding of pedagogy will dictate the choices he/she makes to amp the quality of teaching which will ultimately result in shaping the future workers of our economy. The role of vocational pedagogy or a ‘curriculum for excellence’ is thus paramount in laying down the path to build the right skills for higher employability.