Poor Policymaking, Attitude Of Parents And Lopsided Focus On Theory Behind Unemployability Of Youth: Prof. Shishir Kumar

Swarajya Staff

Jan 14, 2021, 02:25 PM | Updated 02:28 PM IST

Officials said the logic behind making maths compulsory for the best of four is to prepare students for industry skills like data crunching and analytics. (representative image) (Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)
Officials said the logic behind making maths compulsory for the best of four is to prepare students for industry skills like data crunching and analytics. (representative image) (Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)
  • Prof. Col. Shishir Kumar says that while the New Education Policy is a good start, changes in attitude as well as greater focus on skill development are a must for a sustainable solution to India’s problem of unemployable youth.
  • As per a Niti Aayog report, 53 per cent of the graduates coming out of higher education institutions are unemployable. National Skill Development Policy estimates only five percent of India’s workforce having gone through formal skill-training.

    Praveen Menon, who worked with advisor to former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, talked to expert and thought-leader in the field of Education & Skill development Prof. Col Shishir Kumar over troubling state of unemployability of Indian youth.

    Prof. Kumar is Director General of ImaginXP which skills professionals in emerging technologies like UX design, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain , Data Science, Robotics, IoT and Cybersecurity. A retired Army Colonel who headed biggest unit in Northern command during Kargil war, he brings in decades of experience in Education sector as former Director of DIT University, Dehradun. He has authored a book entitled ‘’Sorry, you are not employable’’ and book entitled "Wisdom Matrix" is under publication.

    Below are excerpts of the interview:

    Q: As someone who has been Director of a University and seen our education system up-close, what do you think is the reason for such dismal records in terms of employability in India?

    There are three major reasons namely a) lack of proactive policy making keeping with the times b) attitude of parents/students towards education and c) lopsided focus of system on theory than practical application. Unless the policymakers keep up with times, curriculum is revised regularly and attitude of parents and students change, a sustainable solution isn’t possible.

    The New Education Policy is a good start but changes in attitude as well as greater focus on skill development should permeate the education system for any sustainable solution in employability problem. The National Skill Development policy estimates only five per cent of India’s workforce having gone through formal skill-training which is extremely low. It’s no rocket science that Skill development can be enhanced only by pushing for greater proportion of students to undertake formal skill training.

    Q: With New Education Policy addressing the policy issues, how do you see attitude of parents/students and focus of system changing?

    Firstly, we have been seeing noticeable changes in parents and students attitude. The gaps in Education system is well known and parents and students are increasingly realizing it. However there seems to be no change in fixation towards marks.

    Unless the realization of parents/students converts into greater focus on skills training, this awareness of parents/students won’t translate into any tangible benefit. For lack of alternatives, marks still dominate minds as cut-off in higher education system continues to rise and being in this rat race becomes a necessity than focusing on real skillsets.

    Q: India has largest number of engineers and India already has a chunk of global IT services. Where do you see skill development requirements panning out in fast-changing tech world?

    Tech sector is poised to see lot of disruption. Covid-19 has already fast tracked the digitalization process and emerging technologies are fast gaining pre-eminence. The four major technologies to watch out for would be UX design, AI, Data Science and Cybersecurity. With tech-based services rising, UX design will largely determine customer experience and play a key role in adoption.

    AI has captured the imagination of Indians. A study by IIT Madras in collaboration with Office of Principal Scientific Advisor to PM suggest that among emerging technologies 43 per cent respondents cited AI. AI is winning the perception battle and how much of this translates into skilled professionals’ remains to be seen. Data Science is another emerging technology with humungous data being generated daily basis. In short, UX design will be the new customer experience touch point, AI – the new employee, Data – the new oil and cybersecurity experts – the new police.

    Technologies in Health sector as well as FinTech are emerging opportunities for professionals. Professionals who foresee this will already skill themselves and Government officials and Niti Ayog have indicated they are looking to give required policy push.

    Q: What is your opinion of Education system and its role in driving innovation? Will the New National Education Policy foster an environment of Innovation?

    Education system should be a catalyst for creativity which should drive Innovative solutions by developing problem solving skills from an early age. Innovation is a direct outcome of an inquisitive mind on lookout for means to solve a problem or achieve a desired objective. At Universities in India, we don't emphasize Design Thinking or instill Problem solving skills which are key drivers for Innovation.

    The New Education Policy by spelling out the need for research rightly brings in subject of funding. The research and innovation investment in India is only 0.69 per cent compared to 2.8 per cent in the US, 4.30 per cent in Israel and 4.2 per cent in South Korea. In many ways, I believe that the success of proposed National Research Foundations (NRF) would determine whether the benefits envisioned by the policymakers will accrue to the research ecosystem as a whole. Its not merely about funding but about nurturing an ecosystem in universities across India through competitive peer-reviewed grant proposals. World class Institutions in ancient India like Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi set highest standards of multidisciplinary research and teachings and government attempt to replicate its success in modern India needs to be commended.

    Q: How can Industry-Academia collaboration foster an environment of skill development in India and how much of it is happening?

    Collaboration between Industry and Academia is vital because its Industry which is the consumer of skilled talent while its Education system which is supposed to provide them. Unfortunately, industry frequently finds that education system doesn’t supply talent as per their skillset requirements. It adds to the training costs of companies and several bluechip companies even run institutes to fill the gap.

    Educational institutes on the other hand fail to add value to the ecosystem by churning out unemployable passouts. Corporates should consider collaboration with academia to impart their industry know-how to students and get quality talent in a cost effective manner than outsourcing everything to HR department for probationary training.

    Educational institutes on the other hand should be more welcoming of corporates beyond the placement goals. Collaboration for skill development and research at higher level is happening but the bulk of second rung universities still don’t have it.

    Q: As an Educationist, what would be your message to parents and students?

    My message to both parents and students is that they should remember that its skillsets which leads to employment and not education itself. Education merely focused on marks is a short sighted approach while education focused on learning and application of skills would ensure well-rounded employable population. Parents should understand strength and weaknesses of their children and act accordingly. Governments can’t be expected to do it as their focus is broad mass of population and not on a specific kid.

    Parents who can empathise with their children and set them on customized path suitable to them based on their interest and skills would succeed. Students should be taught that memorizing may get you marks but has its limitations and will backfire in the long run. Professionals who are employed should rethink whether their skillsets will remain relevant few years from now and act towards skill development accordingly in a fast changing world.

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