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Practical Skills Gap with the Graduates – Whose fault is it?

Context : Over the last few years Govt has undertaken several initiatives to bolster the education system in India. These include the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Right to Education, Mid Day meal, Exams for teachers (CTET, NET, SET etc) and so on. This has certainly helped in increasing the enrolment in the schools and colleges, but there are several questions regarding the outcomes – i.e is the education system delivering on its promise of not only making the people literate but also employable – be it in vocations, formal service or self employment? The answer to this question is NO. While there has been an improvement over the past, it is not enough.

The national employability report for engineers aspiring for IT jobs gives a sample of the problem.

aspiring for IT jobs gives a sample of the problem. Source : National Employability Report –

Source : National Employability Report – Engineering Graduates, 2011, Aspiring Minds

The assessment is based on English Communication, Quantitative skills, Problem-solving skills and Computer Science and Programming skills and the numbers indicate candidates who are trainable (they are not yet ready for the job but can be trained. The balance cannot be even trained). The scenario with other graduates – BA, B Com, BSc, etc is much worse. These views are not restricted to IT industry alone and cut across to other sectors like construction, pharmaceuticals, textile, automobile etc

In the qualitative interaction with a set of parents, students, teachers and industry executives what came out was that the academic success is necessary, but not sufficient for success in life. The critical ingredients for success are skills like communication, confidence, interpersonal behaviour, determination, and ability to bounce back etc which are forming part of the employability assessment shown above.

The real disturbing question is all the above points are been made with reference to persons who were in the formal education system for atleast 18-19 years ! (15 years of K-12 and 3-4 years of graduation). So, at the end of education, if person is not ready to face the world, is there something wrong with the person or is it a systemic issue? This question forced us to look at the changes that have happened in the education system and the family, which were supposed to be the learning grounds. Let’s look at each one of them in detail:

Education: While the expenditure on education is increasing every year – by the government as well as individuals, the outcomes are not encouraging. Eg.

India was ranked second last out of 75 countries in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) rating by OECD.

The findings from ASER (Annual State of Education Report) 2012 conducted by Pratham are alarming.

While there are various reasons for this including curriculum design, teaching methods, excessive focus on exams and not on understanding, the key issue is the declining quality of teachers. Teaching profession has become a profession of last resort. Not many teachers are into the profession by choice. This is evidenced by the result of CTET (Central Teacher Eligibility Test) 2012, where more than 7 lakh aspiring teachers took the test but only 1% managed to clear it. In a way, the decline in schooling is also reflected in mushrooming of tuitions of all kinds wherein students virtually end up having duplication of their time and efforts. So, the formal education, which in addition to imparting the literacy in specific streams was to develop a person holistically, is doing poor job in its basic purpose.

Family: Imagine any household in 1980s– the family size was large, there were atleast 3 generations staying together with many siblings and their children. Summer vacation would mean 6-8 cousins of 3-4 siblings would spend time together for atleast a month with their grandparents. With all this, younger generation had a benefit of parallel learning from bhuas and chachas and the counsel from dadaji / nanaji and dadima / nanima on various issues ranging from resolving disputes on toys to distribution of delicious mangoes.

In the last 2-3 decades, the family structure in India has changed quite rapidly. The family size has been reducing progressively with reduction in number of children per couple. This has reduced the number of relations like chacha, bhua, mama, mausi etc. Moreover, the economic growth has resulted into more urbanisation and the proportion of nuclear families has gone up. As a consequence, parents are living with one or two kids in a small urban settlement, and in many cases, both the parents are working. This has certainly helped in focussed attention by the parents to the kids, but the children have lost one more opportunity of learning the essential skills like communication, diplomacy, handling disappointments and learning by imitation.

With so much attention given, the parents have become paranoid about the child and in many cases, the children are subjected to living the dreams of their parents. If the child does not perform well in any exam, parents take it to heart as if it is their personal failure. In the hyper competitive scenario of many people chasing limited number of seats right from the nursery admission to jobs, the children have to focus on exams and in the bargain, in many cases, the avenues like sports and other hobbies like music, dance etc take a back seat. With this, the child has been robbed of opportunity to learn persistence, team work, handle victories as well as failures, work on physical fitness etc which are anyways not been taught in the classroom.

So, the schools are not handling it, families are not in a position to inculcate it and everyone in the industry want the graduates to possess a whole host of these skills!

This brings us to an interesting question that while the scenario above is known for quite some time, there are still some people who exhibit excellent practical skills and they go a long way in creating impact for themselves as well as people around them. So, is there something that is genetic in them which allow them to achieve this?

The answer to this has been attempted by several experts.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers gives a very detailed explanation with examples of Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Beatles etc

K Anders Ericsson’s research around the theme of ‘deliberate practice’ and the 10000 hr formula!

The findings are that a deliberate practice of atleast 10000 hrs is required to attain mastery in a given skill. These skills can range from Chess, Music to Software. And just IQ is not enough for achievement in life. The upbringing and the exposure in the childhood has a deep impact on success in life.

One can extend the same analogy to other practical skills like communication, interpersonal behaviour, mental fitness etc. If the politicians or lawyers are great orators, can one ignore how many public gatherings, hostile opponents, court room proceedings they would have got practice on, which is giving them the mastery today?

So the need of the hour is to complement the existing education system with a focus on developing these skills – Communication, Interpersonal behaviour, Mental fitness, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Planning etc - the practical skills which are of practical value across jobs, profiles and industries and more importantly, can be developed only with a sustained practice right from the young age.

Prasanna & Mili Pahade,