First, addressing the convocation of IIT, Hyderabad, President Ram Nath Kovind recently asked students to remain relevant to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will write the script of the 21st century. And then Prime Minister Narendra Modi while delivering the convocation address at IIT, Bombay stated, “it is our social responsibility to ensure that not just quantity, but also the quality of our engineers is of the highest standard”.

It’s a long-held view that given the country’s economic growth momentum and demographic advantage, both must contribute significantly to the overall development of India. While demographic advantage alone does not determine the fate of economic growth, it’s certainly a key determinant. As technological progress lies at the heart of the economy, a workforce with proper technology skills leads to productivity boosts paving the way for economic rise.

However, as India seeks demographic dividend from its primarily young population, quality of engineering education remains a great concern. And, it is no longer a secret that a large number of engineering colleges in the country are unable to provide learning to engineering students that would help them get suitable jobs. Thus low employability of engineering students is no surprise as only 40 per cent of engineers and technology graduates (20.7 lakh of 51.4 lakh) got placed in the last four years. Also, it is no surprise as AICTE planned to shut down nearly 200 ‘substandard’ engineering colleges leading to 80,000 less seats in engineering colleges.

As India’s predicament of quality technical education continues, there has been little effort by the HRD ministry to lay thrust on the critical role of technical teacher development that ensures quality teaching in competency development, including knowledge, skills and outlook relevant to the fast-changing labour market.

The question before us today is if we want our country to be remembered for squandering huge advantage of demographic dividend for want of earnestness and preparedness? Also, whether India will be able to realise its potential and meet 21st century challenges without building human capital needed for the purpose.

Interestingly, the president of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Borge Brende, strongly believes that India has potential to be a gamechanger in the fourth industrial revolution. Even country’s leading experts and entrepreneurs feel India is uniquely placed to take advantage of this revolution and has the capacity to prepare its workforce under the age of 27 to be competitive for domestic and global markets.

Technical education denotes the polytechnic course after 10th standard, B. Tech after 12th standard and M. Tech after graduation. For the immediate purpose, let us focus on polytechnic course that refers to vocational education offering an opportunity to earn livelihood at an early stage of life. The country reportedly has 23,000 polytechnic colleges with 16 lakh engineering students but what is necessary is to equip them with employability skills.

Hence, the onus is on training institutions and technical teachers to turn them into good recruits for various industries. It is all the more noteworthy because businesses are undergoing transformation, the ground rules of most industries are changing, and consumption patterns are being constantly reinvented. The task therefore remains challenging.

Among several technical teachers’ training centres in the country, four NITTTRs (National Institutes of Technical Teachers’ Training and Research) based in Bhopal, Chandigarh, Chennai and Kolkata respectively stand tall for technical teachers’ training and overall development of polytechnic education. NITTTRs are mandated to offer training programmes/ courses to degree and diploma level polytechnic teachers for upgradation of their skills and knowledge.

However, following policy interventions might help HRD ministry to perk up the functioning and effectiveness of NITTTRs.

o Periodic training of technical teachers be made compulsory.

o Facilitating the transition of existing teachers’ training programme to a demand-driven training programme

o The shifting role of teachers must keep pace with changing contents, knowledge structure and skills components as according to a study 70 per cent employers feel the quality of training provided by vocational institutes is not up to the mark

o It’s about time we consider teachers’ learning to be as important as that of students. Technical teacher training that remained sporadic till date be made a key component for career advancement of teachers.

o Release of technical teachers for training be made a routine affair and part of the institutional calendar.

o Meticulous assessment of teaching performance post-training to ease the learning gap.

o Improving student performance be made focus area of college management. And, therefore mapping of student’s performance be linked to concerned teacher’s performance.

o Introducing accreditation model for polytechnic colleges.

o Effective networking with the state governments for wider application of technical teacher training norms including of private training centres.

While these interventions are not conclusive, they are critical for tapping the true potential of existing training institutes and refining the role of teachers and learners to ensure increased employment opportunity and improved employment quality for polytechnic pass outs.

The country can hardly afford to remain indifferent to the growing demand for a labour force which is skill-based, resilient and adaptive. As the grim job situation turns grimmer, a teacher training action plan is of paramount importance.

The writer is former General Manager, International Centre Goa and former Dy. General Manager, India International Centre, New Delhi.