Mohan Murti

Indian education is useless

Mohan Murti | Updated on April 16, 2013 Published on April 16, 2013

BL17_ROBE

A focus on skills training as against university degrees would help.

Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dusted himself off the pea-soup fog of Indian politics and dashed to Berlin, Germany, with a team of senior cabinet colleagues to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Certainly, the visit and the hurriedly signed MoUs lifted the hazy economic mist, from German eyes. Interestingly, one of the MoUs signed was on “Higher Education” and there were a number of privately expressed comments and questions by top German investors and policymakers at two Berlin events — a reception with the Prime Minister and a dinner event with the Commerce Minister.

It is clear that German investors are puzzled by the Indian education scene. A German SME about to invest in India quipped: “Why does the Indian education system remain at a standstill, while business is moving and the skills-gap is widening?”

Another senior official of the German Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DIHK) in Berlin said expensive paper degrees and outdated teaching methods made zombies of an innately intelligent people. In such a situation, conventional Indian approaches to training and education will never meet the escalating demand for new skills.

Ticking time bomb

We are sitting on a skills time bomb that will explode if we do not take up job-related vocational training. The country’s pool of young talent has already dried up considerably when we try and recruit skilled masons, plumbers, electricians and the like. Many European investors still believe the Indian government is not doing enough to promote vocational training, as they struggle to find graduates with the right skill set for business.

An official of Federation of German Industries (BDI) expressed frustration over India not doing enough to ensure industries have a steady flow of new skilled entrants.

“Without skilled and motivated young people, this country will be in real trouble” says Manfred Schroeder, a German entrepreneur who runs a textile machinery joint venture in Coimbatore. “We need skilled workers, not indebted graduates overflowing with unnecessary and often useless information,” says Robert Schafer, Vice-President of a German component manufacturer in Baroda.

The kind of knowledge and skills required by the new economy are different in many ways from the core knowledge needed over the past hundred years. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) had estimated that India needs 40 million skilled workers a year to meet the target of training 500 million people by 2022 and huge Budget allocations have been made. It will be interesting to know how many have really been trained.

Vocational Training

In Germany, the idea that university is the only way to success was dead, long ago. In most of Europe, vocational apprenticeships have been raised in status so they hold a very high position as a genuine career path equal to and most of the time, superior to a university degree. In this context, Germany's ‘Duales Ausbildungssystem’ — the two-track vocational training system is quite unique.

On completing compulsory school, some 60 per cent of young people in Germany move on to learn one of the 350 officially recognised vocations included in the Dual System.

Life-Giving Education

The government needs to implement drastic measures to bridge the gap between education and work. University degree holders continue to work at supermarket shelves while school leavers are without vocation. It is essential students receive an education that goes beyond the classroom. Education needs to allow young people to gain employable skills and this can be done through vocational courses. We need to start telling the kids the truth, instead of peddling the weary old practice of “university at all cost”.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.)

Published on April 16, 2013

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