By Molly Pathak,LAHI:
During academic year 2018-19, about forty thousand students studying under Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (MSBSHSE) have pursued vocational education courses along-side their core academics within the school timetable/s. These courses are an improvised version of the successful pre-vocational program, V-1 i.e. ‘Introduction to Basic Technology (IBT)’, being implemented in Maharashtra since 1987. The new vocational course curriculum is developed as per guidelines set by Govt. of India’s National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) and has been named as Multi Skill Foundation Course (MSFC). The course is offered in select government schools as part implementation of GoI-MHRD’s1 centrally sponsored vocational education scheme through Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan(the erstwhile RMSA2) since 2015. The selection of schools for imparting vocational education is done annually at state level by prioritising schools with the highest number of children from impoverished backgrounds & vulnerability indicators first and thereby adding new schools into the list every year. Having prepared its annual action plan for MSFC implementation, the state government submits it to the central government for approval following which the course is delivered through training agencies selected by state level Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. The cost of the course is borne in the ratio of 60:40 by centre and state respectively. Therefore to the students, it comes free.
The Multi Skill Foundation Course(MSFC) and is divided into various ‘Job Roles’ comprising life sciences, technical skills, customer support & shop floor oriented services. The training period for each Job Role runs into two academic years. So practically speaking, if a student opts for MSFC soon after entering Secondary School (i.e. grade 9th) s/he would have completed training for two different Job Roles by the time s/he would have completed her/his Higher Secondary School (i.e. grade 12th). For instance in secondary school (grades 9-10), if a student chooses to pursue a two year course under Life Sciences – Personal Health & Hygiene, s/he would become competent enough to take up the entry level job of a General Duty Assistant in the healthcare industry upon successful course completion.
Similarly if the same student wishes to study further and takes up another two year course in higher secondary school (grades 11-12) under Retail Studies, then s/he would become competent enough to take up an entry level job as a Sales Associate in Shop Floors, door to door selling, tele-marketing, concept selling, etc. after successfully completing the course. Similarly a course in Beauty & Wellness would get the student job ready to become an Assistant Beautician and a course in Physical Education and Sports would make the student job ready for the role of a Physical Activity Trainer (in gyms, health clubs, spas, etc.). So technically, the student has likelihood to become ‘employment ready’ at two junctures, once when s/he completes 10th& once again as soon as s/he completed 12th, irrespective of the fact as to whether s/he is able to successfully pass the other regular subjects or not. The MSFC assessment is carried out through support from the Sector Skills Council of GoI-NSDC3.
This model of inclusion of vocational education within the present education system draws from education delivery policies followed in western countries and also has reflection of Vedic education and the Gandhian philosophy of Nai Talim i.e. education infused with work experience; albeit in a modern avatar to suit the present day cultural demographics. Our government schools are places where students from the most vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds come to gain education and training for a better life. The mid-day meal scheme at primary school level has been successful for the simple reason that, it is a value addition over and above the chalk and talk method of instruction at school. It works for the children of that age group (6 to 13) because other than food & day care alongside education, there is little that children need to grow up in that tender age. To make things better, even vaccination drives have been regularly carried out through school campuses since several years in the past. Therefore at primary school level the campus becomes an ideal place to get shelter for the day, clean drinking water, nutritious food, basic medical attention and also education. But the situation changes as soon as these very children start approaching adolescence. During teenage and pre-adolescence they undergo various psycho-social experiences and they start forming opinions about their social standing and circumstances. These are those years when they are vulnerable as well as extremely impressionable. This is the time when they need attention, grooming and an initiation towards a steady purpose in life. Government schools in India are yet to address these complex psycho-social needs. Given the fact that there cannot be a better place than school to begin work in this direction, it is prudent to consider that the orientation should start by igniting livelihood aspirations into the young minds.Primary Economics teaches us that food, clothing and shelter are the first requirements of a sane society and earlier the seeds sown to reap these the better it works with an individual’s self-worth.
Academically speaking, GoI-MHRD’s Multi Skill Foundation Course, is ‘that’ particular much needed thrust of oxygen in the present day higher education system. This at least, was clearly evident during a free flowing conversation with about 310 Higher Secondary school students from 21 government schools in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra on 4-5 February 2019. These 310 students had come together for an appreciation ceremony at a public function held in their district after successfully completing Job Role under MSFC. At the time of the function the students were job ready and were also preparing to appear for their 12th board examinations in March 2019. It was an apt time to appreciate and motivate them because this was aparticular juncture in their lives, when these young Turks were almost ready for ‘real life’.
‘Internship’, i.e. 80 hours of on Job Training is the most important element of the MSFC. The trend is that students complete their internship either during the long festival break (Diwali), summer break or during the first 4 hours before school starts. Whichever way they choose to do it, the internship mandates 80 hours of practical work in real life livelihood places. The internship component has benefits that go beyond prescribed curriculum and course syllabus. The internship place is like an open classroom, where knowledge blows in and out from across all quarters and it completely depends on the student as to what and how much s/he would pick up. Internships help increase students’ soft skills, life skills, workplace management skills and networking. It helps them develop perspectives about how theory taught to them in the classrooms work in real life. It helps them pick up behavioural skills required to thrive in society. Internships leave a subtle impact on the very personalities of these adolescents which help them stride confidently in their future professional lives. Amongst the 310 students who were appreciated and honoured in the functions at Gondia and Nagpur, there are three case studies presented here. All of these three students are from the poorest of the poor strata of the society and so it matters the most to hear out their narratives as to how the MSFC Internship period has helped in shaping their livelihood aspirations, apart from regular studies at school.
VISHAKHA CHOOTHEY, is a 12th grade student of Manohar Municipality School in Gondia, Maharashtra. Her mother works as a house-help by cleaning utensils, sweeping-mopping floors and washing clothes in people’s houses. Her father is a construction worker. Both her parents are unlettered. Her mother’s work is physically arduous and so is her father’s; but at least her mother has work every day and so gets regular wages, while her father’s work availability is uncertain and so are his wages. Together the couple is able to earn about INR 6000/- per month to support a family of seven members. Vishaka, her two siblings, her grandparents, the husband wife duo themselves. So the money available per member averages out to INR 850/- which is the kitty for food, clothing, rented shelter, medicine, education, social expenses and so on and so forth. Vishakha completed her MSFC course in the Retail Trade and was placed as an intern in a departmental store selling grocery and home utility articles in Gondia town. Vishakha says that the internship was the most precious experience of her entire academic life of 12 years. Because of the internship, she had the opportunity to visit and work at a place that she had never visited earlier. She says that she learnt a lot while doing her internship at the departmental store and carries back fond memories of customer interaction, product handling – packaging, labelling, stacking, etc. She also says that on the day when she completed her internship and went to convey her thanks to the senior staff there, the shop manager said that she is welcome to join the store as a regular employee once she wants to do so. Vishakha has aspirations to study further and so at this juncture of her life, the probable job at the departmental store is an assurance for her to be able to earn for herself and pay for her future education while also financially supporting her family in whatever little measure she can. Need we say anything more about how MSFC has given her a strong foot-hold for financial independence right at the edge of completing school education?
TEJASWARI VIJEVAR, is a student of ZillaParishad School from Goregaon block in Gondia district, Maharashtra. Her mother works as a sundry house-help at people’s homes and father is an unskilled construction worker. Tejaswari completed her internship at Central Nursery Murdoli ofGondia district which is five kms. away from where she lives. Reaching her internship location everyday on time was a challenge due to the distance and her naivety in juggling between the roles of being a help to her mother for household chores, a full time student and also a part time intern. Her internship lasted 4 hours of work daily for about 15 days. To be able to reach and return from her internship location she had another two hours of additional travel. Recollecting her internship days, Tejaswari says that spending twenty rupees every day for the internship commute was a challenge, but she convinced her parents to shell out that money because she was confident that the internship was the best part of her schooling and a dividend over everything that she had studied at school in the past 12 years. Having interned at the district’s Central Nursery, she learnt several tricks of the plantation and garden upkeep trade. She now nurses a dream of working at the famed forests of Gondia by appearing for a forestry job competitive examination. Alternatively she has her mind clear that if she is unable to make it into a forestry job, she will set up a plant nursery and makebusiness out of it. Tejaswari, a young eighteen year old, who now has both the options of job employment on one hand and entrepreneurship on the other. She gets this confidence due to her tryst with the MSFC.
RIZWAN KHAN, is a thirteen years old student at Sane Guruji Urdu High School situated in the Mahal area of Nagpur district, Maharashtra, Central India. Under MSFC he is pursuing a course of Beauty and Wellness. Rizwan was stricken by misfortune at the tender age of eight years. It started as a normal day and eight year old Rizwan went to school as per his routine in the morning. He used to study in an English medium school at that time. That afternoon when he returned from school, life was not the same for him anymore. His mother had died due to extreme burn injuries. Young Rizwan could understand little of what had conspired but one thing that he understood very well was that he had lost his mother for ever. Five years later, studying in a municipal school now when Rizwan was interviewed for this article, he shared that after his mother’s death, he and his brother have been raised by his paternal aunt & uncle. His biological father comes to meet the boys once in two weeks. The brighter side of Rizwan’s story as he shares, is the huge appreciation that he gets in his MSFC class for the ‘best facial massage’that he gives to his dummy customers during his Beauty & Wellness practical classes under MSFC. When asked as to what inspired him to join the Beauty and Wellness trade he said that, he had a natural urge (aptitude) to join this course during the MSFC trade orientation at school. Upon talking to his MSFC instructor it was found that during 2018, in a batch of nine students (four girls & five boys), under the Beauty & Wellness trade, Rizwan’s work was outstanding. The perfection with which Rizwan’s fingers move on the client’s face is magical. Within his school and community, Rizwan is sought after and comes in resourceful as official ‘facial beautician’ during weddings and other social functions. The services that he offers as of now are free as long as his clients bring in their own material. His clients are mostly his own aunties, cousin sisters and also school teachers. Needless to say that, upon course completion Rizwan has definite opportunity for entry level jobs in upmarket salons, spas and possibly entrepreneurship at a later stage. He has a future in the media and entertainment industry too.Poverty, helplessness and bitter experiences very early in life gives rise to many evils, but thankfully this young boy has a road-map chalked out for him right while he is at the threshold of completing school. Rizwan’s is a sanctified example of utility of vocational education at adolescence age.
To conclude, one can say that the MSFC with its ‘Internship’ component in particular has potential to provide entry level job ready candidates. With MSFC, the highly sought after word ‘experience’ in job interviews can become a part and parcel of India’s new education system. Multi Skill Foundation Course is for sure the game changer.
1GOI-MHRD = Government of India – Ministry of Human Resources Development. 2RMSA = RashtriyaMadhyamikShikshaAbhiyan 3GoI-NSDC Government of India – National Skill Development Council
Note: Lend A Hand India has amateur videos covering all these three case studies which are available upon request.
(The author, Molly Pathak is free-lancer. She writes stories, blogs, articles, etc. for the development sector and works as a consultant for CSR projects. In the past she was engaged as a Senior Fellow 2017-18 at the American India Foundation Trust and as a documentation specialist with the Azim Premji Foundation. She has also taught English literature& Social Sciences teacher in some leading schools of India. She is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org)