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BEYOND ITIs & POLYTECHNICS

Expanding the Base of Technical Training

 BY

Dr. J.V.RAO, Director,  Society for Public Interventions

Persons without a formal education provide a wide range of skilled services in our society.  These cover traditional skills like pottery, carpentry, metal craft, leather-work, masonry etc., as well as more modern professionals like electricians, motor mechanics, automobile mechanics, PCB making, computer maintenance, electroplating, tool-room works etc.

ITIs and Polytechnics are meant to fill precisely this need for trained human resources, but the numbers trained by them are far short of the needs of society.  Further, the cost of this education is high (even though some of this may be state-subsidized), and the actual hands-on skill imparted to the trainees is not adequate.

In contrast, those trained in the ‘non-formal stream’ undergo a different methodology of training altogether.  Initiated into the profession at an early age, they are productive from day one.  Although their salaries/wages are very low (to begin with, at least), it is significant that they earn a surplus at all even when undergoing ‘education’.

Their cousins in the formal stream on the other hand, place a substantial drain on the resources of their families and the state during all their years of education.  And it is generally acknowledged that the skills of those from the non-formal stream are altogether more comprehensive and thorough, from as employer’s point of view.

A SECOND LOOK

In view of the co-existence of these two broad streams of technical        education – the formal and the informal – it is appropriate to take a second look at their relative strengths and problems.  Is it possible to harmonize the two in a manner that is more beneficial?

Indian thought has always recognised the value of context based learning. It is certainly true that the best way to learn swimming is to jump into waters first – under the watchful guidance of an experienced swimmer.Though, this is the philosophy that animated Mahatma Gandhi’s model of education that came to be known as ‘Nai Talim’.

The informal stream puts the student in the middle of a real work environment, right from the beginning.  The actual tasks assigned to the student are, of course, graded according to the level of proficiency of the student.  The young potter begins by kneading the clay, making diyas; the young mechanic begins by learning to sort and organize the various tools, spare, bolts and nuts.  Progressively, each student moves on to handle more complex tasks.

There are two features that distinguish this process (from the formal method of education).

(a)     The pace of learning is flexible – tuned to the capacity of each individual student.  A capable student may become very proficient in a short period of time.  A slow learner can move at his/her pace without the stigma of failure.

(b)     The notion of ‘pass/fail’ does not exist in this.  A student ‘passes’ from one level of complexity to the next only if the first level has been fully mastered.  In other words the minimum cut-off for a ‘pass’ is 100%.  This makes for high standards of quality in whatever the student is proficient at.

On the other hand, a superficial level of aggregate proficiency is what is expected of students emerging from the formal stream.  Even this is a statistical phenomenon that does not accommodate individual diversity.  Very often, the ‘knowledge’ so acquired is of little practical value since it is cut-off from its context of application.

However, contemporary discourse has often maligned this stream of education in the name of ‘Child Labour’.  It is true that certain improvements are needed with regard to regulation of working hours, safety in working condition etc.  But a sweeping condemnation on this count would be a lopsided over-reaction.  The alternative of putting all these students in formal schools is a solution worse than the problem.  Apart from the poor education that is imparted in formal schools (with no guarantee of employment), it is doubtful if the quality of life of the children in school is any better. No less a person than Shri R.K. Narayan has lamented this and raised in Parliament the plight of students labouring under an enormous load of books.  That the children we are talking about here are from less privileged sections of society has two further implications.

(a) They are more vulnerable to the failures of the formal education system, with regard to guaranteed employment;

(b) Their capacity to pay for such education is much lower, and the ability of the state to subsidize this cost is highly suspect.

SUGGESTED SYSNTHESIS

It is our objective to avoid both the errors common to a discourse on the non-formal steam of technical education – blind glorification or vehement vilification.  This will lead to recognizing that:

(a) The educational services being rendered by this stream are valuable to the students, as well as society as a whole.

(b) The cost of creating alternative infrastructure to deliver the same services is forbidding.

(c) However, the working environment in the premises imparting this education has to conform to certain minimum standards.

(d) Such conformity can be ensured only if it is recognized and rewarded.

TOWARDS RECOGNITION

1.The premises where non-formal technical education is imparted have to be recognised as constituting ‘educational infrastructure’ in society, rather than as dens of child labour.

2.The children undergoing education in such premises have to be viewed as apprentice-trainees, rather than as exploited victims needing to be rescued.

3.It will also include a declaration agreeing to abide by certain norms (to be prescribed by government bodies responsible for technical education), and a willingness to be inspected in this regard.

4.This will entitle them to undergo certain lecture-based courses (in Indian Languages) to supplement what they learn in the workshop.

5.The government bodies responsible for technical education should reward this voluntary system for accreditation (by workshops) and registration (by trainees) through a package of incentives.

(a)Trainees demonstrating proficiency in practical skills & course work will be awarded small stipends that will progressively increase with increased proficiency.

(b)Trainees achieving specified levels of proficiency will be awarded certificates that would be equivalent to ITIs and Diplomas.  These certificates would entitle them to:

      (i)            Pursue higher education

      (ii)           Avail of grants/bank loans for start-up micro-enterprises.

6. Such a mode of promotion of technical training will be far more cost-effective for the State than the conventional system.The content of such education, being driven by market needs, would be flexible and dynamic in response to change.The state would not be saddled with a large burden of infrastructure or employment in its efforts to rapidly expand the base of technical training.

CONCLUSION

The ideas outlined in this paper are the outcome of extensive deliberations carried out through a series of interactions organized by the AU-PPST Centre for Traditional S&T, Anna University, Chennai.  The author, as member of the Governing council of this Centre, has been closely involved in steering these interactions.  If the ideas proposed in this paper are found interesting, the author will be in a position to carry out a pilot study and concretize the details.

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