Thanks to a 1980’s tv show, Americans have a word for when you use ingenuity to put together incongruous items to solve a challenge, like defusing a bomb with chewing gum or opening a locked door with a potato. To Macgyver something is to make it work, despite lacking the proper tools and resources needed. In Hindi, they have a similar word- jugaad- and you can see it in practice almost everywhere you look, perhaps no place more so than the education system.
Based on a 2012 report by UNESCO, the state of India’s skill development gap was likened to a ticking time bomb. By the year 2022, it’s estimated that more than 700 million people will make up the country’s workforce. What type of jobs they will have and whether they are skilled enough to do them is of immense importance here, illustrated best by the fact that presently over 17 different government ministries are involved in some sort of skill development scheme. New initiatives and training centers are popping up daily, and more funding than ever is becoming available to help support this push to “skill up” India. So far, this has proved a challenge for research purposes, but also for the actual implementation of all the impressive policies that are flowing down from the top.
At the secondary level, there are several options for schooling. Thanks to an act in 2009, education is compulsory for all children through age 14. This is true for all kids, though where one gets their education varies wildly. Private schools (called public schools here, which can be a bit confusing) abound and parents are putting names on lists (and sometimes bribes in pockets) to the highly regarded ones as soon as a child is born. Tuition at these schools can be astronomical, with other “middle class” options available for less substantial fees. Government schools are available free of charge to students of less means, though the quality and class sizes vary wildly and are the subject of much concern. On one end of the spectrum are the Kendriya Vidyalayas, which were originally set up to educate the children of military and government employees. With over a thousand highly-regarded schools throughout the country, this government school uses the same Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum that is taught in the other under-resourced government schools, which may have class sizes as large as 70 and lack toilets, electricity, and some days, teachers.
In the meantime, a newly revised plan to help address the time bomb of skill development aims to expand vocational education (making in compulsory, at least in policy, if not practice) in every government school. How schools are stepping up to meet this goal has taken a bit of, well, jugaad. At the national level, the newly created National Skills Development Corporation is working with industry and educators to create standards. Another institution is working on curriculum and teacher training. At the classroom level, most government-school teachers have received neither of these resources and are putting in the mandatory hours with craft projects or, in a much more effective way, have invited NGO’s (non-profits) into the classroom to work with students on broader skills (rather than specific technical ones), such as communication and entrepreneurship. In the private school arena, some subscription-based curriculum, like the innovative MyKensho, is starting to slowly become available, but in most schools, vocational education just isn’t offered.
Currently, most of the skill development work being offered is through private, post-graduation training centers that may or may not offer approved curriculum. If the government in India (and in the US) is serious about developing a competent and diverse workforce, however, it needs to start with the secondary schools. Students need to be introduced to the world of work and allowed to explore it through the window of their own interests, strengths and talents from an early age, in order know the relevance and application of the academic work they are doing. Parents need to encourage them- not just because it is compulsory- but because they will learn skills that will make them more prepared for whatever is next.
You never know when they’ll need to diffuse a bomb with a paperclip.