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Nepal Post Earthquake Diary 1. Reopening schools. Shanti Jagannathan

IMG_1815 IMG_1802

Soni is a student of Sri Sundar Suryodaya Primary School labeled ‘unsafe in a bold red sign, following a 7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal a month ago. Most of the school, atop a picturesque hill, has crumbled to the ground. In district Kavre, where the school is located, 548 of the 594 schools with over 100,000 students have been affected by the earthquake. In neighboring Sindhupalchok district schools are in dire straits- over 80% of classrooms are completely damaged.

IMG_1744Just a little over a month after the devastating earthquake, schools all over the country are set to re open on 31st May. This is irrespective of the widespread destruction of physical facilities. Communities are still grappling with loss of shelters, assets and shifting earth and landslides. Yet, the one thing everyone wants –poor parents in rural areas or affluent parents in Kathmandu – is the early re-opening of schools and resumption of education. Restoring education is synonymous with reviving hope and normalcy. Just how is this to be done?

With about 8000 schools affected and 30000 classrooms completely destroyed, the government of Nepal aims to set up 15000 transitional learning centers (TLCs) to resume education immediately. The Head Teacher of the Sri Sundar Suryodaya School Nur Prasad Bajnayi said that the school will reopen on 31 March if only for teachers and students greet each other. Re-opening of schools signals resilience. It was astonishing for me to note that this spirit ran through everyone that we spoke to – teachers, students, administrators, teacher unions and officials from the Ministry of Education.

The resumption of schooling is a critical component of psychological recovery. Reconstruction and retrofitting of school buildings may take 2-3 years. Transitional arrangements for uninterrupted delivery of education services are crucial in order not to lose gains from past education investments. International evidence warns us that interruption of education services for a significant length of time can lead to major losses in terms of possible student drop outs.

Some key issues that need consideration as education is getting restored in Nepal;

  • Ensuring that Transitional Learning Centers approximate as much as possible a real school environment; the introduction of ‘creative sciences’, outdoor exploratory activities and sports would help children come out of trauma. There is an opportunity to renew pedagogic processes and create models of ‘classrooms without walls’.
  • Adjusting the school time table to front load holidays and catch up on the lost days of schooling which will no doubt be the case
  • Building back better not only with disaster resilient features in construction but also with stimulating learning environments within schools
  • Helping teachers with appropriate tools, techniques and resources so that they are better equipped themselves to help children
  • Strengthening connectivity and ICT solutions – only 6000 schools in Nepal have electricity. Fewer have connectivity. Providing some of the cluster schools with connectivity will tremendously enhance the availability of resources to teachers.

Returning to the school sector in Nepal after 5 years exactly one month after the earthquake, it was wonderful to reconnect with old friends in government and elsewhere. But even more wonderful was to encounter positive and forward looking views in the midst of bleak surroundings. The District Education Officer at Karve, Dipendra Gurung, despite a damaged district education office, hosted a meeting in a temporary structure. He spoke about philosophy and meditation and for each one to do their best to restore education services. I hope we the development partners can match the resilient spirit of the Nepalese.

IMG_1827Suvakamana Nepal!

My Top 10 Lessons From The 2013 ADB International Skills Development Forum

Here is a post by a youth delegate at the ADB skills development forum. Awesome energy from the youth!

YOUTH SKILLS AND JOBS: Entrepreneurship Training and Second Chance Approaches

This is the first of a five-part article series by Dr David Smawfield, an international expert on technical and vocational education and training, exploring different dimensions of youth skills development for jobs and employability. This discourse leads to the ADB International Skills Development Forum in Manila from 10-12 December 2013. Shanti Jagannathan, ADB.

Entrepreneurship training and second chance approaches for early school leavers are valuable complements to formal education and technical and vocational education and training. Policy makers in developing Asia would do well to get the context and strategies right for such interventions and allocate adequate resources. However, it is important to acknowledge that they cannot substitute mainstream education and training.

The main rationale behind entrepreneurship training is to empower young people to become entrepreneurs, to take control of their own livelihoods and to offer an economic lifeline for those who work for self-betterment.  The 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring Report on “The State of Global Youth Entrepreneurship” sheds some unprecedented light on youth entrepreneurship, especially with regard to aspirations, attitudes and activities.  It says ‘young entrepreneurs are more confident than older entrepreneurs about creating jobs over the next five years in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa’. However, only 17% of Asia Pacific would be considered potential entrepreneurs, compared to 60% in Sub Saharan Africa.  But, youth in Asia Pacific are most likely to make use of an on-line trading environment whereas youth in Sub-Saharan Africa are least likely.

Barriers identified by young people to becoming entrepreneurs include lack of access to finance, appropriate skills, infrastructure, adequate support structures and a mentorship. The report has found entrepreneurship education at primary and secondary school levels across the globe almost universally ‘poor’.

There is little systematic impact evaluation of entrepreneurship training and educational support. The 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring “Special Report on Education and Training” finds that entrepreneurship training appears to have the greatest effect on early-stage entrepreneurial activity in countries with favorable institutional contexts and the impact of entrepreneurial training is related to the country’s level of economic development.

The importance of tailoring interventions to the context is elaborated further in the 2013 Overseas Development Institute Report – Youth Entrepreneurship, a Contexts Framework which outlines that diagnosing the context of the external environment, whether it is factor driven, efficiency driven, innovation driven or has conflict, post conflict or peaceful setting or is a urban or rural environment is as important as tailoring the intervention to the beneficiary.

Second Chance Approaches

While the promotion of entrepreneurship among youth including through education and training, has many positive dimensions, it is important to acknowledge that they may not completely transform the problem of mass youth unemployment. Strengthening basic and foundational skills are critical for success in the work place.

In developing countries, there are large numbers of youth who have failed to complete a full cycle of basic education. The  2012 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report – Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work estimated that 200 million 15- to 24-year-olds in low and middle income countries have not completed primary school, let alone secondary education. It could be argued that the quality of schooling on offer in many instances is of such low quality that schooling is failing the learner, rather than that the learner failing in school. Many young people with high levels of intrinsic ability have not realised their potential. Second chance initiatives can be powerful means of unlocking that potential.

The 2013 OECD Action Plan for Youth has stressed that attaining a threshold level of foundation skills is essential for youth to have reasonable career prospects and that it is very important that those who have dropped out of school have some ways to return. The 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report also recommends that governments should make second chance education a policy priority to reduce the number of disadvantaged youth without foundational skills and set aside adequate funds for second chance education in the country’s strategic plans.  A crucial part of any second chance strategy should be recognition and validation of relevant competencies that learners may have acquired outside of the education system. This is for both purposes of entry to programmes of study and entry to work.

Countries in the European Union and OECD have put in place robust second chance education programs that developing countries in Asia can learn from.  This defies the misconception that second chance education is only important for developing countries.  There is a lot of interest, experience and expertise in second chance education and training among more advanced nations.  The 2012 report on International Approaches to 2nd Chance Education examined models in USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany and France, together with reference to practice elsewhere in Europe and the Nordic countries.  It offers a comprehensive list of successful characteristics of second chance programmes. It highlights that the most effective interventions combine life skills, basic education training and work placements or apprenticeships and stresses the importance of transferable skills.

Related articles

Can we measure skills for the knowledge economy in Asia-Pacific? By Cristina Martinez-Fernandez, OECD

 The knowledge economy is an slippery concept often associated with higher levels of income, better jobs and better lives. However the pathways to achieve a knowledge economy are not easy and many times lack a clear road map – how can this experience be transferred from higher income countries to lower income countries?  We often imagine ‘knowledge workers’ as those having unique or specific skills and knowledge to offer but what do we know about them? Can we measure skills needs for the kowledge-based economy in order to understand better who these workers are, where they are and what occupations they have? Scarcity of data and lack of standardised direct measures is a great obstacle. However proxies such as the existing demand for skills by occupation provide interesting results.

                  Occupational structures show the level of skills a country has. Examining occupational structures by skills levels shows that, generally, the more developed the country is, the more highly skilled occupations are available, compared to developing countries which seem to rely on lower skilled occupations. Higher skilled occupations such as professionals, technicians, associate professionals and clerks are significantly advanced in the developed countries of Australia, Hong Kong, China, New Zealand and Singapore, while other countries such as Cambodia, Pakistan and Viet Nam are struggling to supply these types of skills. Craft/related trades, and plant/machine operators and assemblers are regarded as medium-skille and in this category, operators and assemblers are generally in the manufacturing sector and industrialised countries have more of these jobs. But the craft and trades category includes diverse skill level  workers, and a high share is found not only in Australia but also in low‑skilled countries such as Pakistan and Viet Nam. The high share of low-skilled agricultural and elementary occupations indicates those countries in a state of low-skill equilibrium such as Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

From the occupational analysis we can extract the demand for skills training as derived from the need to align skills supply (from educational levels supply) with demand. The change in shares of occupation shows the direction and the magnitude of the shifts in skills demand. For example, Nepal and Viet Nam have growing demands for craft/trade and production workers. In Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal demand for production workers have increased. On the other hand, demand for agricultural workers and elementary occupations have declined. This shift in demand means that these countries need to train unskilled workers from rural areas to become production workers. In the more industrialised parts of Asia, demands for the medium-skilled occupations (craft/trades and operator/assembler workers) have declined fast in countries including: Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.   Countries in which the shares of professional and technician / associate professional workers has risen  include Hong Kong, China, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, in varying degrees. However, decline in production jobs is not entirely matched by growth of higher skilled jobs. In all countries, the shares of elementary occupations have increased. Mongolia and the Philippines have experienced a reduction of craft / trades and production jobs and an increase of elementary occupations . These countries are faced with upskilling demands for a wide range of their unskilled workforce in order to increase the share of knowledge occupations.

Diverse economic conditions of the countries and the variations on skills demand and supply offer a changing scenario but yet one that can be observed (even if not with a perfect shape) in order to provide evidence for the design of skills development and training programmes and policies in Asia-pacific. In particular, changes in occupational structure need to be monitored more closely to better anticipate skill demands from the different countries.

 Dr Cristina Martinez-Fernandez is a Senior Policy Analyst at the OECD LEED Programme. This piece draws on the OECD report on ‘skills development pathways in Asia’ (Martinez-Fernandez, C. and K. Choi, 2012); report contributing to the OECD Skills Strategy studies.


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


Skills development – Lessons from the Canadian Community Colleges. Paul Brennan, ACCC

As policy makers we almost always approach issues top down and not often from the learner’s or employer’s viewpoint in the many communities that we are ultimately trying to improve. Years later we wonder why things have not changed dramatically in the communities.  It is important to ensure taking the learner, employer and community perspective to elucidate what policy issues should be focused upon.

What students or learners want above all these days is to be able to find or create quality employment. Without a job, talking about citizenship is quite abstract. This means that institutions  must be closely linked to the employers and their communities, who know better what the job opportunities will be and what specific skills will be required going forward. Decentralizing authority to institutions is a key policy decision as that is the only way to allow rapid responsiveness to change.

As the knowledge economy replaces the agricultural and industrial ones, and the high value-added service one replaces basic manufacturing, the institution will also have to pay close attention to equipping its learners with the specific technical skills required by ever more demanding employers, along with essential employability skills (‘soft skills’) related to their profession, as well as opportunities for work placements to allow learners to obtain the experience which most employers are asking for these days.

To keep up with the constant imperative for innovation coming from global competition, institutions need to equip their learners with attitudes that encourage them to constantly,innovate and entrepreneurial skills to set up small businesses that can grow out of the informal economy into the formal one, or that lead to the creation of new businesses that take on the world of new global opportunities. In a world that requires constant upgrading of skills to remain competitive, and mobility when jobs move elsewhere, institutions and systems need to provide their learners with easy pathways to continuous learning and certifications that are recognized in other countries.

And as the positive economic development in a highly skilled global context is also creating a sub-class of people who cannot even get onto the first step of the escalator of skills acquisition, institutions need to be providing those marginalized populations with very practical, job-focused basic learning, allowing them to get onto the escalator.

The decentralized Canadian system, and particularly its highly responsive college and institute system, has allowed and indeed forced institutions to constantly adapt in order to better serve their employers, communities and especially students and adult learners,. What are the indicators of success?

  • Canada has the highest proportion of its population accessing post-secondary education, half of those are now doing so via a college or institute, and parents no longer consider colleges as a second-class option;
  • The 130 public colleges and institutes of Canada have an overall average of 91% of its graduates who obtain employment within six months of graduation, and a 95% rate of satisfaction of their employers with the quality of their new hires;
  • Institutions are measured by independently verified  and publicly available  indicators of performance, such as obtaining employment, and are funded accordingly;
  • Colleges and institutes have had the authority to rapidly develop new types of offerings and modes of learning that match the pace of change, including:

–       Pre-technology programs to allow secondary school drop-outs to catch up and acquire the basic skills needed to start a program, in dignity and with plenty of support services;

–       Two and three year diplomas for technicians and technologists or mid-level managers,

–       Four-year Bachelor degrees with mandatory supervised work internships amounting to one year of time,

–       Post-graduate certificates and diplomas for university graduates who cannot find employment and adults wanting shorter-term specialized upgrading, and

–       Applied research and technology transfer services for industry, and particularly small and medium sized businesses and start-ups.

  • Over 1,000 learning centres were set up across our vast country, to bring learning to the learners in remote communities, instead of waiting for the learner to perhaps travel to us;
  • Blended learning solutions were offered to reach out to more learners, including e-learning options, mobile workshops for practical training, and web-based strategies for the connected learner of today;
  • Green campuses were created across the country saving energy, training professionals for the new energies of tomorrow and acting as demonstration sites and centres of expertise on the green economy in their communities.

What about quality control and qualification frameworks?  Provincial ministries of education have very rigorous traditional quality control process frameworks, but are moving to control quality more by results, via employability and employer satisfaction rates, Decentralization does not mean losing all control, but rather that control shifts to measuring outcomes and allowing institutions the autonomy to adapt rapidly so that they can meet the changes in the market.

Is such a system a useful reference point for Asia?  Apparently as ACCC and Canadian colleges have been selected to help design and set up new or reformed TVET skills systems in Vietnam and Cambodia, to help open up institutions to poorly educated citizens in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and to help develop leaders, not only managers, but leaders of more responsive, community-driven and accessible systems by China.

A recently published forty-year History of ACCC in International Development: From Education to Employment, will be available shortly to see how some Canadian ideas were adapted and adopted in Asia, as well as countries like Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Jordan and South Africa, to name a few.

India and China: Pre Occupations with Skills Development. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

I recently attended two events related to skills development – the first one linked to the Asia Competitiveness Forum 2012 in New Delhi and the second, UNESCO World TVET Congress  in Shanghai.

India and the People’s Republic of China attract popular attention, and comparisons are common. As two giant economies with high rates of growth and potential for increasing influence in world markets, they offer much scope for discussions on policies and strategies.

The priorities for skills and training in the two countries have many similarities: both acknowledge that it is talent and high skill levels that will determine competitiveness in the times ahead, particularly talent for innovation. Both have an interest to move up the value chain to compete in higher value added manufacturing and services. Skills development is expected to be a key driver to facilitate their transformation from a low-end manufacturing to more sophisticated, service-oriented and innovative economies. Corporations in PRC aspire to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’. India announced 2010-2020 as the ‘decade of innovation’ that includes setting up innovation centres of excellence in different frontier areas.

Skills development is high on the agenda in national plan priorities for both countries – India has the target of creating a pool of 500 million skilled works by 2022. In PRC, the National Medium and Long Term Talent Development Plan for 2010-2020 puts emphasis on vocational training and employment promotion.  New and innovative public policy instruments are being directed towards TVET. In PRC, the development of vocational training parks such as the Tianjin Vocational Training Park is an example of a dedicated large scale facility to promote vocational training connected with the needs of enterprises. Allocating a third of the Shanghai urban tax to education, particularly TVET, helps to increase financing for the sector. The Government of India is setting up a credit guarantee fund to encourage students among weaker sections to go for higher technical and professional education. In 2011, 3.95 million TVET students received government aid in PRC. The World TVET Congress advocated a transformational role for TVET.

It was clear from the presentations that both India and PRC need TVET not only for higher order manufacturing and innovation (which is a high priority for avoiding the ‘middle income trap’), but also for social equity. The overwhelming share of informal labor markets in India poses a challenge to skills development. About 11 m small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country contribute to an estimated 7% of GDP, 40% of manufacturing output and 60% of exports. The Government of India is actively promoting the concept of clusters to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). In PRC, skills development for accelerating development in rural and impoverished areas has been a key priority through programs such as the Sunshine Program for rural labor transfer training. Both countries are actively encouraging the contribution from industry and the private sector. In India, the unique private-public partnership model of the National Skills Development Corporation follows a results-oriented approach to skill development and has the target of skills development of 150 million people by 2022 and assuring employment for 70% of those. PRC’s policies to encourage industry-school partnerships with students spending about a third of their training period in enterprises strengthens much needed employability.  Inequality is a critical issue that both countries need to grapple with – the gini coefficient has worsened in both counties.

Thus the three dimensional lens (economic, equity and transformative) attributed to TVET by the forthcoming world TVET report seems quite appropriate.

RIGHTS TO SKILLS, Manish Sabharwal. Chairman, Teamlease Services

Rights are not reducing poverty. Time to place skills and employment at the heart of policy It’s been raining “Rights” in Indian policy for the last few years; education, work, food, service, healthcare, and much else. This “diet coke” approach to poverty reduction – the sweetness without the calories – was always dangerous because of unknown side effects. Commenting in 1790 on the consequences of the French revolution, Edmund Burke said “They have found their punishment in their success; laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring, the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished and a state not relieved”. Not very differently, early results of this “policy revolution by fatwa” – MNREGS, Right to Education, Right to Food, Right to Service, etc –suggests that it has led to 15 interest rate hikes in 12 months, is destroying government finances, fuelling inflation, and encouraging civil society to subvert democracy. It also reminds us that policy entrepreneurship, like all entrepreneurship, is not exempt from the rule that big ideas without execution and resources are ineffective. Outlays don’t lead to outcomes because poetry is useless without plumbing. But there is an alternative for reducing poverty to this impatient state driven idealism; Skills and Jobs. Poverty reduction comes from an individual’s ability to access opportunities. Unfortunately unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment; 58% of India’s youth suffer from some skill deprivation. India’s skill crisis is a child of a fragmented regulatory regime (state vs. centre, 19 ministries vs. 2 human capital ministries), the dead-end view of vocational training (the lack of vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees), a broken apprenticeship regime (we only have 2.5 lac apprentices relative to 6 and 10 million in Germany and Japan), a weak job framework (the national occupation codes don’t create a shared thought world for employers and educators), no linking of financing to outcomes (we pay for training not jobs), no separation of financing from delivery (creating competition to government delivery by using government money for private delivery) and dysfunctional employment exchanges (1200 of them gave 3 lac jobs to the 4 crore people registered last year). The policy agenda around skills is not impossible or unknown. Employment Exchanges need to become public private partnership career centers that offer counseling, assessment, training, apprenticeships and job matching. The Apprenticeship Act of 1961 must be amended to view an apprenticeship as a classroom rather than a job and shift the regulatory thought world from push (employers under the threat of jail) to pull (make them volunteers). The National Vocational Educational Qualification Framework must be agreed by the states and the Ministries of Labour and HRD as the unifying open architecture tool for recognition of prior learning and vertical mobility between school leavers, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Delivery systems are in the hands of states and every state must create a skill mission or vocational training corporation tasked with building capacity and quality. States should also create asset banks to make existing government real estate available for skill delivery. All schools must teach English because English is like Windows; an operating system that creates geographic mobility and improves employment outcomes by 300%. Schools and Colleges must selectively embed vocational subjects – particularly soft skills – into their curriculum. The regulatory cholesterol around national distance education (mail order, e-learning and satellite) must be reviewed to offer flexible options for workers already in the workforce and the geographically disadvantaged. We must create a national network of community colleges offering two year associate degrees; these colleges, rooted in the local ecosystem, will serve the informal sector (92% of employment) This missing mezzanine layer – their two years programs are not normal degrees on a diet but vocational training on steroids – would bridge the gap between vocational education and training but make the system more inclusive. Finally, we must created skill vouchers that will allow financially disadvantaged students to get trained wherever they want at government expense. Such vouchers would shift the system to funding students rather institutions should be funded by money carved out of the MNREGS budget. Unlike the skill agenda, the job creation agenda is more complex and controversial. But few disagree about the shame in four employment statistics being exactly where they were in 1991; 92% informal employment, 12% manufacturing employment, 50% self-employment and 58% agricultural employment. Economists do not understand how job are created or why they cluster where they do. But the broad contours of fertile soil for job creation are obvious; a flexible labour market, skilled employees, robust infrastructure, and predictable legislation. A flexible labour market is important; most economists agree that our labour law regime is poisonous. India’s labour laws – our employment contracts are marriage without divorce – have created a labour aristocracy (only 8% of our labour force works in the organized sector) that perpetuates labour laws which cripple India’s ability to compete with China in organized manufacturing. The labour law issue is closely related to the skill issue because expanding formal employment is the key to third-party financing of skill development and expanding manufacturing employment is key to getting people off farms (58% of our people produce 18% of our GDP). It’s late but not too late to change the tragic reality that the two most important decisions a child in India makes is choosing their parents and pin code wisely. Mughal Emperor Jahangir told his gardener in Kashmir that if a tree takes 100 years to mature, that’s all the more reason to plant it as soon as possible. In other words, the best time to start changing our skill system and reforming labour laws was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. India’s new tryst with destiny – putting poverty in the museum it belongs – doesn’t need more “Rights” but more jobs and more skills. And creating jobs and skills doesn’t need new ideas but courage. Not more strategy but more execution. Any takers?