Calcutta Notebook

Supplying Skill

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Areport of McKinsey Global Institute says that there is a shortage of 8.5 crore skilled workers having higher secondary education and above in the developed countries; while there is an excess of 9.5 crore unskilled workers having primary education in the developed and developing countries. Obviously, therefore, India can become suppliers of skilled workers to the world if the government can impart the required skills to the large number of unskilled workers having primary education in the country. The ground reality, however, is desperate. A 2008 report of the World Bank throws light on the disconnect between "education" and "skill" in India. A survey of primary schools in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh found that the teachers were often not present. And, there was little improvement in the educational attainments even if their presence improved. The report notes that there is lack of motivation among the teachers. The teachers can be made to be present but cannot be made to teach just as one can take the horse to the water but cannot make it drink. The World Bank found that making the teachers accountable to the local Panchayats did not make much difference. A Block President from Uttarakhand told this writer that even the Secretary to the Block Panchayat did not act as per the directions of the elected President. The Secretary followed the orders of the IAS officers to the neglect of the orders of the elected President.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has promulgated a New Education Policy to repair the situation. A programme named "Equip" or "'Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme" has been launched with the objective to equip the students to capture the emerging opportunities by skilling them. However, six of the ten points in this program are mere slogans: (1) Towards global best teaching process; (2) Promoting excellence; (3) Assessment; (4) Accreditation and ranking systems; (5) Promotion of research and innovation; and (6) Employability and entrepreneurship. Two points would provide more money to the existing inefficient teachers: (7) Strategies for expanding access; and (8) Financing higher education. The ninth point is "Using technology for better reach and internationalization." The World Bank has already informed us that improving attendance of teachers by installing biometric attendance does not improve the standard of education. The same applies to newer technologies like smart classes and online learning. The tenth and the most important point is "Governance reforms." A close reading of the description says, "Introduce governance reforms in higher education for well-administered campuses." The governance reforms, therefore, are aimed to provide autonomy to well-run government educational institutions which is a step in the right direction. However, that does nothing to help improve the skills of primary- secondary educated students like the welders that are required by the global economy.

The Prime Minister has created a separate Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), perhaps, to bypass the existing education establishment and find another route to skill India. However, the budget of MSDE was a meagre Rs 3k crore against the budget for Ministry of Education being Rs 99k crore in 2020-21. That is like dousing a forest fire with 3 buckets of water. Further, MSDE also is not interested in skilling welders. It is focused on high-end skilling. It has entered into agreements with Amazon, Google, Adani, Uber, Maruti and Microsoft, which is a good thing. But what about meeting the global shortage of the 8.5 crore jobs of nurses, teachers, physiotherapists, translators and the like? Perhaps the sons and daughters of the officers of the MSDE do not aspire to become welders; hence MSDE is focused on high-end skilling with Amazon and Microsoft. In the result, skill development is on the backburner.

[Formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru]

Vol. 53, No. 32, Feb 7 - 13, 2021