Vocational education: Back in the spotlight

Aug 25 2014, 02:03 IST
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SummaryModern management thinker and celebrated author Stephen Covey professes that one must

Modern management thinker and celebrated author Stephen Covey professes that one must “begin with the end in mind”. I think this has no better applicability than in the field of education. What is the purpose of education, after all? Is it just to gain knowledge for the sake of knowledge or is it to gain not only knowledge but also acquire a set of skills and competencies that can help one advance in life, pursue a career of choice and earn a decent livelihood, at the very least.

The debate over vocational versus academic education has been going on across the world and, mind you, this is not restricted to developing economies. A recent higher education event in the US concluded with wide-scale agreement amongst academia that students graduating from the US education system are not fit for the world of work. So, the debate is no more a debate, it is a challenge. How to vocationalise mainstream education? Learned professors and teachers call it the ‘hands-on’ education versus ‘minds-on’ education.

The first issue to address is the positioning of vocational education; whether it is in developed countries such as the UK, the US or Sweden or in developing ones such as India, vocational education is usually considered as the poor cousin of academic education.

In the second decade of the 21st century, with enormous convergence happening in the world of education, there is greater need to shed this baggage of the past and look at vocational education and training in a new light. Hands-on learning is becoming more accepted. The new generation of tech-savvy young adults are ready to learn new skills and step into new professions that demand practical skills and rely more on hands-on experience. It seems like there is an ‘Arab Spring’ happening in education, with the young job-seekers demanding better vocational education which can directly lead them to jobs.

According to OECD Reports and Reviews on Vocational Education and Training, different countries have explored ways and means of adding value to vocational education. Sweden, for example, has forged partnership between training providers and employers. This provides security and stability to the young trainees who get the benefit of one year or two year-long internship or partnership with employers. Sweden, of course, is a highly developed economy with a smaller population but countries like Tunisia, in North Africa, have been fairly successful too in developing this linkage with industry majors.

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