Skilling India, skilling the world

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Prime Minister Modi’s visit to my home city of London last week is a reminder that in the race to build a world of better education, few places compare with India for the scale of the challenge and the ambition.

The Indian Prime Minister has rightly highlighted the problem of India’s “acute skills shortage”, and how this is hampering the pace of economic growth and undermining international competitiveness.

There are a number of reasons for this. Traditional rote-learning, for centuries the teaching style of choice, where students regurgitate knowledge, is increasingly out of sync with workplaces that value emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Team-building, conflict resolution, empathy, leadership, resilience – this is the stuff of the successful 21st century worker; but it is not the stuff that schools are sufficiently good at teaching.

The Pearson India team recently published our annual Voice Of The Teacher survey.  They found that 57% of Indian teachers consider their students insufficiently prepared for employment on completing school. Three quarters of teachers want greater industry input into course content – a theme I also heard loud and clear when the Pearson board visited India last month. The full report has some fascinating insights on the state of play in Indian education.

Yet the infrastructure is there to make big improvements. Technology lets us learn what we want, when we want, at the pace we want. It can give us instant feedback and tell us where an individual – I – am going wrong and what I need to do to progress. And most importantly of all, it can do this for billions more people than the traditional classroom can. Not just access to learning - but also progress.

This skills challenge is not one of those great, intractable global issues. Solutions shouldn’t be hard to come by. It will require closer collaboration between educators, and employers. Nobody knows better than employers what sort of skills are needed for the workforce, and nobody knows better than teachers how to impart these skills onto young people.  Governments need to put in place structures and incentives which encourage this collaboration.

Then there's the education providers like Pearson. We also have a vital role to play, through businesses we own like IndiaCan, which runs over 100 career coaching centres across India. My colleague Leah Jewell’s blog explains how we’ve helped 10,000 young people achieve their first taste of employment; people often left behind and let down by education when they were younger. Better employment outcomes are perhaps the ultimate measures of educational efficacy.

Free market forces and government policies may determine unemployment levels, but with the right education, nobody ever need be unemployable. I hope India continues to think outside the box when it comes to skilling up its population.

Get it right, and we all win: the school leaver gets the job, businesses get their talent, and a nation continues to lift itself up.

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This article was originally published on LinkedIn.