India Country Report: Overview

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We wanted to understand how the aims of the Effective Education for Employment project tallied with the views of educational and economic stakeholders in India, so we went there to meet them. This section is the fruit of that labour and provides some background on the factors which have influenced economic development within India as well as a description of some of the most recent influential changes in educational policy and practice. It will help you understand the importance of some of the critical educational issues identified within the country as well as some conclusions on what changes need to be made.

The Economy

India sits at the forefront of the new economic paradigm. It is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, with GDP growth running at 9% in 2007. Set against this is an estimated population living below the poverty line of over 27% in 2008.

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The Workforce

The speed of growth is placing huge demands on the Indian education system. It will have to develop an appropriately skilled workforce that can meet the ever-changing human resource requirements industry is creating. Paradoxically, economic growth has not been matched by employment opportunities, with fears that India could be witnessing jobless growth. The Boston Consulting Group and US Standard Bureau recently published figures predicting a global deficit in trained manpower by 2020. By this time, it is estimated that India will have a surplus of about 47 million skilled workers.

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Education

The Indian government recently committed itself to raising public investment in education (from 3.7% of GDP in 2008 to 6% by 2025). A National Skills Development Mission was also launched in 2007 with the aim of creating 1,600 new industrial training institutes and polytechnics, 10,000 new vocational schools and 50,000 new skill development centres. These are ambitious targets that demonstrate an awareness of the need for significant change. Consequently India is fast becoming a global hub for talent.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an education system to respond to these challenges quickly and in the right ways - particularly in a country as large and as diverse as India. The education system is struggling to address significant issues around basic skills as well as the challenge of moving a predominantly rural workforce from agricultural to industrial activities. A World Bank report in 2006 stated that, while the number of individuals with some education had risen over the preceding five years, educational attainment remained low overall in comparison to other countries. Figures suggest that only around one school-leaver in five has the necessary skills to get a job, and the figure for university graduates is one in four.

Some changes are taking place in further and higher education where the focus is more on educating for employment. But this change is slow and, as a consequence, business and industry are increasingly operating in a 'parallel universe' to education. They are assuming responsibility for the development and up-skilling of their workforce in total isolation fromthe formal structures of public education. Vocationally trained individuals currently represent around 5% of the total Indian workforce. There are currently plans to increase this figure to 50% by 2021.

The years of colonialism are considered to have left a broadly positive legacy - in particular, the embedding of the English language into education. But the administrative systems are largely based on a traditional British framework, and this creates problems. Within this framework, there is an emphasis on 'top' academic institutions and considerably less prestige and focus on non-academic studies. There is some evidence that the relative employer demand for technically/vocationally qualified candidates has actually fallen over the last decade. This is partly due to the poor quality (or poor-quality perception) of the training that is provided. There is a lack of belief from employers towards such qualifications.

Even so, a vast and expanding education market is being created in India because of current economic and demographic trends and significant increase in government spending. The current education market is estimated to be worth around $46 billion with $17 billion of this being private spend. The specific market for vocational education and training is currently estimated at $1 billion.

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Professional Education

Addressing vocational education is seen as one way to stimulate job creation and meet current skill demands. India has a strong history of positive policies and activity around vocational education. But feedback received suggested many public schemes lack relevance and employer respect. As a consequence, the impact on the workforce is minimal.

The vocational education stream in India is comparatively small, with less than 3% of students at upper secondary level enrolling in courses. In fact, India's vocational education institutions are running at considerably less than their available capacity, illustrating the challenge the country faces in changing perceptions and raising standards. Furthermore, a large number of people who take vocational education programmes do so as a stepping stone to further educational progression, rather than to enter the labour market. In part, this reflects the poor employment opportunities for those leaving vocational programmes.

While these issues are still problematic, they should not obscure the value of some of the initiatives being run in India's vocational stream. There are a variety of programmes aimed at improving employment opportunities in general as well as providing a balanced education that better matches the requirements of the workplace. There is also some focus on self-employment as a desirable outcome.

The Apprentice Training Scheme was launched in the late 1950s as part of India's vocational programme. In 2004, around 168,000 apprentices were placed across public and private sector organisations, according to government figures. This was only a moderate increase in numbers from five years before, which is another clear indication of a system with significant additional capacity - only 68% of available apprenticeships were taken up in 2004.

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