My specialist interest area is how Vocational training programmes play out in developing countries. The experiences of these programmes, despite their growing popularity in policy talk, has been mixed. There are many implementation challenges that come in the way of success, which I have written about elsewhere. However, I shall argue, that there are conceptual problems in the way these programmes are usually conceived, and unless those issues are addressed, even well implemented programmes will fail (or, one would never be able to implement a programme well). Below, I have highlighted five such 'foundational issues', which I have put in a question form, because these mostly go unanswered.
1. Is Vocational Training Valuable?
The very idea that some people who are not academically capable need to be put through vocational training devalues the proposition almost immediately. It becomes second best, a route for those who are failures. The aspirational middle classes immediately disengage, anyone who may build a successful career through vocational training isn't still seen as a successful role model. The more the government rhetoric about vocational training, the worse its perception gets.
2. Does the Government know what skills are needed?
Simple answer: They don't. They often read the same newspapers that we are reading, and they have an equally lay opinion about this as ourselves. They don't often ask or commission serious research, other than being presented with research by the likes of Pearson, who says the skills needed are exactly the ones they have books for. The Indian government announced that they want to train 500 million people, but even several years after the announcement, Ministers and bureaucrats had no answer what these people will be trained on. They finally got around to the idea of creating sector skills councils involving employers, just when Britain, on whose model this was conceived, was getting out of the model. In the meantime, several millions of dollars of Government money has been spent on training god-knows-what.
3. Does the Employer know what skills are needed?
An economy's skills requirement is slightly different from the HR Manager's recruitment requirements next month. In fact, the HR Managers' list should play almost no part in defining the economy's skills requirements in the developing nations (it may be fine for matured labour markets), when many trades remain unorganised or partially organised. Further, if an employer really feels a particular skills requirement urgent, would they not immediately try to fulfill that either by spending money to train people or even importing workers. Government spending on training needs of the employers, done for all the good reasons of fostering long term thinking, actually create a perverse incentive of channelling the money into reducing labour costs (as Morrison's, a supermarket chain in Britain, was caught doing) and reducing the employer involvement in and commitment to training (which I experience first hand doing various funded training in Britain).
Besides, the developing country economies, the way they are connected to the world economy today, are supposed to be facing demand shocks, wild fluctuation in what work they do from one day to another, because they are often just following skills requirements of metropolitan economies, on which they have no control. Their labour market projections, therefore, should be based on close understanding of the nature of demand and work in the metropolitan economies, not just anecdotal observations of local employers. This is hardly understood or factored in defining the skills training programmes.
4. Is it possible to teach a skill with a short intervention?
Government mandated vocational skills training programmes, with its inevitable strings-attached structure, result in clear timelines and standardised structures, but do people learn skills like that? From when one could stand on a classroom for a certain number of hours and teach people Cooking? Isn't it intuitive to think when it comes to doing things like that, people will learn differently, at different paces, and with different degrees of intervention?
In fact, in many cases, government mandated training initiatives lower the economy's skills base than improving it.
This happens for two reasons: One, because certification trumps competence. When the skills training programmes start, the government tries to organise the trade and pushes for everyone to have a certificate. This undermines the economy's traditional ways of developing competence, learning it the hard way through apprenticeships, and encourage new ways to gain the skills at a college.
Two, because the programmes in the college are often time-bound and standardised, these create an artificial standard of competence - graduating class! The time spent in college and even the certification may be totally unrelated to actual competence. Often these create a short-cut to skills, and if we learnt anything about expertise, there is hardly any short-cut.
5. What incentives do the providers have?
The weakest link in the government mandated training programmes is indeed the 'providers', the commercial training companies who get paid to deliver the training. These are often chosen on the basis of commercial and financial criteria, so they are often established trading entities, and because of the financial benchmarks used in the selection process, often entities with large turnover but in interests other than education. So, when the governments are discovering their enthusiasm for vocational education, they are not trying to spawn a start-up network engaged in it, because that would be too risky, or sponsoring community networks, because seeing as the state does, that concept does not exist: Rather, they are trying to do this by giving the orders to people often engaged in other trades, as training, seen from the bureaucrats' desk, is a non-specialised activity. This indeed creates a certain set of incentives for the providers in turn: They effectively become middlemen rather than educators. The money is in securing orders, managing bids and project managing, rather than actually teaching anything to anyone: The unfortunate irony is that such top-level things are referred to as know-how of the trade.
That providers are not educators create a system which may be about everything else but education. I have met providers who has spent an enormous amount of money creating powerpoint in several languages but the idea of actually delivering training themselves never crossed their minds. They can't even see themselves training people so beneath them: The world of 'vocational training' is far removed from the airconditioned offices full of very educated people (with certification in quality control, project management and instructional design) but those who would never attempt, or be able to, change a lightbulb if it pops.
Richard Sennett explored the idea of 'skills' beautifully in his The Craftsman and I shall recommend this to all policy-makers before they start thinking about skills training. Skills is not a magic potion, but a habit acquired through engagement, commitment and practice, embedded in the values of the community one lives in: Hardly can one extract the skill outside its social context and build a package as if this is only a reality show. This idea gets missed when the governments proclaim their intent to do 'skills', cheered on by publishers who see rising sales and middlemen who count the commissions. One may soon need a different approach, a 'Life Start Voucher' perhaps for the young unemployed, who could use this to start a business, learn a skill or even settle in a new place, to be left at their choice. The colossal waste of time and money in the name of skills training will soon force such a rethink.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.