India is struggling to produce an employable workforce. How can we develop our youth to meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution?
Primary and secondary education is the first step towards poverty reduction and integration into the formal economy. Education 4.0 aims to cater to the fourth industrial revolution (IR4) by creating a workforce that can work in tandem with smart machines to accomplish business goals across industries. This requires massive reforms in education at all levels where the new emphasis is placed on knowledge over memory, as well as the acquisition of soft and technical skills. The new model of education should include personalised learning flexibility, project-based application skills, multifaceted classroom learning, industry-oriented courses, a basic understanding of data analysis, and a wholesome assessment of skills beyond standalone examinations.
Essentials of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
McKinsey predicts that nearly 800 million workers will be displaced by disruptions caused by Industry 4.0. Through machine-to-machine coordination and the Internet of Things (IoT), industries will see a rise in automation, improved communication and monitoring, and development of smart diagnostic machines to reduce human intervention. This does not negate the need for new, higher-skilled jobs developing around the supervision, delivery and feedback loop of products and services. According to Deloitte's report on employment in IR4, there are four critical skills required to adapt to the new environment: workforce readiness, soft skills, technical skills (domain expertise), and a self-starter attitude towards work and learning. Most employers agree that a candidate with the ability to engage in a "lifetime of learning", will be able to adopt the necessary skills to respond to industry disruptions quickly.
A Grim Look at Education in India
Indian education at the school level has long been criticised for its outdated syllabi, dedication to rote-learning, overemphasis on board exam performance, and discouraging attitude towards knowledge-seeking outside the prescribed curriculum. The Global Education Census Report noted that 60 per cent of teachers felt that students' exam performance was a reflection of their performance. Still, nearly 55 per cent of students were attending tuition classes. This combination of factors is a serious indicator of the importance placed on exams and the tendency of students to choose external tutors over self-education to supplement their education. Indian parents are highly invested in their children's education but are not adequately providing the career guidance needed to choose a career that suits the child's specific nature, skill set and interest. This kind of pressure leads to the type of engineering student who by the second year of civil engineering, still does not know what a civil engineer does in real life.
Despite the rising unemployment of graduates, the Indian government believes that post-secondary education needs a renewed focus on the ancient forms of liberal arts education. Indian primary and secondary education is outdated both technically, and in adaptive reasoning, so reformers must be careful not to swing too far on the pendulum from technical development to soft skills. An observation of engineering education provides staggering data on its failure to meet industry standards. Only 60 per cent of faculty discuss real-world applications of theory, less than 50% of graduates have internship experience, and only 20% are employable, while less than 5% have the skills to work in a start-up.
Overcoming Unemployability, One Scheme At A Time
The Indian government has responded with schemes like the Skill India Mission in 2015, which aimed to train 40 crore people by 2022. They focus on vocational skill development and partner with industry leaders like IBM and SAP to create programmes that align with the needs of industry 4.0. The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme has helped facilitate employment for over 15.23 lakh people from remote areas across the country. They are also working to create micro-entrepreneurship opportunities and apprenticeship partnerships across various sectors for certified candidates under the PMKVY scheme. It also brought forward more than 12 000 Industrial Training institutes to modernise training to adopt a new curriculum, technology and infrastructure to provide value to the skill economy.
Recently, the government has emphasised the need for expanding the education delivery model to accommodate a wide variety of students engaging in a lifetime of education. Through partnerships with various industry and academic institutions, they hope to create a flexible learning environment with transferable credits and multiple forms of certification to balance the skill demand with certified industry professionals.
The Indian government is responding to the requirements of industry 4.0, but they could be more proactive to industry disruptions and expand their schemes to reach wider demography. If this cannot be accomplished within the executive or budgetary constraints, non-governmental organisations, as well as foreign academic and industry leaders will need to assist in innovative delivery systems and infrastructure to support the government's goals.
In a politically polarised environment, controls must be placed so that education is not influenced by wave-politics or revisionist history reformers. This could potentially imbibe a biased or nationalistic view through education that would hamper its ability to contribute towards the global integration of India’s skill economy.
Students need to be encouraged to learn independently using digital technology, and select a career through proper analysis of self and the world at large, to determine the most suitable path to success. Awareness of job profiles, skills and work-life balance outcomes is a minimum requirement of choosing a university course or vocational skill to pursue. Parents and educators must collaborate in creating lifelong students who are self-learning professionals and resilient to disruptions through a model of continuous development.