There’s a need of gradual shift of focus!


Ruma Purkayastha
Educationist, New Delhi

The government of India is now focusing on skill development at school level. While it is not easy for schools to shift the focus from certification focused delivery system to skill development, a gradual shift is required to make the transition easy and beneficial for both students as well as teachers.

There is a huge need to expand the skill development of our youth.The biggest challenge is to ensure that while a school expands its existing capacity, it also maintains its quality.

Certification-oriented vs. skill development…

It may be premature to say that Certification Focused Delivery Systems in schools are completely irrelevant. They do serve a purpose in the competitive environment which our children need to navigate at some point in their lives. However, Skill Development would add value and make the education in schools more relevant. It would impart the students with tangible, real world capabilities which would help them pursue their choice of career. Students would also be able to hone and develop their innate skills which would add to their self-esteem and make them more confident. Skill Development, therefore, can potentially make students better prepared for their professional lives and also add value to their self-image.

Challenges for schools…

There is a huge need to expand the skill development of our youth.The biggest challenge I think is to ensure that while a school expands its existing capacity, it also maintains its quality. Also,there is a huge gap between the industry and the schools, or training institutes and this needs to be addressed. India has a huge youth population but most of them lack the necessary skills needed for their employability.

A classical classroom refers to a well structured and organized class which follows the conventional form of teaching. Any shift from this first requires a thorough introspection on the teacher’s understanding of the matter. Only when each teacher genuinely understands the implications of these skills, can they ensure that opportunities being provided are genuinely equipping students for life‘s challenges. Therefore, schools would first have to equip their teachers with such understanding. This would allow the teachers to effectively incorporate skill development into their lessons and develop each student’s ability.

Classroom instruction in many schools is personalized.It may not be in a one-to-one ratio but if the class strength is small, teachers are able to reach out to every child. If we are looking at personalized instruction literally for each child, the teacher-student ratio needs to be addressed.

The infrastructure will also have to be changed or upgraded accordingly.Schools would have to take in staff competent to impart these skills to the students to make it fruitful. This is because teachers usually have full work loads with the academic and other secondary duties of a school programme. Empowering them would not only mean providing the necessary skill and expertise but also re-allocation of both academic and co-curricular work schedules if quality has to be maintained. One option going forward may be to recruit different or specialized teachers for the skill training sessions.

Further, the long term advantages of such a program has to explained to all stakeholders, especially the parents, who should be brought on board to ensure that the initiative achieves its desired outcomes.

There has to be a gradual shift…

Skill development is already a part of the curriculum in many schools, perhaps being done as hobby classes and other programmes. Structuring it into the mainstream curriculum would require considerable support in teacher training, logistics and much more. Revamping it totally may not be practical in a short time-frame, and is likely to meet with more resistance. In that sense, a complete overhaul of the curriculum may not be successful. It may be a better option to gradually modify the curriculum, by rationalising the scope of the ‘traditional subjects’ while augmenting focus on ‘skill development.’

Skills development at various stages…

Personally,at the primary school stage we should focus on the basic academic skills with emphasis on developing the cognitive and social emotional skills within an open, friendly and activity based curriculum. It is important at this stage to help children learn life skills, manage emotions and develop empathy. In middle school, the focus should be on team work, responsibility, communication and technology. Helping them to negotiate conflict, recognize limitations and cultivate their passions could also be incorporated. However, they should be made aware of the kind of skill programmes available, and their importance for the future so that they can make a choice in senior school. At secondary school level, the students should be able to choose from several industry based skills that cater to career readiness and employability. There are several vocational courses which have begun and they could choose from that.

Curriculum redefined…

A curriculum defines what a student is expected to know and the learning outcome states what the student would know. Hence the curriculum should be such that it fosters each child while it recognizes and hones their diverse talents and skills. Highly learner centered teaching practices that promote more opportunities for smaller group work, use of research based classroom practices while allowing for student autonomy and higher order thinking should be followed. The pedagogy must also encourage dialogue and expose student to real world possibilities.

A programme like this would be successful only when there are more avenues of employment in these areas. These jobs should also fetch good wages so that the options become attractive to both the student and the parent. In the current scenario some subjects are highly sought after due to a perceived notion that they would facilitate opportunities in professions which stability, higher incomes and social status. Further, in many colleges and universities, students are not allowed to add their vocational subject marks while applying for admissions. This is a significant source of discouragement. A strong effort needs to made to overcome such biases within society for students to open up to vocational courses.

Life skills – a must too!

The existing life skills programmes must be woven into skill development programmes. The skill could be imparted by experts while the mainstream teachers retain an auxiliary role thus adding value to it. While we equip students for the industry or for self employment, we need to provide training for life skills too. It is this mix of the two which would empower an individual in making the right choices and decisions as and when required.

The industry linkage…

We are facing an acute shortage of well trained skilled workers. Large numbers of the educated workforce, have no job skills, which is making them unemployable. The industry has to take on the role of mentors if this gap is to be bridged. Unless the industry proactively provides suitable inputs regarding specific skills and qualities required to make the youth more employable, schools will not be able to prepare them adequately. The industry must also support schools by providing hands on experience and internships. With proper skill training,the industry would gain access to a better quality work-force and will therefore be able to provide greater employment opportunities.

Ruma Purkayastha is a dedicated professional with over three decades of experience in the field of education. With an academic background in Psychology, she believes that the purpose of education is to encourage students to realise their potential, understand and celebrate their uniqueness and build life skills towards the future. Over the years, she has taught children of all age groups and worked on courses and workshops to facilitate learning. In 2017, she superannuated as the Principal of Navy Children School, New Delhi after a successful decade-long tenure. Outside of the institution of schooling, she has also worked on social issues and life skills related content for All India Radio, newspapers, magazines and has been a contributor to the Chicken Soup series of books.