Indian Education Needs Vocationalization – Dr. Jagannath Patnaik

Dr. Jagannath Patnaik, Vice Chancellor ICFAI

An erudite scholar and educationist, Dr. Jagannath Patnaik, Vice Chancellor of Gangtok’s Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) is a vehement advocate of vocationalisation of education. In a freewheeling chat with Education Post’s Tanay Kumar, Dr. Patnaik says that formal studies need to be coupled with industry practices.

QIn a recent article, you wrote, “In this time of crisis, a well-rounded and effective educational practice is what is needed for the capacity-building of young minds.” Please shed light on these effective practices?

First and foremost, you should know where are you in your career presently, and where you would like to be. Many people want to develop their careers but they don’t answer these questions. That is called professional development: it means creating a plan from getting from where you are to where you want to be.

When I was at the Sikkim Manipal University, I decided I should become a registrar. And you will not believe that I got that position. When you think positively and when you act on your ambitions, you can get where you want to be using your knowledge and your talent.

The reason IIMs or IITs graduates are able to fetch high-paying jobs is because their mindset is different. You start believing that since you are from an IIM or an IIT, you should get a particular job and that should be your ambition.

When our traditional universities impart education, they don’t attempt to change the students’ mindset. They keep the students in confusion. Students are unsure about what they want to do in their lives.

We depend on the government, industries and our universities to find us placements. During our days of studying, we never expected an external entity to find us placements. If you talented, industries will run after you. You are the creator of your own self, you’re the creator of your own mistakes. If you want to play the blame game, you should blame yourself.

Your mindset is far more important than your qualifications. If you notice, many rich and important people in India have little formal education. Yet, they are running big business empires successfully.

We have become mechanised; we only have faith in computers. Today, for any research you reach out to your computer. In our growing years, when we were told to write essays, we would just go ahead and write them fairly easily. Today, a kid will struggle to write an essay using a pen and paper. If they do, their handwriting is so bad that it’s hard to even read.


You studied at University of California have been engaged with many other educational organisations around the world. What are the key differentiators that can improve higher education in India?

The Indian education system has still not warmed up to vocationalisation. That’s exactly what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi frequently talks about – start-up and stand-alone schemes, which also find mention in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

Why is it that nearly 60 percent of our students are opting to go abroad for studies? It is because, in universities abroad, the emphasis is on practical inputs. They provide assignment models rather than theoretic models. That’s how one develops qualities of learning and problem solving.

Indian education is almost entirely based on theoretical knowledge. Students are told to write whatever they study in course books, and after passing out from school or college, they forget what they studied. But, when you talk of foreign education, every student is given an assignment and you have to complete that assignment to get credits.

Education needs to be changed from “Answer Learning” to “Action Learning”. Employers believe that an inexperienced fresh graduate is a burden because he/she won’t have the relevant knowledge or skills

That’s why our industries think that a fresh graduate is a kind of burden on them because they think that the students don’t have the relevant knowledge or skills. My point is that education coupled with skillbased learning will definitely give Indian students an edge.

Today, engineering students opt for an MBA after completing engineering, only because they feel after an MBA will fetch them higher salaries. Their minds are fixated on salaries. Back in 1991, during my first job interview, I was asked about my salary expectations. I told the interviewer that I was there to work, and you first see my work. When he insisted that I give him some figure, I told him all I want is two square meals a day and a half-way decent accommodation. I was the only candidate chosen for the job out of more than 100 applicants.


Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become indispensable for the future of our planet. How can this inculcated in education?

Sustainable development in education is employability of your education. How your education gives you the employability, is a part of sustainability. Sustainability is also the concept of a crime-free society. The idea is to infuse moral values in education.


From 2002 to 2005, you were Education Advisor at Aptech University, which is mainly a university for vocational courses. What are your thoughts on vocational courses alongside academics?

As I was saying, vocationalisation of courses has become important now. Coupling of industrydriven studies and courses are today’s need of the hour. Today, we have around 1,056 universities, among them are deemed universities, private universities, central and state universities. Most of the central and state universities don’t have the infrastructure. Private universities are believed to be more successful than central or state institutions. That’s why we need to shift to a more vocational model of education.


The New Education Policy emphasises on a three language formula. Your thoughts?

Besides my mother tongue, Odia, I can speak five more languages: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali. I believe the three-language formula is a strategy. The first language should be one’s mother tongue, which is very important as a regional language. Second language could be Hindi, or even any other Indian language, and the third should be English, which is the language largely used in our education and careers.

When you know more languages, you become more conversant with the region you travel to. People of that region feel that you’re one of them. Right now, I am in Sikkim, so sometimes I speak Nepali. When I was in Karnataka, I used to speak Kannada occasionally. I have picked up these languages more for my own my skills, not as a national policy.

This three-language formula is definitely going to benefit Indian education. Whenever Prime Minister Modi goes to any Indian region, he makes sure to speak a few words or sentences in the regional language, which makes people feel a connect with him.


What is the difference, if any, in the educational administration of universities in India and universities abroad?

According to me, the Indian educational administration is based on a Hindi word called “Jugaad (makeshift solution).” This does not exist in institutes abroad, where you will be required to follow the necessary process. They give more time to administration.

In India, we occupy ourselves with unnecessary work. Of course, India is rich in resources and also highly populated compared to any Western country. But take United Arab Emirates (UAE) for example: it is so tiny compared to India, but their earnings are far more. It is because UAE’s focus is to the point. In India, administrators will make you wait for days for an approval before eventually turning it down.

If you see the academic administration in our system, we are good at research and development, but innovation is lacking. The first focus of universities abroad is innovation, followed by entrepreneurship and then theory.

Foreign university administrations rank better than their Indian counterparts because innovation, critical thinking, diversity and being result oriented.


If there was one thing that could be uprooted from the Indian higher education system, what would it be?

The first thing we should create is a desire to learn courses that impact sustainability. I have decided on becoming a stakeholder in meetings of gram panchayats, zila parishads, with collectors, educators, educational reformers and academicians. The idea is to discuss a model to transform education in a way that it helps sustainability. Unless we change our mindset, India can’t change. We have to change.


What would be your key message to Indian students and academics?

My message to every student and academician is to learn yourself, try to be yourself, don’t depend upon your teachers, come with questions and find your answers.

What’s happening now is, students are underprepared and they listen to whatever the teacher is saying, without realising that the teacher is also repeating what’s written on some digital slides.

We tell students to ask questions. If you don’t ask questions, your education is incomplete. So, find questions and try to get answers. It doesn’t matter where the answer comes from.


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