Why is upskilling necessary for the rural youth? | Explained

How can youth in rural India be made employment-ready? What are the skills they need to acquire and how can the government and NGOs facilitate this?

Published - January 04, 2024 10:30 am IST

Farmhands engaged in dibbling weeding at a cotton field on the outskirts of Hyderabad on July 7.

Farmhands engaged in dibbling weeding at a cotton field on the outskirts of Hyderabad on July 7. | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

The story so far: At a group discussion held by Life Skills Collaborative, most of the rural youth when questioned about their aspirations for the future said they preferred staying in their village. With the prevalent trend of urbanisation — the UN projects that almost 50% of the Indian population will be living in urban areas by 2047— it is crucial not to overlook those who choose to stay behind in villages.

What is main source of rural income?

Farming is the main source of rural livelihoods, with children from many rural families supplementing their family’s income by working on family-owned farms. But the rural economy is experiencing a major occupational shift with more farmers quitting agriculture to join non-farming jobs, hinting at an agrarian crisis. The National Sample Survey Office data recorded 34 million farmers leaving their farms and transitioning to other sectors such as construction during 2004-05 and 2011-12. This highlights the need for not only making agriculture an aspiring vocation among rural youth, but also creating alternative employment opportunities.

How can migration be controlled?

To control migration of these youth to urban areas in search of meaningful employment, it becomes imperative to provide vocational training to students to imbibe relevant rural skills in them so that they can secure a living where they currently live. During discussions at schools, it was found that most students’ educational/employment aspirations were limited to choices that were available within the vicinity of their villages. Upskilling opportunities similar to what the Delhi government is trying to achieve with the ‘Skills On Wheel’ initiative must be brought to students’ doorsteps.

What is the current vocational education opportunity?

The current vocational education landscape in rural India is interspersed with Industrial Training Institutes to upskill rural populations, but with little to no placement opportunities. Presently, rural education scarcely focuses on skill development, a blow to the majority of youth who reportedly rely on schools to learn life skills. The LSC Voices 2023 survey — of 15,856 young people across 11 districts — revealed that two thirds of youth aged between 19 and 22 had never taken any kind of vocational training with only 5% of them enrolled in these courses. If learning is infused with rural life skills in schools, rural education will have the potential to nurture a generation capable of thriving.

How can education be improved?

Effective rural education should be tailored such that technical as well as life skills, needed to empower youth in these areas, become accessible to them through formal education. There are many ways this could be done, as educational evidence from other developing economies suggests — such as Mexico’s tele-schools and Bhutan’s well-being-infused curriculum. The tele-schools provide lessons on subject matters as well as values, thereby providing a much higher level of access to value-based secondary education for remote areas where secondary schools are scarce. This has shown to have trickling benefits in the local economy with improved attitudes and increased aspirations among children and parents.

Closer to home, organisations such as NIIT Foundation and Pratham Institute are working with children in rural areas to provide upskilling opportunities. Hybrid life skilling programs are offered both by NIIT in collaboration with UNICEF through its self-learning platform, and Pratham, which offers courses in both industry-specific skills (such as in healthcare, electrical, construction) and life skills. By offering rural populations skills in fields like agricultural mechanisation, pollution monitoring, nursing and digital technologies via e-learning, rural India can boost employability in both traditional and non-traditional trades, leading to a vibrant economy.

Simran Kaur is an incoming MPP student at Kautilya School of Public Policy.

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