A section of activists and teachers have expressed concern over the importance given to vocational education in the National Education Policy 2020, arguing that it will end up sustaining and furthering the existing inequalities in access to education.
The policy, which has a section titled ‘Reimagining vocational education’, calls for removing “hard separations” between academic and vocational streams.
Stressing the need for changing the perception of vocational education as being inferior to mainstream education, the policy said students can be introduced to vocational subjects from as early as grade six, including opportunities for internship from grade six to grade 12.
S.H. Thilagar, a faculty member of Anna University and State coordinator of the All India Save Education Committee, said this would lead to “vocationalisation” of education. “This will result in students from socio-economically backward backgrounds ending up taking predominantly vocational groups,” he said.
“The stress for vocational education was envisaged even in the NEP of 1986. However, the new policy takes it to whole another level by introducing it in grade six itself. This ignores the importance of ensuring basic mainstream education for all students at least until Class 10,” he said.
P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System-Tamil Nadu, said introducing vocational education at an early age would become a barrier for many first-generation learners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education.
“The present policy would lead to more dropout and students opting for low-skilled jobs at a young age. These students will certainly not be from privileged backgrounds. It appears to be the intention of the government to confine underprivileged students to vocational education while others can access better opportunities,” he said.
M. Madhavan, a government school teacher and State president of Agricultural Graduate Teachers’ Association, said that while the intentions were honourable, it might have an adverse effect in practice. “First, providing vocational education and internship options from very young age could lead to distractions. Second, if higher education opportunities are not available, students entering vocational stream may end up having minimal education and a low-level job,” he said. He cited the example of how students finishing higher secondary in agriculture vocational stream were finding it difficult to enter undergraduate programmes in agriculture since only a small percentage of seats are reserved for them.
However, S.P. Thyagarajan, member, University Grants Commission’s Committee on Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) Regulations 2020, said the focus on vocational education in NEP 2020 was to empower and provide more flexibility to students. “The idea is to bridge the gap between academic and vocational streams,” he said and added that students need not be confined to either this or that. Arguing that the policy provided opportunities for students to reach greater heights in the vocational stream, he said there were provisions to return to academic streams at different stages.
“With the concept of ABC, which enables students to acquire academic credits from different institutions while studying in one institution, and with the thrust given to startups by the governments, focus on vocational education can be really advantageous,” he said.