India Country Report: Conclusions
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Healthy, dynamic educational systems evolve around developments in employment, society and economy. The stakeholders we consulted in India were vocal on how education within their country should change to reflect the prevailing economic and employment situation. The conclusions in this section reflect some of the key issues and challenges facing India today.
Globalisation has given the Indian economy and its population a huge surge of energy, enthusiasm and opportunity. But, while the country's ability to compete across sectors remains bright, the economy is still affected by the global shortage of skilled labour. The process of upskilling workers is as significant a challenge as developing high-quality new entrants for industry.
The education system is receiving significant resources, from primary school through to secondary and tertiary education. Government and industry acknowledge that long-term investment in professional education is crucial to the growth and stability of the economy. But it is also a daunting task. The Indian education system is attempting to address huge challenges around basic skills, which arguably present a more acute problem than that of educating people who are already further up the academic ladder.
In terms of delivering a sufficiently skilled workforce, there must be quicker action and more conviction, a deregulation of further and higher education provision and new teaching methods, new curricula and new models of development and delivery.
Businesses currently have to play a far greater role in educating the workforce than ever before. This has had some significant benefits - the quality and relevance of this in-house training is considered to be very high, and in some niche areas it is providing Indian companies with a perceptible edge. The content of these courses can be continually moderated to fit changing demands. And, because methods are considerably more 'hands on', soft skills are developed and nurtured where class-based learning often fails.
There are downsides to this approach, however. At the moment, activity is delivered in an ad-hoc, voluntary way, and this means it is not scalable to the wider population. In addition, the size and nature of a business will always affect the ability of a business to provide its own training and education.
The squeeze on profit margins in some sectors mitigates against the investment that would be required to design and deliver effective education programmes. For small and very small businesses, there often isn't the time or enough staff turnover to justify this kind of in-house training. There are also issues around the portability of these qualifications, as most are not certified within a recognised framework. The teaching quality and the value of the learning from this type of informal qualification may be extremely high, which is ironic considering the common perception of vocational education. But the certificate may mean very little beyond the confines of the organisation.
It is inevitable and desirable that businesses become training institutions in some form or another. Through in-house education programmes and informal apprenticeships, businesses can convert new recruits into valued and valuable staff members. For many businesses, playing this role assures the quality of staff learning and allows them to refine the content of their education to meet ever changing requirements.
Businesses need to become more prominent stakeholders in education for this to be successful and scalable in the long term. This means increasing the flow of ideas, resources and educational content between the public and private sector. It also means involving employers in the valuing and certification of further and higher education programmes. India can only begin to address its long-term skills demands by bridging the divide between the education system and the business world.
Key issues lie around the nature of training and the way in which learning is measured. Firstly, there is a suggestion that shorter training cycles (nano-training) could help to streamline the delivery of professional education.
It's no longer valid for an individual to study a specific curriculum to become qualified for one particular role. New rules of employment require new ways of learning, and it is clear that we need to discover better ways of developing soft skills. Increasing engagement between business and education will help but more needs to be done. Secondly, the way in which we measure the effectiveness of learning needs to be addressed. There is a growing demand for new diagnostic tools that allow educators to understand how successful their teaching is, particularly in relation to the development of soft skills.