Monthly Archives: December 2012

Skill development coming of age in India, Dilip Chenoy, CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation

As 2012 draws to a close, it is a good time to introspect on how far India has progressed on the skills issue.

Admittedly, a number of positive developments have taken place since the start of the year, the most significant of which is a greater realization among many key stakeholders about the key role that skills-related training could play in India being able to leverage its favorable demographics.

The leadership of the Prime Minister’s National Council for Skill Development is enabling coordination and cooperation efforts among stake holders. A national target of skilling 80 million has been set for the next five years.

A lot of effort has gone in to ensure that skilling initiatives – irrespective of whether the delivery was through the government or private mechanisms – became more outcome-focused, with the emphasis on jobs and employability. For example, partner institutions of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), for instance, placed over 70 per cent of their students in decent, well-paying jobs following the completion of the training.

Capacity augmentation received a fillip with skilling centers opened across the length and breadth of the country, including in many remote and far-flung areas that had been largely left untouched in the past. Several Partners of NSDC embarked on the process of setting up large vocational training centers capable of skilling a million-plus people over a 10-year span. Special training programmes were introduced in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East to ensure that the people living in these parts could obtain the skill sets that would empower them to participate in and contribute to India’s growth.

The Indian Banks’ Association – the nodal association for banks operating in the country – based on discussion with the Office of the Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Council, came up with a model vocational loan scheme to serve as the basis for member banks to introduce vocational loan products in order to ease financial access to skills training centers, particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid. Many private organizations, including NSDC Partners, also came up with innovative financing schemes with employers, in some cases, promising to reimburse the training costs after the trainees completed a certain minimum period of service.

A pilot project of the National Vocational Education Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) – that would ensure a seamless migration from a vocational to a formal education framework – was formally launched in 40 schools in Haryana, with plans to replicate it in other states of India. Four Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) formed by the NSDC are involved with the NVEQF pilot.

For all these positives, though, many of the underlying challenges to the creation of a skills culture in India continue to remain unresolved. Skills still don’t command a premium in India. Deep-rooted misconceptions that skills-related training is only intended for those who could not make it in the formal system have affected enrolments at vocational education facilities with admissions in these centers continuing to be seen by many as a last resort.

Leadership to transform this now lies with the employers to promote the skills cause in their own set-up. Enterprises need to accelerate  the practice of hiring skilled and certified employees at all levels and then create an attractive salary differential between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor. Leadership is also needed to increase in-service skilling in the manufacturing sector which continues to be low.

The Government has introduced attractive fiscal benefits such as permitting a weighted deduction of 150% of expenses (not being expenditure in the nature of cost of any land or building) on expenditure incurred on skill development projects, and also exempting training partners of NSDC as well as some designated private sector skills training providers from service tax.

The Government has provided space for leadership and action by Industry. Industry has the unique opportunity to being the voice that would determine how trainings should be conducted, and the standards that should prevail, besides deciding how the assessments and certifications should happen. As part of the National Policy on Skill Development, 2009, industry can do all these things through setting up Sector Skill Councils.

Industry has to collaborate and lead the formation and operationalization of SSCs and moving fast on this. The SSCs approved by the NSDC need to accelerate the  buy-in from among their own membership for the concept of devising National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the top job roles in their respective domains.

Stakeholders are looking to Industry leaders to start taking ownership of driving the Sector Skill Councils and the NOS exercise in their respective domains through greater involvement with the SSCs, as without the occupational standards, the accrediting system, and certification in place, skill development would be reduced to just another futile exercise. The more actively we can lead, collaborate and execute, the more chances there would be of India being able to realize its vision of skilling and up skilling 500 million people by 2022.

(The author is CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation, a Public Private Partnership of the Government of India).

Fixing India’s Apprenticeship Regime, Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Teamlease Services


 ~ Apprenticeships are an important part of most developed skill development regime because they combine ‘learning by doing’ with ‘learning by earning’ ~

Policy makers in India today are facing a peculiar challenge – which sectors will create what kind of jobs in the next 20 years? The answer to this is of course crucial as it will determine the fate of our country. The answer to this question is crucial because educators need to decide what kind of skills and education to impart to young people far ahead of when they hit the labour markets. The answer to this question is also crucial because now in India the notion of district collectors distributing NREGS money as job creators is discredited!

But accepting that most attempts at job forecasting make weather forecasting look like physics is difficult for economists and policy makers who build complex forecasting models. Flawed models – however complex – have dangerous consequences; the physics envy of finance led to huge losses because quantitative models used in calculations like Value at Risk or Credit Default Swaps were precise but incomplete.

A comprehensive and multi-decade review of attempts by many countries including the US, UK, India, Japan, etc. of long-term job forecasting suggests that the accuracy, in hindsight, has been poor. To be fair, just like the higher accuracy of weather forecasting in the very near term (one or two days), these models know where job demand will be in the next one or two years. But this is not enough to craft long term education policy.

India is in skill emergency. Lots of ideas are on the table – in fact they are falling off the table. We need an urgent dose of political courage to resolve regulatory bottlenecks at the intersection of the Ministry of HRD and labour (NVEQF, Sector Skill Councils, etc) and State and Central Governments (Employment Exchanges, Apprenticeships, etc.). We don’t need more money but surgery on how money is spent. Not more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. Combining Apprenticeships and NREGS would be a radical innovation at the intersection of education, employability and education. It would co-opt employers in ways that the government has never tried. And it would offer dropouts (50% of the 300 million children enrolled in school won’t finish secondary school) and unemployable graduates (estimated at 58% of the 14 million students in 26,500 institutes of higher education) an alternate pathway to skills and jobs.

India needs a new Apprenticeship regulatory regime that clearly recognizes, 1) apprenticeships are classrooms not employment, 2) stipends are tuition subsidy and not salary, 3) durations for different trades and candidates need to vary from 3 months to 3 years, 4) the partition between the jurisdictions of the Ministry of Labour and HRD is unnecessary because it creates policy orphan like non-engineering graduates and amplifies the apartheid between skills and higher education, 5) we need employer sponsored programs that are allowed to outsource theoretical training, 6) we need educational institute sponsored programs that are allowed to outsource practical training, 7) the current stick of jail is not working and capacity will be higher if employers are volunteers, 8) moving away from the current license raj to nationwide permissions for national employers will increase capacity, 9) removing the size ratios on apprenticeship programs run by employers will accelerate capacity creation because apprenticeships have a lower expansion speed limit than physical classrooms, 10) the most effective labour market subsidy is subsidizing stipends.

These reforms should be designed to counter current opposition. Models that try to predict where jobs will be created in the next few decades have the efficacy of palm reading or astrology – this makes them unreliable input for decisions with long shadows. More than trying to predict the future, we should try architecting our education system to be self-healing in coping with changing employer needs. What better place to start than expanding our formal apprenticeships to 10 million youth?


Vocationalization of Secondary Education at the Crossroads ? Rupert Maclean, the Hong Kong Institute of Education

In 1990, 192 nations of the world, and the education for development community, met in Jomtien, Thailand, and made a commitment to achieving Education for All (EFA) and the eradication of illiteracy.  Although EFA remains elusive, considerable gains have been achieved over the past 22 years with regard to the universalisation of primary education.  Partly as a result of this success, in most developing countries, worldwide, more students are now going onto secondary school in greater numbers than ever before, with secondary education now being regarded in many countries as being part of basic, essential education.

In the past it was widely accepted that secondary schooling was for the few, for a relatively small number and proportion of students who were mainly concerned with receiving an academic-type education, for entry to universities and high status professions.  With an increasing proportion of  relevant age groups now wanting to go onto complete a full cycle of secondary schooling, for its own sake, and not necessarily go onto university,  schools have had to modify their curriculum and entrance procedures to become more comprehensive.  They have done this by providing a wider range of courses, which are both academic and (increasingly) vocational in nature, to accommodate the more diverse study interests and range of capabilities of students. As a result, more emphasis is being placed on economic productivity, with secondary schools increasingly stressing skills development for employability, and preparing students more directly to meet labour force requirements.

This trend, which is referred to as ‘the vocationalisation of education’, often enjoys the support of governments who promote the (generally incorrect) argument that this is an effective way of reducing youth unemployment.  This view is generally incorrect because youth unemployment will only be reduced if there are sufficient jobs to absorb youth who have the specialized skills in demand in the labor market, rather than the general skills most likely provided by vocationalised secondary schools.

There are some, such as Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia, who recently lamented this trend, and who argues that the programmes offered in many secondary schools are ‘being reduced to mere vocational training’.  Prof Schwartz and his supporters believe that secondary schools should stress a general education and the intellectual development of learners, mainly  through traditional academic subjects. Such critics want to wind-back the clock to a time when secondary schools focused almost exclusively on academic learning.

Others (including myself) disagree and believe it is both desirable and appropriate that secondary schools are more accountable to meeting the economic and labour force needs of society through placing a greater emphasis on skills development for employability.  The pro and anti vocationalisation of secondary education camps are currently locked in a war of words, with secondary education being a cross roads concerning likely future directions.

Education, Equity and Learning Post-2015, Kenneth King, NORRAG and University of Edinburgh

The greatest education inequalities today

The first of these topical debates relating to education post-2015 was our views about the greatest education inequalities today, and how a new development framework should address these.

There are so many very different dimensions of educational inequality. But let me start the other way round with some powerful evidence about a key factor in educational equality. Some societies particularly in East Asia, believe that ALL children can make it, provided that they work hard This belief translates into successful public education systems. These are good examples of the cultures of self-help rather than of aid dependency that the Minister talked of. Arguably, however, this very fervent and widespread desire for successful educational achievement has also spawned a vast shadow education systems offering private coaching after school and even at weekends. They illustrate a massive culture of educational achievement and competition (see Mark Bray’s blog on NORRAG NEWSBite). But they can exacerbate inequalities in education.

By contrast, in many other societies, those with money, including those running the education system, put their own children into high-cost private pre-schools and private primary schools in order to benefit later on from good quality, low-cost public secondary schools or from public universities. This happens in many developing countries, both low- and middle-income. The Minister stressed that this did not happen in Norway. It does happen in the UK where it was argued in an article in The Times of the same day as the seminar that ‘nearly 80% of the people who effectively run Britain attended fee-charging or selective schools’ (The Times, 20th November 2012, p. 4. Hyperlink is pay per few unfortunately).

One result of this elite preference for private education can be a neglect of the public primary school system. This in turn has led to another phenomenon  which has been spreading very fast in poorer urban areas, and that is the low-cost English medium private school. These too are evidence of a desire by the poor for better education than is now available in the public sector. But the poorest of the poor cannot afford even low-fee schools. Given that nine out of ten primary school children in developing countries attend public sector schools, the key policy priority should surely be to improve their quality and accessibility rather than to channel government funds, or aid moneys, into private schooling, even if it is low-cost and attended by some of the poorer members of society. But when the political elite is personally involved with private education, who will police the policy-makers?

There are three other education inequalities to note from the GMR of 2012: first, there are still 61 million children of primary school age who are not in school. Most of these are in 29 countries, half of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Important to note that these are not all poor countries. But there will be no magic bullets for those still out of school – these are the most marginalized, over 40% of them in conflict or post-conflict countries. Many are disabled. These last millions will be the hardest and costliest to enroll.

The second inequality is that 775 million adults are still illiterate. These too will be very difficult to reduce in number for it is not just a question of one-off literacy campaigns. The reality is that many of the 775 million have actually been in school, but they have either not retained their literacy (think of our schoolboy French or school Latin), because there has been no literacy environment surrounding the school to reinforce it.

The third global inequality is that there are some 250 million children who are failing to be able to read and write by grade four.  These three figures produce the iconic number of over a billion people young and old who have not gained or retained foundation skills.  So, the challenge for 2015 is this billion and not just the 61 million who are out of primary school.

What action can be taken on education inequities? Countries need disaggregated data on educational inequities. They then need political commitment to adopt equity goals that deliberately target the differences between the richer and poorer sections of the population, rural and urban, male and female, majority and minority language speakers etc. See Save the Children’s  Born Equal (2012) for suggestions. But external analysis of these issues could be much resented as interference in internal affairs. Note that this is not a low-income country issue, but many millions of our one billion with no functional literacy are in middle-income countries.

Learning and education outcomes: a hot topic in the post-2015 debate?

The second question was that learning and education outcomes have become a hot topic in the post-2015 debate. How can we approach this challenge and how develop new global targets for education?

The UNESCO EFA GMR 2013 will be on Teaching and Learning

Recently, there has been a growing concern that despite increasing access to primary schools, children are not learning enough – including some of the billion we just referred to. Much (though not all) of the discovery about lack of learning in the developing countries has been led by Northern scholars and aid agencies. Dramatic accounts of there being very minimum achievements in language, maths and science are appearing very regularly. [See the Minister’s blog mentioning that 94% of children in Mali at Grade 2 could not read a single word.] These widespread external accounts of little learning may be highly unpopular and politically sensitive in many countries. But we need to remember that in many countries these key competencies are being assessed by children in a language other than their mother tongue, and by teachers not using their mother tongue.

What about measuring quality? We need a goal that is easily understood like Swedish youngsters, several hundred years ago, having to be able to show they could read and understand Luther’s Catechism before they could be confirmed or allowed to marry. A very simple but compelling learning target!

It is probably no accident that the MDGs of 12 years ago didn’t include quality, and just mentioned Universal Primary Education. The Global Monitoring Report (GMR) has been looking at the 6 EFA Dakar goals for a full ten years but in the GMR of 2012 they are still using proxy indicators for quality: survival rate to grade 5, and pupil/teacher ratios.

What simple Learning Goals for post-2015 are currently being promoted?  One is that all pupils should be able to read with comprehension at grade three. It sounds simple but what impact would this single goal have on all the other primary school subjects? Second, what about a zero target for illiteracy? It is high time to be concerned with this huge population. But how could that be done in a way that is truly sustainable – so that literacy is not only acquired but utilized? A third approach, promoted by the GMR of 2012, is that there should be a global target of universal lower secondary education of acceptable quality. All of these three options sound simple but they each involve very careful assessments if they are to justify the very large costs.

The critical challenge remains whether any post-2015 learning goals are going to be universal, for both North and South, how they are to owned by the South, and how they are to relate to existing national systems of testing and assessment.

Post-MDG and Post-EFA Convergence?

A third question relates to whether we see the processes of both post-MDG and the post-EFA goals coming together in the post-2015 debate.

I would suggest, firstly, that one very powerful reason for emphasizing the crisis in learning is that there is a view that the Education MDGs of UPE and gender parity have almost been met. Hence there may be no need for a post-2015 Education goal. However, if Education did not appear in any post-2015 development agenda, it could be very dangerous for the funding of education in development agencies, and in the international and national NGOs. It would also be a very grave outcome for UNESCO, and for the future of the six EFA goals.

Even though it may seem that there are far too many meetings and discussions about post-2015, it can be partly explained by the possible impact of any new MDGs on future aid funding. Post-2015 is almost becoming a global competition amongst sectors. This is why it may be quite important for the Thematic Consultation on Education to be launched, because as of today (27th November 2012), the only two themes not yet launched out of the total of eleven are Education and Energy.

So, on the one hand, it may seem urgent that the international education community become more focused, as there are currently far too many different options and proposals on the table.

On the other hand, there are still almost three years to go before the deadline of 2015. The High Level Panel on Post-2015 has only just had its first substantive meeting. And by far the most important issue of any is that the very great majority of those debating post-2015 are based in the North. Many of these are actively consulting the South. But the key issue if we are to achieve what the Minister terms global participation and global ownership of any new goals is to stand back a little, and listen carefully to what the South is actually saying and also what they are not saying about these post-2015 futures.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:

Re-posted from NORRAG  NEWSBite

 Also see The Role of Education and Skills in Any Post-2015 Development Agenda, by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer