Chandrabhanu Pattajoshi, Founder of Goseeko, is a business strategist-turned entrepreneur with over 17 years of experience across various high profile roles. He founded Glossaread Technologies Pvt Ltd. in 2018 which now owns the brand Goseeko. Bhanu, as he is fondly known as, started the EdTech platform with the purpose of making Higher Education accessible, convenient and affordable for students, especially across students of Tier 2/3 colleges and beyond.
Digital technology is impacting the Indian education sector in positive ways and is playing a key role in improving educational processes and outcomes. This has never been more apparent than in the past one year when the global pandemic forced schools and colleges to close indefinitely, resulting in remote teaching and learning through digital and online platforms. The digital disruption in the education system has brought into sharp focus the need for skill-based education and training, so that the young workers of tomorrow are ready for the new generation workplaces that are more the norm than the exception.
I agree that skill development is critical to transforming the nation into a digitally-empowered society and knowledge-based economy, and consequently creating a highly-advanced future workforce, but it cannot be at the cost of basic education of a majority of the people who live in rural areas and non-metro cities and towns. The inhabitants in these parts of the country often have little or no access to fundamental facilities of education from a young age, which robs them of skill training and job opportunities in later years.
Given this scenario, I am happy that the New Education Policy 2020 rightly mentions basic literacy and numeracy for all children as “an urgent national mission”. Foundational learning – the ability to think, read, write, speak and count – at the preparatory and middle-school level is, indeed, an indispensable element of school education and lifelong learning. I am equally pleased that a key goal of NEP 2020 is to bring two crore out-of-school children back into the education mainstream through open schooling.
The NEP also insists on experiential learning for students from very early on in school as well.
Education institutions and EdTech companies should do well to first address the issue of foundational and quality education in small towns and rural areas, and then focus on skill development and digital transformations. This course will ensure all-round education of the youngsters at school, college and university levels, and help them navigate jobs in the 21st century.
I believe that a combination of basic education, skill training and digital empowerment will prepare rural and small-town India for unexpected challenges such as job losses, as we have seen during the pandemic.
While those living in urban India, mainly Tier 1 and 2 cities, were fortunate enough to hold on to their jobs or find new ones, even have the luxury of working from home, a vast majority of people living in other parts of the country were seemingly not so lucky. Monthly data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reveals that around 5.59 million salaried employees in non-metro cities lost their jobs during April-March 2021, when the second wave hit India. The ongoing Covid-19 surge is expected to impact rural India and the livelihoods of its people even harder.
If we are to revive the job market, especially in non-metro cities and towns, we have to vastly enhance access to all levels of education, accelerate skill development, and create employment opportunities across sectors and industries. I will give you an analogy: Just as the people of Mumbai are dependent on local trains – the lifeline of the city – for a convenient and affordable commute, in the same way children and adolescents in small towns and rural areas are dependent on education institutions for quality and accessible education that will eventually secure their future.
Statistically speaking, one million men and women join the workforce every month, but less than half are suitably employed – the reason being the wide gaps between a sound education, skill training and employability. The education institutions and EdTechs must necessarily work towards bridging these gaps and ensure that all three crucial aspects of personality development work in tandem. Alongside, both public and private education institutions ought to impart soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking and decision-making skills, which are now more a necessity than a choice, as well as training in advanced technologies including artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning and blockchain, among others.
I recall the words of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who, in her budget speech in 2019, noted, “Equipping Indian youth with relevant new-age skills in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, 3D Printing, Virtual Reality and Robotics can help them prepare to be a part of the global workforce and fill labour shortage gaps.” This is exactly what we should focus on.
I am glad to see that several colleges, universities, technical institutes and online training platforms have expanded their curriculums and added technology-related courses to meet the growing demand for digital knowhow. Schools are also introducing these new-age concepts to their students. However, many of these courses do not impart the necessary training in those areas, which are needed for the present-day skilled workforce.
If India must stand out as a highly-skilled and digitally-literate nation on earth, it is imperative for the government, academia and industry to work together towards that goal.