Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Master of all trades

Nabajit Sarkar, a student of Class IX of Arya Vidyapeeth Higher Secondary and Multipurpose School, lives in the Birubari locality in the heart of Guwahati. His father earns livelihood as an auto van driver, while his mother works at a street tailoring shop to help his father mend both ways with her little income. Nabajit never had a chance to visit a shopping mall even though the city has witnessed a boom in malls and other retail shopping centres.

Jayanta Barman, a student of class IX of the city’s Gopal Boro Government Higher Secondary School, does not have a computer at home as his father, a vegetable vendor at Ganeshguri market near the capital complex, cannot afford to buy one.

But thanks to a pilot project in Assam under the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF), an ambitious programme to integrate skills, training and qualifications into the school curriculum, Nabajit can now perfectly play multiple roles like store manager, supervisor, cashier and salesperson associated with a shopping mall or retail trade without having visited one while Jayanta can assemble or de-assemble a central processing unit of computer in just 20 minutes and can identify every single component and explain their utilities.

To equip underprivileged students like Nabajit and Jayanta with skills to increase their employability and to help them make an early career start, Pearson — a global educational company — has joined hands with the Assam government’s Education Department under public-private partnership (PPP) mode to introduce NVEQF through a pilot project in 10 government schools. Under the project, Pearson India has set up vocational skill centres in the schools. About 600 odd students are now being imparted vocational skill training in two trades — retail trade and basic IT, computer hardware and networking. Each school has about 30 students undergoing the training in each trade. Spoken English and personality development, public speaking and communication skills have also been included in the curriculum to complement the skill training modules.

The classrooms are now equipped with audio-visual aids and learning labs under the project to facilitate hands-on training. A shopping mall replica forms part of the learning lab of retail trade stream classrooms while IT hardware stream labs have personal computers and accessories.

Assam Electronics Development Corporation Limited (AMTRON) is the implementing agency under the project for IT and soft skills. AMTRON managing director Mahendra Kumar Yadava says that the curriculum for the project has been designed and administered by two Pearson operating companies: IndiaCan — a vocational skill provider and Edexcel — a qualification awarding body of United Kingdom, its certificates recognised the world over. “On successful completion of the course, the students will be provided certificates from Edexcel which will be globally recognised and will also enable them to pursue higher education in respective streams,” he says.

The project has evoked positive response among the students as well as teachers of these schools. Sharing their learning experiences under the project, Manju Swargiary, Radhika Boro and Kanan Rajbangshi say that prior to attending the vocational course classes they were shy of talking to any stranger even in their mother tongues. Now, they do not hesitate to speak to any stranger and can initiate conversations with their working knowledge of spoken English. Tips given by trainers in the classrooms about dressing sense, importance of establishing eye-contacts and developing other communication skills have raised their confidence level.

“We have marked a great change in our students. These courses have totally changed their behaviour, their attitude, their mode of speaking and greatly enhanced their confidence level,” says Minati Das, principal of Arya Vidyapeeth Higher Secondary and Multipurpose School. Principal of Gopal Boro Government Higher Secondary School Parikhit Medhi echoes her.

Teachers of both the schools also say that attendance in regular classes have improved as the students do not want to miss the vocational education classes which are held after normal school hours. Parents of these students are also happy that their children would be getting a certificate along with the skill in a particular trade and hope that it would help them in getting a job after education. “Training young people for work and careers is an urgent need locally and beyond; so Assam’s bold step is a genuine first. We’ve been able to apply to this project some of the experience we have gained globally,” says Khozem Merchant, president of Pearson India.

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