INDIA: Vocational education upgraded

India's Education Ministry is revamping its vocational education programmes aiming to create a bank of skilled manpower for ageing developed nations over the coming decades. With the Ministry of Labour, education officials are developing a vocational education qualifications framework to end the country's dependence on informal training.

Education Minister Kapil Sibal has said in the next 10 years developed nations would turn to India for a young workforce. According to 2009 estimates only 5.3% of India's population is older than 65, and 63% are aged between 15 and 65 comprising the country's working population. Workers under 14 are child labourers.

In contrast, populations in many developed countries are ageing, and the proportion of their workforce to the retired is decreasing - largely a consequence of declining birth rates and improving health care. The US Census Bureau has projected the European Union will see a 14% decrease in its workforce by 2030.

The National Knowledge Commission, or NKC, a think-tank headed by inventor, entrepreneur and policy-maker Sam Pitroda, had recommended India focus on market-oriented skills for its young population. This would reduce the number of the 'educated employed' and capitalise on its age advantage.

India has already set up a national skill development mission under the prime minister. The goal was to train a million Indians a year in a variety of skills but, two years after it was set up, the mission has failed to meet its mandate.

"There is no minimum standard of training and no fixed curriculum. Those students who do undergo such training are also not up to market standards," said a senior ministry official, adding that the framework would provide nationally recognised, consistent standards and qualifications.

"It will also facilitate mobility within education. Today, anyone who opts for vocational education is unable to go back to college or university. But the framework will allow such mobility," the official said.

Industry representatives welcomed the idea: "Setting up minimum standards of qualifications was long overdue," said Sushant Kumar, Account Director at Starcom, a leading advertising agency. "Most graduates we hire, both from universities and vocational institutions, have to unlearn what they have learned."