Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Vision For Tomorrow

Today being an age of intense competition is one of job scarcity as well: employment avenues are not opening up at the pace in which our colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are churning out graduates and post-graduates. Whether it is in the government sector or in the private sector, it is only the best (in the fray) who can hope to acquire a job in accordance with his/her qualification. However all students are not expected to be equally brilliant nor equally adept in their studies. There are at the same time, many students who nurture interest in fields other than academics. Owing largely to a lack of awareness as well as absence of proper facilities such students are forced to take recourse to the conventional fields of study; and in which (owing largely to their lack of interest and at times inaptitude) time and again they fail to perform at par with their expectations. Though the job market draws in a sizeable portion of the 'qualified' youths, nothing much becomes of the remaining ones; especially those who despite managing to somehow scrap through the portals of college or even universities, have nowhere to go with their kind of percentage/marks. Entrance examinations to many courses are beyond the reach of such pupils. Many of the institutes offering different courses are anything but dupes. Without any worthwhile objective in their minds, such people are the proverbial unemployeds: whiling their time away in meaningless pursuits, or worse still straying towards the wrong side of life. Our theory- based education system often leaves students inept for practical expertise. Critics deem it to be a fall out of the educational policies enunciated by our policy-makers --of post-independent India--(which was) almost a take-off on the British educational system in prevalence during the Raj. As a consequence, over the years we have seen that our educational system has, brewed generations of clerks [both incompetent for manual (menial??) tasks, and seriously lacking in the ethos of dignity of labour]. This is the current state of affairs today, in this twenty-first century when specialization and super specialization is the demand of the hour, in all spheres of activity…Thus in the present, a simple academic degree does not suffice. Nor does remaining fixed in the conventional educational pattern helps as such. In such a situation, the need of the hour is a total revamp of our educational setup with greater emphasis on practical utilization of the knowledge through alternative fields of study. Vocational education can play a significant role in this regard. In addition, such steps ought to be complemented by greater use of IT in education. While many other parts of the country have already woken to this reality and initiating appropriate steps, are already reaping rich dividends, Assam is yet to catch up.
At the same time, there exists, at the other end of the social spectrum, another massive chunk of illiterate and semi-literate young men and women who too are constantly feeding into the burgeoning problem of unemployment. These are the people who belong to the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Poverty forces the young people to leave their studies midway (especially in their adolescence and early teenage), they are easy targets for the anti-social elements who rope them in for their nefarious activities in exchange for a few bundles of notes. In a recent survey, it was reported that out of the estimated twelve-lakh students who are admitted at the primary school level in Assam every year, only about two/three lakh out of which sit for the Matriculation examinations. In other words, there is a student's dropout of nearly 98% from the primary to the secondary levels in the schools of Assam, with the rate of students dropping out in the high school level (from about fifth/sixth standard onwards) being especially high; in fact these figures ranks amongst the highest in the country. It is pertinent that more than the unemployed graduates discussed above, it is this segment of drop-outs/semi-literates that stand greater chances of falling prey to the nefarious circles, which are not few in number. Nine cases out of every ten, these young people are sent to 'work'(by their families and by their situations) usually as child labourers. Despite the many laws framed, till date, the problem of child labour shows no sign of abating, which owes its origin to this problem of poverty. Often, these young children are victims of child abuse which not only has a negative impact on their psyche, but they(as also the environment these young children are exposed to) instill in them seeds of violence and other vices , thus leading them astray, before they finally evolve into anti-social (anti-national?) elements… Rising unrest/strife/crime on all fronts in our society, not to speak of the menace of insurgency offers glaring instances in point. It is this segment of young people, which is in urgent need for a driving force to pull them out of the rut into which they are generally destined to fall once their school education is disbanded. In this regard, vocational education can play a stellar role in ameliorating these menaces, and in the long run in ushering (the youths of our) state into a better and a brighter tomorrow. For it will enable the youth to sustain himself in the present-day world with utmost dignity.
In a way however, this problem is more of self-employment than unemployment. Vocational education provides a many a means of self-employment to the youth. Tourism, event-management, journalism, advertising, gemology, jewellery designing, interior decoration, fashion technology, retail management, handloom industries, pisciculture and other agro-based industries, carpentry, weaving/tailoring, fine arts, mobile repairing, electrician's and beautician courses are a few of the many avenues of self-employment open to the youth; in accordance with his/her interest/aptitude and capability. Given proper guidance and environment/scope, the youth will be able to not only stand upon his own feet, but he can also contribute his bit towards the development of society. Blest with rich bounties of natural resource, many of these avenues serve as excellent foundations on which our youths can carve distinctive and respectable careers through vocational education. However, in spite of its vast prospects, our state is sadly lagging behind the other regions of the country, at least as far as preference and popularity of vocational education is concerned. This is the case despite there being 28 ITIs in different parts of Assam as also vocational education courses at the +2 level in 150 Higher Secondary Schools across the state (which was introduced way back in 1987). Of course the Govt. has already made announcements for opening up more vocational institutes besides upgrading the existing ones. Yet, all this does not suffice in meeting the huge requirements. Also, lack of commercialization, professionalism and the ethos of dignity of labour are only some of the impediments (nay challenges) in the path of popularizing vocational education. Of course, for the youth trying his hand at some or other form of self-employment, initial hiccups are understandable. But then he needs to be determined enough to see through the initial days of struggle and extra hard labour. As a matter of fact, Assam has a long history of entrepreneurship right from the pre-independence days. Maniram Dewan and Lakshminath Bezbaruah were two of our earliest entrepreneurs: while the former was the first Assamese tea planter, the latter was a successful timber merchant. Our youths should take inspiration from these great men who had shown the way, despite all odds…
Today's youth comprise the future of the society. A state in which a considerable chunk of the populace comprises this segment is widely tipped to be one already on the road to progress. Yet it is unfortunate that despite possessing huge reservoirs of natural resources coupled with a treasure-trove of an ethno-historical-culturally enriched human resource. Assam has long remained in the backyard of the nation's socio-economic progress. Though things have looked up in recent times, yet much needs to done. Unemployment has proven itself one of the most potent of the social evils plaguing the state; in addition to providing much needed fodder to the two and a half decade old saga of insurgency in Assam that has virtually crippled the state's economy. All sorts of turmoil have arisen as a consequence of this. It remains with us to vitalize the sphere of vocational education as a means of thwarting this unrest and unhappiness from spreading out further thereby emboldening the vision for a better and a brighter tomorrow.

(**Copyright--Stuti Goswami )