Vocational education, which is often called career-based education, is geared towards preparing students for particular occupations or trades such as a stock broking, engineering, medicine, architecture, law, etc. The entire idea of people getting trained in one area and depending on just one industry to employ them for life was probably a sensible choice only until the 20th century. Today, the boom of technology and globalization has made the market quite volatile and new kinds of jobs have been created.
To be successful in this kind of economy, students need to be multi-skilled. Everyone needs a good academic foundation, but most kids in vocational programs are not getting that foundation.
A career-oriented education would mean almost total rescission of any other fields of study that were earlier considered important to become well-rounded human beings. Right from the very beginning, students will dive deep into a particular trade – be in aeronautic engineering, cyber law or industrial psychology, with little or no emphasis on understanding the history, evolution, problems and challenges of other subjects. But let’s flip the question around. What if you’re not sure that you want to become an aeronautic engineer after four years of learning? Get another degree because your earlier degree is irrelevant? In India, students are forced to choose a specialization that you can’t change for 4 or more years!
While it is true that need-based, career-oriented, courses are favored by most young students, parents and even teachers, we need to look back at the genesis of this prejudice. There is a reason why people are stressing its importance. The truth is that it’s a vicious circle. Vocational education is aimed at filling the market with skilled and semi-skilled labour! At the same time, it is also costlier than a general degree (whether in India or abroad).
We must remember that what we prize most in our current educational system, viz. the tremendous technological advancement, consequent comfort, and affluence, would not have been possible unless creative people researched on unknown territories of knowledge. Much of the modern technological inventions happened because of people who worked on creating advances in pure logic and mathematics. So, vocational education may not always be the answer for excellence.
Vocational education is based on doctrinal truths, which conditions students from an early age and makes them think in a certain way. It uses sacrosanct questions, exact answers and a quagmire of formulas and techniques. Such a system is more about totalitarianism and outlaws critical inquiry. It is the exact opposite of a flourishing, healthy, education system.
In the recent past, there have also been discussions about the declining quality of students who enter the IITs. Many also blame the spoon-feeding of coaching institutes and the fatigue caused by them. The exam pattern of IITs can be changed even now, and I’m sure that while coaching centers might not disappear, they’ll evolve, adjust and transform themselves to provide students the skills to meet the demands of an IIT entrance exam. It’s important for them to have a more holistic pedagogy, which will allow students to develop their creative skills rather than memorize a few tropes. It’s high time parents stop forcing their children to take up careers based on financial prospects rather than their interest or passion.
I believe that a debate on this topic has only just begun. It must be taken up by all those who’re stakeholders in it, and especially students. For while I underwent a wholesome, broad-based undergraduate degree, self-picked master’s degree courses, and still make decisions each day about which way my PhD must go, I fear that careerist thinking might take this opportunity away from youngsters!
You might also like to read about education culture in India and the cerebral debate between education and learning.