MJ Xavier, Former Director – IIM Ranchi
There are two recent news items that are of great interest to educationists. The first one is about a skill University that the Delhi Government is planning to set up to offer job oriented courses on various disciplines. The university is expected to have a capacity of 50,000 students and collaborate with other countries, industry associations and companies. The second one is about faculty internship to bridge the academia- industry skill gap. This article discusses the compulsory internship for faculty of Loyola Institute of Administration, Chennai and ‘Project Abhigyat’, of the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) in Dehradun. Does this point to a new paradigm in education or is it a fad?
Knowledge and Skill Gaps in Education
Some thinkers also talk about building wonderment in children about nature and the universe so that they also learn to be humble and appreciate/worship the creator. If we had approached education in such a holistic fashion we would not have landed in the present day crisis.
Unfortunately the Universities of today are reduced to simply imparting knowledge. The problem is that knowledge without inquisitiveness or imagination is dead. Knowledge renewal and regeneration is a lifelong process that cannot be left entirely to Universities. Our methods of assessment have completely destroyed the initiative and interest in our students. The net result is that they are neither fit for a job nor for life. This has led to several gaps, such the knowledge – skill gap and education to employability gap.
Our education system has to undergo a lot of reforms, if we have to address these gaps. One problem lies with the way our Universities are run. These are typically faculty governed Institutions that try to perpetuate their personal interests more than that of the students. The reason why Universities remained insulated was to give them the independence to critically question anything without fear or prejudice and come up with new knowledge. This worked with subjects like philosophy, sociology and even psychology. Universities came up with fundamental discoveries in basic sciences and abstract subjects.
However with applied sciences like engineering, medicine and management, the model has not performed as well. The seclusion has proved very costly for Universities. Industry is advancing faster than the Universities, resulting in a knowledge gap. There is a big disconnect between academic research and Innovations by the industries. While industries are operating on 4G models, academia is stuck with 2G curriculum.Hence we need a reverse knowledge flow, if we are to bridge this knowledge gap. That can happen only if the University boundaries become porous.
The Concept of a Skills University
The moot question is whether we should make over existing universities or build new universities to face this challenge. Several efforts are underway to reform the existing universities. They have started adding industry representatives in their Boards that make syllabus revisions. Those with long years of Industry experience are appointed to teach in the Universities. They are called Professors of Practice. Institutions are now encouraging Industry internship for their faculty with a view to upgrade the practical knowledge of their teachers. Most Universities have added soft skills courses to their curriculum. Job oriented certificate courses are introduced in many colleges for an extra fee. However the basic character of these Institutions remain the same.
It is easy to build new ones rather than tinkering with existing Universities. In this context, the initiative by the Delhi Government to set up a Skills University should be appreciated. Since they have no baggage they can straight away engage in collaborative research with Industry and co-teach courses along with practitioners. They could straight away recognize degrees and certificates from non-formal education systems (open schools and open universities). They also help us remove the stigma of ITI and polytechnics which offer certificates and diplomas. In this new University, Certificate and Diploma holders can continue their higher studies on the vocational mode and get a degree or even go up to PhD.
The National Skill Qualification Framework has established standards for transfer of credit from non formal education to vocational and formal education.The Government of India did formulate a National Skill Qualification Framework way back in 2013, though it has not found widespread application. This was done to promote lifelong learning and skill development. It envisages, multiple entry and exit between vocational education, skill training, general education, technical education and job markets.
One of the key needs for NSQF as given in the report is, “The credit accumulation and transfer system that will be integrated in the NSQF will allow people to move between education, vocational training and work at different stages in their lives according to their needs and convenience. It will be possible for a student to leave education domain, get some practical experience in industry and return to studies to gain qualifications to progress higher in his chosen Career”.
One should be able to get on to the education mode whenever it is needed and go back to work after acquiring the additional competencies. The education can be delivered on-line, off-line or in the blended mode. Education will get customized to individual needs and will offer truly a life long learning opportunity. This will be a great boon for school drop outs and those who are not endowed with money or deep intellect.
Why skill based Education?
The three major things that education is supposed to impart are knowledge, skills and values. Knowledge was given the highest importance in the past as the teachers in the Universities were the repositories of knowledge. It gave them the competitive advantage. With the commoditization of knowledge, skills are gaining importance. In today’s context one can Google and get answers to any questions. There are YouTube videos on every subject that one could conceive of. We do not have to rely on experts in Universities to gain new knowledge.
The other reason why Knowledge is losing its sheen is that it is theoretical whereas skills are practical. For example, you can know all the rules of cricket, know all the statistics, but this only makes you knowledgeable about this sport; it does not make you any good at it. Unless you have the skills, you cannot play cricket. To gain skills one needs to practice. Unfortunately, we produce automobile engineers, who cannot fix cars. We have BCom graduates who cannot write a cheque. The disconnect between knowledge and skills is pronounced in engineering and management fields. Medical education is different. You cannot set up a medical college that does not have a hospital attached to it. The Professors are all practicing doctors.
Moreover the premium is on skills, because the recruiters expect the graduates to perform from day one. Many leading organizations have stopped looking at degrees. Instead they look at the skills that one brings to table. Proliferation of universities of varying quality standards has made it difficult for educators to find right kind of graduates. The rapid technological advances require that corporations recruit employees with right competencies and skills.
There was a time we had the dichotomy of thinkers Vs doers. Doers were considered inferior and the thinkers got a larger share of the pie. These days, the doers are getting their due recognition. We cannot be a country of only thinkers. We have produced too many engineers and computer scientists. That is probably another reason for unemployment of engineers in India. We have not given them skills to do anything on their own. Otherwise they would have all become entrepreneurs.Countries like Germany and Israel give more importance to vocational education that help them produce outstanding technocrats and entrepreneurs.
Apart from technical skills, we need to impart soft skills, such as Critical thinking, Creativity, Team work, Collaboration, Problem solving, Communication, Leadership, Initiative and Social skills. To succeed in today’s world everyone will also need computer literacy, media literacy and technological literacy. Skills are the most valued asset that every individual should possess.
In conclusion, the society has changed a lot. Though knowledge and skill are the two sides of the same coin, it is advantage for skills now. It is a good move by the Delhi Government to think of a Skills University. We hope more skill universities spring up in India. At the same time, we cannot ignore the importance of values. Currently we are experiencing an ethics deficit in the country. We should start value education right from school days. Students should also be given lessons on environmental sensitivity and social concern. Though we may give greater focus on skills, we should impart holistic education that makes them thirsty for knowledge, learn the right skills and imbibe good values that make them good citizens.