South Asia’s demand for skills education
Dec 10 2013
If one carefully studies the enormous economic change that is happening in South Asia, one realises that this region is on the cusp of a demographic advantage which could be much larger than what China has achieved in the past 15 years. It is the young generation, in the age group of 15-24, among the total population of more than 1.6 billion, that is triggering a change. South Asia has an aspiring middle-class of around 400 million people and equally matching, around 500 million, poor people. It has many centres of world-class innovation, but still faces major challenges on access to education. It is projected that so many countries, like those in South Asia, would need one million new labour forces every month for the next two decades. This labour is not only to come from school-educated youths, but also from those who are graduates in different faculties. The trained manpower would also come from advanced graduates and there is a need for research and development in the field of skills education.
In most South Asian countries, a strong urban and rural divide creates a cycle of limited opportunities. The problem is that rural areas are being marginalised through weak school systems, lack of training and employment opportunities, and low-value work, which leads to a cycle of low-skilled workers leaving their homes to seek employment in urban areas. But what is more alarming is the demand of industries and businesses is becoming very broad, while education and training institutions are not well focused on the rapidly changing expectations of trained youths. Thus, one can see that educational trends in all South Asian countries are almost similar.
In this crisis, India could play a useful role. In the recent past, it has understood the importance of skilled human power in the entire spectrum of industries and businesses. The educated youths in schools need skills that are connected with several support services. These support services are linked with food, clothes, and houses maintenance, but today, people’s expectations have expanded. They expect the best services in health, education, communication, infrastructure, green and processed foodstuff, entertainment, transport and links with global communities. All this has a direct impact on the manner in which industries enhance their productions, which are now looking for more support from various levels of educational institutions.
The education domain, thus, has to focus on skills education in a more organised manner. It is unproductive to differentiate between fundamental core subjects and training in skills enhancement. It is true that the education of fundamental core subjects — whether at school, colleges or university levels —creates a foundation of knowledge in different subjects, but it is also equally essential for students to understand application-oriented use of core knowledge for product development. Today, no industry in any country can claim that its products are for local people. The developed, developing as well as emerging countries are now entities that concentrate on global businesses so that their products have a global design, but are modified to be used smoothly in their local environment and have a flavour of their culture as well.
This requires a different level of academic philosophy. The boundaries between various subjects and faculties have to be rubbed off. One also needs to understand the thought processes and learn from the experiences of those who work in industries or businesses. Students should attain education from PhDs qualified in particular subjects and application-oriented industry experts, who are equally educated over the years through their involvement in production processes. These industry officers are equally qualified to be recognised teachers as defined in our present legal provisos.
The bottomline is that breaking the boundaries between universities imparting fundamental education and wealth generating industries and business entities. The outcome could be good for all South Asian countries and it is important to note that India can lead in this domain.
(The writer is former chaiman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)