About 20 million children get added to Indian society each year. This is going on for more than a quarter century. So we have about half of Indians under age 25 and below. What happens to these huge young population with about 20 million annual increment?

Only a small percentage of these children born each year reach higher stages of education. Let us look at drop outs: before completing primary (5-24 years) group 44% drop out. Before 8th standard, 78% of the total. At undergraduate level that is before finishing the degree course (B.A, B.Sc, B.Com etc) about 92% (drop out) By postgraduate stage 97.5% drop out.

In other words about 2.5% of the children in each age group can hope to become a M.A, M.Sc, MCA, MBA etc. Of these Ph.D’s are 0.02%.

These statistics indicate how poorly we use our vital raw material in the era of knowledge economy. No wonder we have a vicious cycle of poverty, demands for temporary social palliatives, various forms of social violence, urban chaos, rural decay and about all much slower (than potential) economic growth.


This vicious cycle had set in and more or stabilized due to our mindset of ignoring ordinary people and concentrating only on setting up a “modern” economy and society from the top: Higher educational institutions, industry set up with foreign technologies for the domestic growth and consumption of (the small) middle class etc. Some efforts were done with the green revolution but it slowed down. It was assumed that the illiterate population can be trained on the job for agriculture, industries, services etc. Ordinary Indians showed a remarkable capability to learn and adapt: a domestic worker using washing machine or microwave oven or an ordinary truck driver transforming into articulated vehicle operator or ordinary women operating the machines of garment industry etc.

But there are limits. Assisted learning of skills through vocational education really accelerates the innate self-learning and adaptation capabilities. Then human resources can be used efficiently and effectively, reducing economic losses. Many skilled persons will generate new avenues of their own entrepreneurial actions. (In any case about 94% Indian labour force is self-employed in unorganized sector).


Since skilled labour availability becomes necessary to face global competition, Indian industry and Govt. have woken up to the dire need facing the nation. The target group for skill development as projected by Govt. and Industry documents are : workforce entering labour force for the first time 28 million; that is organized sector 27 million; that in unorganized sector 42.1 million. 11th Plan targets are to increase the current capacity of 3.3 million to 15 million by 11th plan end (2012) and 50 million by the end of 12th Plan (2017). These numbers include various forms of ITI’s and vocational education from 8th standard up. Reader can judge the uncovered gaps !

Already there is a strong private sector presence in such vocational education. Currently the distribution is :

Govt./State run ITI’s 1896 (4 lakh capacity)

Private run ITI’s 3218 (3.42 lakh capacity)

In vocational training also private sector is present in substantive number. We have to remember that almost all these efforts are post 8th standard pass as that is the current policy set up by Govt. of India. We need to question whether that is adequate especially noting the drop out rates quoted above. Till Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) picks up well and stabilizes in terms of retention,  we will have to assume that about 70% of children will be dropped out before 8th standard. This is not an issue that can be carpeted under.


The magnitude of the problem we face in terms of skilling is really astronomical in numbers. Therefore we should not be fettered by any pre-set ideas. We need every one to get into action to skill Indians, at various levels – dropped out before 5th standard onwards, including those who pass various levels of education. In addition, there is a huge working force in organized and unorganized sectors which requires several forms of retraining periodically.

Private sector and management can come for philanthropy, for tax benefits and / or for profit. We should encourage all forms through policies and public support. We should also encourage foreign funds and management. In addition various forms of government – private sector joint efforts are also needed. No one group can handle this huge task which requires investments, specialized knowledge and excellent organization for delivery and placement linkages. If we are bold, we should also encourage the “not so clear white money” to be utilized for this critical cause.

However, a note of caution: Government should not reduce its funds for vocational education. If we look at the existing role of private sector in education: in primary it is 7.8%, upper primary 21.9%, secondary/senior secondary it is 32.3%. In graduate engineering and MBA courses it is above 85%. Private sector generally seeks areas where parents can pay more. No quarrels! Let private sector choose them more and more, as lots of actions for such children are required too. Governments can be in those segments to a limited extent to set standards. But the children of  poorer parents will require nearly 100% attention by Govt. even if through subsidies and scholarships.

Above all media has a great role to popularize “Vocational Skilled Persons” as the real future of India.


Y S Rajan