Diversifying Education as a Strategy for Expanding Skilled Labour Market: An Overview of Vocational Higher Secondary Education in Kerala
Posted Jiju P. Alex
Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kollam
Kerala Agricultural University
in his famous blog Grassroot
It is well established that external efficiency of an education system involves relationships between general and vocational education and between schools and work opportunities (Ekflof, 1986). Though intricate and diverse, this relationship seeks to accomplish the cardinal objective of economic growth through generation of skilled manpower, which would also simultaneously reduce unemployment among youth (Middleton et al 1993). The need to promote economic recovery and long term development, reduce unemployment, and help specific groups in the labour force obtain access to employment has brought vocational education and training to the forefront of the deliberations on development andsignificant public funds have been channeled for it. This sacred objective notwithstanding, Vocational Higher Secondary Education (VHSE) in Kerala hasnot been able to accomplish the declaredtarget of diverting a major section of theschool leavers to the vocational stream and enhancing the employability of the youth in Kerala. VHSE as a strategy of human resource development for the middle tier of the labour market in the country is crippled with several constraints, both policy related and operational. The general observation on the economic feasibility of vocational education as being less cost effective in comparison with general education holds good in the Indian conditions as well. Although variations are observed across countries, the recurrent cost per student for vocational and technical schools exceed those of academic schoolsby an average of 153 per cent in developing countries. The VHSE sector requires well-conceived policy interventions to improve the employability of education as well as to reduce the burden on general stream of higher education. This paper, though notexhaustively, tries to review the state of affairs in the field of VHSE in Kerala in the general context of vocational education in the country and suggests certain intervention points at the functional and policy levels.VHSE in India: Evolution and Growth
Vocationalisation of education had beenan important point of focus in almost all discussions on education in India, even as early as in 1944, when the Sergeant Committee which was constituted to look into the issues of revamping the educational system in India recommended the setting up of separate technical schools for vocational training. The subject was actively considered in the post independence period as well, fully in line with the looming concerns ofnational reconstruction as seen from the reflections of the Education Committee headed by Dr. Radhakrishnan (1948). Following this, the Mudaliar Commission (1952) suggested a basic framework of education, specifying that the post secondary education should be terminal and vocational courses should be started from Class IX onwards. It was in response to the recommendations of the Kothari Commission (I966)- which outlined and recommended reorientation of the educational system in India-that vocationalisation got concretized in the country. The Commission suggested a uniform pattern of 10+2+3 education in the entire country and clearly stated that vocational education should be a distinctstream at the plus two stage to cover atleast 50 per cent of total enrolment. Further, these courses should be terminalin providing knowledge and skill upgradation of students for entry into middle level jobs.
With the National Policy on Education 1968 accepting the recommendations of the Kothari Commission, vocational education became a prominent part of the educational reforms in India. In 1976,a centrally sponsored scheme was launched to concretize the conceptual framework of implementing vocational education in the country. It limped ahead and got extinguished with the discontinuance of the programme in 1979. However, it was resumed later following the recommendations of the Working Group headed by Dr. V. C Kulandaiswamy in 1985, which formulated the concept of vocationalisation at different levels with an action plan for its promotion. This committee recommended that the Central Government should mobilize the financial resources for its implementation.
The National Policy on Education 1986 emphasised that introduction of a systematically planned and vigorously implemented programme of vocational education is crucial in the proposed educational reorganization. Vocational education will be a distinct stream intended to prepare students for identified occupation spanning several areas of activities as justified by the Kothari Commission. These courses will ordinarily be provided after Class VIII to keep flexibility to divert 25 per cent of the higher education students by 1995. In a bid to enhance the scope of vocational education, the National Policyon Education 1992 decided to involve private sector and non governmental organizations in the placement of students in wage labour or self employment for vocational pass outs. Subsequently, Department of Education had proposed a scheme ‘Each one- Place One’’ for ensuring the support of non- governmental organizations in strengthening vocational education.
In the formal sector, the VHSE programme is implemented at the plus two level by state governments through approximately 6700 schools. More than 150 courses are offered in six major disciplines viz., agriculture, business and commerce, engineering and technology, health and paramedical services, home sciences and humanities. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has of late sought the help of the Department of Economic Affairs to help the products of VHSE programme set up their own enterprises by means of loans from nationalized banks and finance companies. The non-governmental organizations would also get financial assistance for implementing innovative projects on vocationalisation of education. It is reported that at the national level, 168 NGOs have been finically assisted for projects on issues of school dropouts and rural unemployed youth.VHSE in Kerala: An Overview
Kerala has been one among the very fewstates that were eager to implement Vocational Higher Secondary Education Programme in the initial years. However, it was not so zealous to go further as seen from the slow pace in upgrading the capabilities of the system and putting in place appropriate organizational mechanisms to improve the quality of education, during the lateryears.Growth of VHS Schools in Kerala
When VHSE was introduced in Kerala in 1983-84, only 19 schools were selected for this system. Later it was extended to 73 schools offering courses for 27 vocational subjects in 1985-86. In 1997-98, there were 310 schools offering courses for 27 vocational subjects, with atotal of 814 sections in 45 subjects. As on 2003, there are 375 schools with 1000 sections. Annual sanctioned intake is 30000 students 2002-03 375Out of the 375 schools, 247 are in Govt. Sector (65. 86 per cent) and 128 are in thePrivate Sector (34.13 per cent).
Regional Distribution of VHSSchools
Geographical distribution of VHS Schools in the state shows a remarkable regional imbalance, with 61.7 per cent of the schools situated in districts south off Thrissur and 38.3 per cent to the districts in the North. However, significant focus on rural population is notable as far as vocational higher secondary education in Kerala is concerned. Out of the total number of schools that have existed as on 2003, 75.5 per cent are located in ruralareas. Looking at the region wise distribution of vocational schools, proportion of rural schools is seen more in Pathanamthitta District (85.4 per cent) followed by Ernakulam District (81.5 per cent). The proportion is lowest in Vadakara Region, which is constituted by Wynad and Kozhikkode districts.Trends of enrolment in VHSE
There has been a steady increase in the number of applications and the number of students admitted to the courses. Overa period of four years since 1998-99, the number of applications has increased almost about 1.6 times and the number of students admitted 1.5 times. However,the per centage of admission to total application has remained almost the same without any significant statistical variation, fully in line with the insignificant variation within the patternof increase in the number of students seeking admission and the number of students admitted.
The low ratios of admission to the number of applications could be of two reasons: one, the rejection levels of applications are too high for want of required qualifying marks or two, the number of vocational seats have not increased with the increase in the number of students every year. Though the yearly statistics of the increase in the number of schools since 1989-90 till 2002-03 is not available, a cursory look shows that the number of schools has increased only 1.2 times over a period of five years from 1997-98. The year wise availability of the number of seats in each school has not however been takeninto consideration to draw more inferences in this regard.
Strikingly, the ratio of annual intake to the total number of students passing outfrom SSLC, the major exit point of secondary school education in Kerala hasalso remained without any significant variation across the years, though there is a marginal increase from six to eight in2000-01 and 2001-02.Discipline wise distribution of students in VHSE
The distribution of enrolment across disciplines in Vocational Higher Secondary Education clearly indicates a rather unbalanced focus on prospective vocational subjects, particularly those related to agriculture and allied sectors. Apropos sanctioned intake and actual enrolment in the nine categories of vocational subjects taught in the state, Engineering tops the list with 14 subjectsand 32.8 per cent of the total intake capacity and 35.3 per cent of total enrolment. Business and Commerce rankssecond, though much lower in proportion of sanctioned intake and actual enrolment (20.4 and 21.0 respectively).Though more number of courses are oriented towards engineering and technology, followed by courses on Business and Commerce, a closer look at the content of the disciplines show that recent developments in these sectors have not been adequately represented. The emphasis on agriculture and allied sectors are also inadequate. Though largely rural in its setting and profile, theVHSE System would have been of greatersignificance to the rural development sector, if the curricula and content were designed with the objective of facilitating rural enterprises and thereby generation of rural employmentPattern of funding for Vocational Higher Secondary Education in Kerala
The emphasis on VHSE has obviously increased over a period of fifteen years with the plan allocation escalating from 61.25 lakhs in 1985-86 to 150.43 lakhs in 2001-02. (Table 6) However the Government of India found VHSE to be ineffective and consequently discontinued Central Assistance for three years from 1997-98 to 1999-2000. It was retained again in 2000-01.
Plan funds for vocational higher secondary education showed a sharp decline from 467.20 to 143.86 in the year 1999-2000. The non-plan funds have increased in varying proportions, with an abrupt hike from 3.03 in 1998-99 to 20.29 in 1999-2000. The increase in the non-plan component signifies the enhancement in the allotment of salaries and establishment overheads incurred out of the deployment of more teachers, establishment of new schools and infrastructure facilities coupled with the closure of central assistance
Expenditure on Vocational Higher Secondary Education shows a sharp increase in the proportion of non- plan to plan funds from 3.03 to 20.29 from 1998 to 1999, which has remained without any significant rise henceforth.Profile of students enrolled in VHSE
Academic profile of a sample of students of VHSE shows that mostly students with low academic scores in SSLC get enrolled in the vocational higher secondary education programme . About 76 per cent of the total number of students enrolled has marks below 400. This indicates the failure of the VHSE system to attract students with high academic background as an alternative to the general stream of education.
The perception of the students on the utility of the programme throws more light into the trend observed above. Out of the sample surveyed, 85.60 per cent ofthe students preferred to join VHSE in view of the scope for employment, 5.47 per cent in view of the scope for higher education, and 3.47 per cent in view of the reservation in professional courses for VHS Students. Though the students aspire to get a job on completion of the course, about 6.04 per cent of the total students who pass out go for higher studies.
Issues to resolve :
Though it has been only a cursory glance of the performance of Vocational Higher Secondary Education in Kerala, this review points out several problems that may have to be addressed immediately as well as with a long-term perspective. The problems are manifold and may require meticulous interventions in a concerted manner for content upgradation, infrastructure development, adequate deployment of human resources, skill improvement of teachers and instructors etc. Even if these problems are addressed, the objective of diverting substantial portion of the school leavers to the VHSE stream would remain as an uphill task until the student community- irrespective of their academic track record- acknowledge and appreciate the prospects of VHSE in terms of employability and other parameters. To be more specific, comparative advantages of VHSE can not be established unless the job prospects of VHSE are well defined in relation to the expanding job markets in the state, country and abroad. The review further points out the following issues:
• Demand for vocational education at the plus two level is low, as the parents mostly prefer college education for their children. The students after VHSE prefer to join general stream of higher education.
• The general employment culture in the country neither allows to take in childrenbelow 18 years into lower level workforce nor equip them to take up selfemployment
• Low industrialization and less growth in agricultural enterprises and auxiliary industries in the state economy have retarded the multiplier effect on employment generation.
• Supply driven courses fail to sustain. VHSE has not evolved into a demand driven educational programme as the courses are designed and implemented with little or no assessment of market demands or absorption capacity in various development sectors. Rather the VHSE programme contributes to creation of more unemployed youth. With regard to curricula and administration of courses, it is observed that practical sessions offered and the capability acquired by students do not inspire theirconfidence and the ad hoc or casual nature of teaching, particularly in government schools repel students.
• Adding further to this woe, schools have not been modernized and there is aserious dearth of trained or qualified teachers. Schools are neither provided with the basic lab, library or workshop facilities nor there is sufficient time for practical sessions.
Intervention Points The Working Group on education for the formulation of Tenth Five Year Plan had insisted that any expansion of VHSE should be done only after a detailed study of the relevance of the courses introduced and based on future demand in the emergingcontext of fast changing technology. Endorsing the recommendations of the working group, the State Planning Boardhad taken up revamping of VHSE as a part of the reform agenda for the tenth plan. However, even at the fag end of the Tenth Plan, situation has not changed much. The intervention points towards this direction that could be summarized as given below:
•A comprehensive assessment of the capability of various developmental sectors for inducting a substantial portion of VHSE leavers should be taken up by means of scientifically designed survey methods. The surveys shall be taken up on a yearly basis. Vocational guidance services have to be strengthened at the district level with inputs from the surveys mentioned above.
•Establishment of production-cum-training centres at all VHS Schools inassociation with practicing industrialists,farmers, business houses, public sector enterprises, universities etc to impart training and hands on sessions for students. This should also be linked with available marketing channels as much as possible.
•Massive in service courses for the lecturers and instructors of VHS Schools are required to keep the students abreast of latest trends in the respective disciplines. Though refresher training programmes are being conducted regularly in the general stream, vocational higher secondary education isseverely crippled with the lack of faculty improvement programmes. This, coupledwith temporary recruitment of teaching staff has made the academic situation in most of the schools highly deplorable.
•Instruction in VHS Schools should be improved with the help of state of art instructional technologies. Broader training is required for in improving the personal and social skills needed in the labour market. First of all, textbooks for each discipline or trade should be prepared with the help of inputs from academicians and practising experts in the respective field. The contents should include practical aspects of jobs that could be undertaken on completion of the programme, as well as help students take up self-employment projects. The students should also be trained on entrepreneurial and managerial skills that could instil self-confidence and achievement motivation. The recently initiated exercise for preparation of textbooks and manuals has to be concluded effectively, by formulating mechanisms for vetting of the contents by practising experts.
• Ad hoc recruitment of teaching staff has been the most important constraint in ensuring the quality of education in VHSE system. Though it has been very long since the government decided to recruit staff through Public Service Commission, the action requires to be expedited further.
• Employing Information CommunicationTechnologies can bring about further improvement of instructional strategies. The immense prospects of ICT in education remain thoroughly unutilised in the VHSE system. Multi media productions that simulate field level situations and instruct learners to solve problems have to be produced in large numbers and distributed as auxiliary teaching tools in VHS Schools.
• Deployment of teaching resources, availability of infrastructure facilities, quality of teaching both theory and practical sessions, linkage with industries and other enterprises, etc should be rigorously monitored and certified by a state level Accreditation Committee which could function similar to the Accreditation Committee of University Grants Commission
• An extensive study on the intake of VHSE leavers in various sectors, includingself employment could be taken up to redefine the emphasis that has been presently given on various disciplines or trades.
• VHSE as a starting point of major streams of education should be thoroughly reviewed.
• Linking current VHSE student force andVHSE leavers with the developmental initiatives of local bodies shall be thought of with a clear action plan to involve them in the planning, implementing and monitoring of projects which require technical inputs.
• Though not directly related to the VHSEsystem, vocational education can be extended further for a vast cross section of beneficiaries in the society if distance education programmes could be designed for school drop outs, physically and mentally challenged, illiterates, neo literates etc. Policies to place current short duration work experience programmes for new entrants to the labour force within a long-term strategy for the employment of less competitive groups would also be appreciated greatly.
To conclude, any measure to improve theVHSE system would invariably consider the role and stature of vocational education in relation to the policies for general education and for economic, social, industrial, regional and local development in the context of changing economic and market conditions. This would require establishment of adequate institutional arrangements for designing policies for vocational education, measures to bring vocational education in schools, initial training and further training into more coherent sequence of opportunities for individuals, and the effective utilization of financial and human resources. It is becoming all the more obvious that human resources are as important a part of the economic and social infrastructure as fixed capital investment because they are essential to the development and utilization of capital and technology. Given the track record of Kerala in pioneering education as a tool for social transformation, VHSE system in Kerala offers prospects to evolve into an exemplary system with exquisite standards and enviable accomplishments.
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