Image source: Daily Sun

As India is fighting the COVID pandemic and going through an unprecedented economic situation, the Prime Minister has envisioned to focus on five pillars for rebuilding the country. India’s youth is said to be the fourth pillar in rebuilding the country and achieving the dream of a “Self-reliant India”. Unfortunately, the Union Finance Minister’s series of announcements of economic packages has not included anything for the youth population to make them more productive and resourceful to achieve this dream. There has not been any encouraging trend either in the past six years.

The General Budget for 2020–21, presented by the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, 2020, received mixed responses to skill development programmes for youth and reaping demographic dividends. The budget provision for skill development is Rs 3,000 crore. But according to KP Krishnan, former Secretary of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, the total budget provisioned for skill development for the country, aggregated by two dozen Ministries and Departments of the Union Government, is about Rs 11,000 crore. This is a huge amount for creating an institutional structure for fulfilling the aspirations and skilling the youth, but unfortunately has been in a muddle.

Now with the changing global scenario, it would be interesting to look at some of the policies of the government. The Centre had announced in the Budget that it will aim to tap the potentials of overseas opportunities “for teachers, nurses, para-medical staff and care-givers…” and special bridge courses in sectors like healthcare with equivalent certification matching with the receiving countries. It had also aimed to engage 150 higher educational institutions to impart apprenticeship embedded degree and diploma courses to make the youth employable. Surely, these are no less than piecemeal announcements for some quarters because they do not match with what India contributes to the labour force every year; around 5-7 million youth are entering the labour market without any formal education or vocational skills. One of the most vital factors in production is human resources which is still underutilised, despite being imperative to economic growth and development.

One of the most talked-about subjects in the last two decades is the boon of demographic dividends that India has, but emphasis is not given to the process to impart vocational education and skill development to the youth, and the need to institutionalise it both in government and private institutions beyond the ITIs, ITCs, polytechnics and apprenticeships. Though, there have been several policy initiatives since 2008, the governments did not break from their stereotype and bureaucratic silos to gauge an effective institutional mechanism to deliver a competent labour force. It is even ironic that organisations like the National Skill Development Corporation and its Sector Skills Councils, National Skills Development Agency, National Skill Development Trust, etc. could not make much impact on the district-level even now.

The issue is not with the funds and industry linkages but the transparency and accountability of institutions involved in the skill development programmes across the Ministries and Departments vis-à-vis the State and UT Governments. This is akin to the case of earlier experiments done in vocational education, which was a failed attempt. In 1988, the Government of India had launched a scheme for vocationalisation of school education, providing financial support to the State governments. Unfortunately, since early 2000, the Central Government has not been providing enough financial support to them with an institutional mechanism to standardise the curriculum and teacher education for the expansion of vocational education in the higher secondary level. Thus, since 1988, the scheme has only covered close to 10,000 schools with vocational streams and trained about less than a million students. The target set for 2020–21 is to cover 1500 vocational schools across the country to impart vocational education to a few lakh students. 

According to a report of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, “more than One Crore youth are being imparted skills training annually under various programmes of the Central Government.” Till December 2019, under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, about 87 lakh youth were trained. However, the Ministry on March 3, 2020 announced in Parliament that it has trained only 73.47 lakh youth in the country till January 17, 2020. Out of which, 40.27 lakh youth were trained in short-term courses and 33.20 lakh youth were felicitated in recognition of prior learning with certification. This shows that we are still far away from achieving the targets of the Skill India Mission.

Nevertheless, unlike the previous general budgets, this year’s Union Budget has added another flavour with “life skills” in the field of skill development, which is interesting and imperative for the youth at this juncture. In India, except for the CBSE system of education, no other education Boards seem to have a syllabus for life skills in school education. Indeed, in 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) had developed Guidelines on “Life Skills Education for Children and Adolescents in Schools”. It includes 10 core life skills to be acquired for a healthy and balanced life for learning and living even in an extreme situation. They are self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, and effective communication, interpersonal relationship, coping with stress and coping with emotion.

These life skills are not necessarily a mere classroom textbook learning but they can also be structured with suitable narratives along with activities for effective learning for all kinds of students including those who are unable to attend schools or any institutions. Several years ago, the Madurai based Aparajitha Foundation in Tamil Nadu had developed the above 10 core life skills into systematic module-based learning for school children of Class VI to Class XII with a narrative rendering videos of about 120 in total with simple examples and illustrations to educate children. Each “Tim Tim Taare” video has 45 minutes with 15 minutes for activities. These videos were distributed to thousands of schools across India, including in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand. The impact evaluations of the life skills among students in government schools found a significant improvement in their learning ability, especially in girl students. Also, the attitude and behaviour among their fellow students were improved drastically.  

This year, Finance Minister’s announcement in the Budget about a year-long internship opportunity for fresh engineers, to learn about the functioning of the urban local bodies (ULBs) like City Corporations, Municipalities, Town Panchayats, etc. and to make their contribution, is a good initiative which should be welcomed wholeheartedly. The young blood injection into the ULBs will not only change the state of affairs significantly in the short-term but will also create positive impacts on the governance system in the long term. There are about a few thousand ULBs in India which play a pivotal role in driving urbanisation and the country’s growth and development in many ways. These ULBs have been facing huge challenges for the last two decades and lack new ideas and antidotes. The government should introduce similar initiatives at the State-level in other areas too to engage graduates in different departments for improving the system to cope up with the aspirations of the people.

Without comprehensive policy reforms to make our youth more productive and resourceful, the demographic dividends would burst like an unprecedented nightmare, which is already visible among the large segments of floating migrants.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan
Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan
Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan is Research Fellow (Urban Eco-system and Skill Development) with CPPR. His areas of research interest are economics of education, vocational education and skills development, economic reforms, liberal vision for India, water management, regional development, and city development. Chandrasekaran has an MA in Economics (University of Madras) and an MPhil in Social Sciences (Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya University, Indore).

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