“For our people to benefit from new employment opportunities, we must ensure that every Indian is skilled and educated. Education alone is the foundation on which a prosperous and progressive society is built. I wish to see a revolution in education and skill development in the next five years. We will make India a nation of educated people, of skilled people, of creative people.” Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India at the Red Fort on August 15, 2007.
In this century, India is emerging as a global leader and a strong nation with fast changing realities. India strives to compete in a globalised economy, in areas that require highly trained professionals. Thus, education is considered as a capstone for the nation’s development.
We have the third largest higher education market in terms of student numbers, after China and the United States. English is the primary language at our institutions. India has created world-class institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and perhaps a few others such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. However, these institutions are limited, and when combined, they enroll under one per cent of the student population (Altbach, 2005, para. 4).
In spite of the increase in the number of school and universities across India, we are surviving with a mediocre higher education system in the global market.
Even after 65 years of independence, we face the problem of millions of graduates being unemployable for Indian and multinational companies. The Indian education system manufactures 100,000 graduates of which only 53 percent are employable. (Team Lease, 2007, pp.3). A Wall Street Journal article (Anand, 2011) states “75 percent of technical graduates and more than 85 percent of general graduates are unemployable by India’s high growth global industries.” It is estimated that the percentage of Indian college graduates readily employable in the market is only 15-25 percent of the total talent pool.
Hence, skill imparting and training needs to be initiated. With the estimated increase in the population below 25 years, the problem of youth being unemployable is a serious concern and needs urgent reforms.
“The current education system does not educate students to apply skills. Basic attitudes and skills like punctuality, maintaining logbooks, project management, discipline, customer interface, clear communication, etc. are not taught. So even if basic skills are there, the lack of professional skills often means that the individual cannot create value for themselves or their organization.” says the HR Head of one of the largest telecommunications company (Anand, 2011).
Such industry complaint, that the youth are not employable, is a harsh feedback that Indians are not measuring up to the order of psychological capacity demanded in the modern workplace. But how is this possible when the Indian higher education system has not made many changes in its syllabus and teaching method since the British rule.
India achieved its independence in 1947 and in its inheritance, received the British education system. The structure of the whole system was based solely on giving a degree that served as passports to the government services. The emphasis was on academic subjects and not so much on technical or skill development. It was not in their interest to impart an education system that fostered independence or self-authorship. The Indian political leadership had the arduous task of truly educating the Indian population.
Can Higher Education Adapt?
The gaps and shifts experienced have led educators, learners, and the industry to demand better quality education.
The question is whether our education system can adapt to this new paradigm. In a globalized workplace the demand for STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is increasing. Beyond this, the 21st century skills also include the following capacities:
• problem solving and decision making
• creative and critical thinking
• collaboration, communication, and negotiation
• intellectual curiosity and the ability to find, select, structure, and evaluate information;
and the motivation to be:
• an independent self-starter, who is responsible, persevering, self-regulating, reflective, self evaluating, and self-correcting
• a lifelong learner who is flexible and able to adapt to change (Cisco, pp. 10)
Learning these skills is imperative for developing countries like India to make the move to a knowledge economy.
Long back the ailments were identified.
The government had realized that they adopted the British education system with the laissez-faire attitude, and set up a number of goals to be pursued, as stated in the report of the Education Commission (Kothari, 1964-66).
We have also suggested various remedial measures like financing, public private partnerships and improved teacher training quality. In spite of this, why has India failed in implementing these reforms for the last 50 years?
A deeper analysis of the system will indicate that these measures do not cure the disease of the system which actually prevents us from implementing some of the reforms. The stakeholders of this system – policymakers, teachers and students need to look at the system from above the stage of drama; reflect and analyze on the component of the educations system that is working for the development of the country, and let go off those, that are not working for the country today. This higher level of mental complexity will enable us to embrace the new reality and challenges of the modern world and transform the system.
How can this system in sickness be brought to better heath? “In nursing and treatment of a sick person to bring him back to health, it is necessary that he be given not what his wanton desires urge, but what he needs and what is medically prudent to be given” (Mishra, 2003).
Our higher education needs restructuring. According to Robert Kegan (1994) a famous developmental psychologist, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says “the focus should not be on what the student knows, but how the student knows.”
The path of transformation for the higher education system in India lies in the way we construct meaning of our past, which will help us to abandon the received legacies of the past, and adapt to the new demands and needs of the time in a self-authoring way, rather than appeasing populist sentiments.
Radical changes and restructuring is called for. An alignment between the production of labor supply and labor demand is required. An average student is comfortable with rote learning and expects the textbooks to impart skills and knowledge with little questioning from the student.
The government is stuck thinking, whether they should publicly finance or have institutions finance themselves. We do not need just more money but a structural change, a change in the mindset of the policy makers, teachers, university boards and system overall. We do not need more cooks but a different recipe!
The report to the people on education (pp. 3) talks about the importance of educating our youth for the future.
“This young population should be considered as an invaluable asset, which if equipped with knowledge and skills, can contribute effectively to the development of the national as well as the global economy. Our vision is to realize India’s human resource potential to it’s fullest in the education sector, with equity and inclusion.”
Altbach, G. P. (2005, April 12). Higher education in India. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.hinduonnet.com
Anand. G. (2011, April 5). India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com
Cisco. Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century. Retrieved from newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2008/ekits/Equipping_Every_Learner_for_21st_Century_White_Paper.pdf Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century
critical thinking. (n.d.). Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon. Retrieved May 05, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/critical thinking
India Labour Report. (2007). The Youth Unemployability Crisis. Retrieved from www.teamlease.com/images/reports/Teamlease_LabourReport_2007.pdf The Youth Unemployability Crisis
Kegan, R. (1994). In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, New Delhi, (2010). Report to the People on Education. Retrieved from www.education.nic.in/Report-english.pdf
Mishra, K. S (2003): On self-financing of institutions of higher learning in India. Unpublished. Retrieved from http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/1829/
Reed, S. K. (2000). Problem solving. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology(Vol. 8, pp. 71–75). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press.