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Soft Skills for Higher Education: A Station-e Model

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hareesh-tankDr Haresh Tank, Director, Station-e Language Lab

We are yet to see the policy regarding skills development of our youth. It amounts to being callous to the needs of our youth when a country does virtually nothing, even while being aware of the World Bank data which highlighted that being fluent in English increases the hourly wages of a person in India by 34 percent.

The statement from the World Bank says that only 10 percent of the country is employable may sound like a cliché but the truth is that lack of employability related skill is a very serious issue. Higher education is still in a state of turmoil because of changes like Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semester system, etc that can go either way. Traditionally, the youngsters passing out of higher education are absorbed in the services sector. But if only 10 percent of our youth is employable, then one marvels at the future of the youngest country in the world and what the rest of the young people whether unemployable and unemployed will do to sustain themselves especially in the era marked by inflation and stiff competition. It is not something that policy makers can overlook because it is a question of the validity of the system of higher education that we have created and what it is supposed to contribute to the society in terms of the training and education of our youth. If it is failing to deliver like other public institutions, it is time to contemplate over its ills and rectify it on a war-footing. It is not only a question of employability of youngsters who pass out. It is a matter of concern because it affects several other aspects and realities of the society and the nation. For instance, on the front of nation-building, if only 10 percent of our youth is employed, then the rest are effectively excluded from contributing to the country’s development. The ‘demographic dividend’ has remained frozen and has not yet transformed into the human capital that creates knowledge and accelerates the growth of a country like it has happened in countries like China and South Korea. It is beyond dispute that India is the youngest country in the world and it also beyond dispute that it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Post liberalisation, multi nationals came to India and the economy began to grow in a remarkable manner. Since then, India has been one of the favoured destinations for some of the world’s largest corporations to set up their plants and units. These companies cannot bring manpower from the country of its origin. They depend on our youth, but our higher education system dumbs them down. Hence, we have a scenario of classic contradiction- on the one hand, employers on the constant lookout for skilled manpower, particularly in services sector where the general graduates are to be absorbed, and on the other hand, the graduates fail to get a job and remain unemployed despite the degrees and qualification.

The reasons behind this debacle of higher education are many, but they are all interconnected. It all begins with policy on higher education. Our higher education policy lacks clarity and vision about what kind of graduates we wish to see at the end of the process of higher education and what higher education should do in order to ensure that the youth are able to find suitable employment after they spend a substantial amount of time and money in obtaining a degree. Secondly, higher education has limited itself to subject knowledge and all-round and holistic development of our youth has never been a priority of policy makers. We have also not considered the needs of the market, considering which we may devise policy measures to address what is lacking. Thus, soft skills like communication proficiency are missing from the education and training of our youth in higher education and when one investigates, it is easy to find that we have done little to integrate these skills in the core of higher education. Policy makers are ignorant of the fact that this little shift in policy paradigm is the difference between India and countries like China and South Korea. For instance, China makes it mandatory for its youth to pass two subjects– English and computers — with a certain degree of proficiency. It may well be remembered that China which is the closest to India in terms of the size of population is way ahead of India in terms of education. India has failed on both counts that China has capitalised on- technology and English. We have made communication skills in English, a subsidiary subject that mostly gets a step-motherly treatment in our higher education institutions. In some of the programmes, it is conspicuously missing. In case of South Korea, it could have the economic progress because it had the vision, way back in 1967, to institute the Vocational Training Act to provide a skilled workforce for industrialisation. It is an important example for us because it was a government-led skills development drive. Later, Korea created Skills Development Promotion Fund in 1976 for creating public institutions for skills training. A small country like Finland that is just a dot on the world map literally rules the world of education on almost all parameters because they have developed the policy they need in the context of their country. We are yet to see the policy regarding skills development of our youth. It amounts to being callous to the needs of our youth when a country does virtually nothing, even while being aware of the World Bank data which highlighted that being fluent in English increases the hourly wages of a person in India by 34 percent. Even being able to speak a little English raises the salary up to 13 percent. In the light of all of this, when our youth face the interviews conducted in crisp English, and they fail to articulate the knowledge they have acquired, there is nobody else to blame but ourselves as a nation.

Dr Haresh Tank is Director, Station-e Language Lab. In the capacity of Director, he is in charge of conceptualizing and operationalizing initiatives with a special focus on Skills Development. He holds a doctorate in Statistics and is a noted Statistical Analyst. He was also nominated for Young Scientist Award. With a passion for teaching and contributing to the society, he continues to serve as Associate Professor in Statistics. As a Director, Station-e Language Lab, he has initiated several projects in the realm of Skills Development with Government and private companies.

Station-e Model

In all, Higher Education faces the issue of accountability because of the unemployability of general graduates. To address the issue of soft skills deficit, particularly communication proficiency in general graduates, Station-e envisaged the concept of Skills Development Centre. It is a unique construct, aiming at upskilling the youth of the country in terms of soft skills. We have established several Skils Development Centres at various educational institutions – college campuses across the country. Skils Development Centre serves as the training wing of the university/college for soft skills, operated in a digital learning lab and powered by highly sophisticated technology. Skils Development Centre comes with in-built training programs on soft and life skills, integral to the theme of skills development and empowering the youth. Customised to the core, these modules have astonishing transformation value as they produce remarkable results in virtually no time. The youth across the country have benefitted by the innovative Skills Development Centres and carved a niche for themselves in their chosen area of endeavour. What it means for a university/ college is that it proves its worth, demonstrates its relevance through the skills training that the youth passing out of the system will be equipped with the best of soft skills and competencies required to operate in today’s world. The time is ripe for recognising the role of soft skills in higher education.

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