National Education Policy – Enough Focus on Vocational Education? – Part I

Vocational education

Does the draft NEP create the right balance to redress the dichotomy between the academic world and the world of work?

In this two-part article, we address the National Education Policy (NEP) from a vocational education angle. 

The narrative on India’s education system is many things at once – hopeful, despondent and overwhelming. India’s Higher Education system is vast- the third-largest in the world with over 800 universities and more than 35,000 affiliated colleges catering to over 30 million students. The deepening chasm between education, skills, jobs, and employability has left India’s youth in the lurch. The recent Periodic Labour Force Survey Report bares the irony in our education system. Employability has steadily become inversely proportional to education; higher education attainment is simply not making the mark. The differentiator here is a relevant education – one that gives equal prominence to skills and degrees and keeps pace with modern labour market requirements. 

The government in its draft NEP has in spirit and intent recognised that reforming Indian education is the unquestionable pre-requisite for sustainable human capital development in the country. An allocation of Rs 94,854 crores to the education sector in the Union Budget is yet another affirmation of a commitment towards long-term solutions.

But are these a string of empty platitudes or is there real visionary zeal in the NEP? ‘Apprenticeships’, ‘internships’, ‘practical experience’ and ‘experiential learning’ find several mentions in the report strongly indicating a push in Indian education towards learning-by-doing in an industry-relevant context to ease the transition from school to work.  

NEP Highlights 

  • A new custodian – the Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog (RSA) or the National Education Commission (NEC) is yet another indication towards strong intent. Headed by the Prime Minister himself, the RSA/NEC is envisaged to drive policy into action in educational initiatives through synergised coordination in a byzantine maze of ministries and departments at both Centre and state levels. The RSA/NEC is to be at the forefront of designing, implementing and revising the direction of India’s education path with the help of the right institutional frameworks. All national apex bodies (existing and proposed) involved in education will report to the RSA/NEC. 

Moreover, to bring education closer to market relevance and higher employability, a minimum 50% of the membership of the RSA/NEC will be drawn from industry, academia, and other sectors. 

  • Re-designate the Ministry of Human Resource Development to the Ministry for Education, underpinning education as the precursor to all skills training and human capacity development. 
  • Curriculum and pedagogy restructuring will focus on core capacity development in life skills and 21st-century work skills delivered through an experiential learning model of ‘learning to learn’ – a strong departure from the current culture of theory-heavy rote learning. We welcome these forward-thinking proposals towards a more hands-on approach to learning; a much-needed step to prepare our children with not just conceptual knowledge but also with the right aptitude, social and cognitive skills for enhanced future employability. 

The proposed curriculum changes will allow greater freedom of subject choice for students. For instance, there will be no hard boundaries between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ streams within a new 5+3+3+4 model to achieve stage-wise learning outcomes.

  • 5 years Foundational Stage
  • 3 years Preparatory Stage
  • 3 years Middle Stage
  • 4 years Higher (or Secondary) Stage
  • Right to Education Act extended to all children between the ages of 3-18. The NEP highlights this as a move to address a huge challenge in keeping children in schools. Nearly 50% of children drop out of school in Grades 11-12 without skills or qualifications. We have recommended lowering the entry-point to vocational skills training in the education system as an alternative non-degree path for youth. 

Also Read: NSDC Blends Education with Vocational Training

Moreover, in recognition of the criticality of the secondary school stage in preparing children to be workforce-ready, the NEP suggests increasing exposure of students at this point to hands-on and experiential learning. By ‘doing’, students have a higher chance of figuring out where their interests lie. The NEP recommends that specialisation should be delayed, allowing students to try out new things so that decisions on their future course of study or skills trainings are more closely aligned to their own interests. We strongly advocate internships, apprenticeships or other forms of on-the-job experiences to be built into the national curriculum to turn these proposals into reality. 

  • Consolidation of higher education architecture into three types. Type 1 – Research Universities; Type 2 – Teaching Universities; Type 3 – Colleges for undergraduate programmes where courses such as a Bachelor of Vocation will have multiple entry-exit options to both mainstream and vocational education and back. A much-needed step in our opinion for improved mobility of students within the education system. However, is there a risk of compartmentalised working between the three types of institutes – an undesirable fallout detracting from the integration of education? 

 In Part II

In the concluding part, we specifically look at recommendations for vocational education from the Key Focus Areas section of the NEP.