Friday, July 24, 2015

We are not alone

Man’s quest for finding out another inhabited planet and living beings in it is, perhaps, older than the evolution of any science. Nowadays, one of the hidden hope behind all space exploration missions is the possibility of finding out extraterrestrial life. Every space scientist cherishes this hope. All very rudimentary data with respect to the possibility of a congenial environment for life (in the past, present or future) that is being sent to home by satellites and rovers become big news – which indicates the interest of mankind in this topic. Later in this series of developments, NASA recently released information on the closest and the older cousin of the Earth. NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first ‘near-Earth-size’ planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star.

In these attempts, even the discovery of a microbe will be counted as a big progress. I also strongly believe that, we (the mankind) is not alone in this universe. But the problem is that most of our searches for the alien cousins are based on the kind of life and living environment we know. But my strong intuition is that if we explore the possibilities of lives and living environments that are strange to us, we may get an earlier victory.

It is based on the above intuition, I formed and presented a hypothesis of life in the form of pure energy and the aliens having invisible (in man’s eyes) bodies formed with condensed energy in the third volume of IMANOFUTU fiction series titled ‘the first Alien Home on Earth’. They survive by eating radiation. They communicate through radiation language, that is, by emitting and receiving radiation in a structured form. They live in a social order entirely created by their energy levels. They take birth when the energy of their environment reaches certain levels and combinations. They do not die, but being dissolved into the environment when their energy reaches certain lower levels. They have visited the Earth hundreds of times!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Digital India week thoughts

Seminar on 'Digital India for Education & Training': Photo: Arun Upendra
The first digital equipment I owned was a wristwatch with digital display during the last part of 1980s or in the beginning of 1990s, I don’t remember the exact time. The very second day of my possession of the same, I opened it with much enthusiasm to find out some cuter machinery than the cute wheels that were either rotating clockwise or anticlockwise or just oscillating in my grand old HMT watch. But disappointing me a lot, it shown up only a hard and white plastic kind of material with a steel button like battery. Even though that poor thin digital watch put in much sincere efforts to impress me by displaying hours, minutes and seconds, I decided to give it up. Because, I wanted to hold the cute hour-minute-second hands and wheels of my old HMT watch with me.

A lot of people seemed to have thought on the same lines. Consequently the digital watch boom of those times faded away in around three-four years and the watches that were sold for many hundreds of rupees per piece initially ended up as a thirty rupee per piece deal with the street vendors. The cheapest price was also not able to push it in the marketplace and subsequently such vendors also disappeared.

However, the watch companies seemed to have identified the right issue. The major problem with the old mechanical watch was with its spring-tension energy system and the button screw used to wind the spring as well as to set the time. During those days, either you forgot to wind it or the low quality of the spring-tension system caused issues. In both the cases, your wristwatch showed untimely times. Another problem was with the winding button screw. With a little more force than usual during the winding or time setting process, you used to pull the screw out. Later in the timeline of evolution, the watch companies came out with a solution. They simply took out the spring energy system with battery and digital technology. So you had your cute hour-minute-second hands and wheels inside (tough plastic) again, even while using the digital technology. That tweak in the strategy for technology introduction helped the companies to ensure amazing market penetration to the digital wristwatches. Most of us wear this product now.

The lesson from the above is that, innovativeness and usability alone cannot ensure user acceptability. While designing projects and products for making digital India a reality, entrepreneurs have to take such lessons into consideration.

Digital India is the need of the hour at the threshold of evolving knowledge economies. The major peculiarity of a knowledge economy is the speed, precision and spread at which knowledge is transformed into the products of an economy. In a knowledge economy, innovations, factory setups based on such innovations, production, distribution and betterment should happen in a lightning speed. The major source of above speed, precision and spread will be digital technology. I know, I needn’t explain how.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Areas of collaboration for TVET & Industry led Skill Training: Curriculum development

In the last blog I presented skill development as a special purpose vehicle within the TVET ecosystem. Now I would like to suggest some of the ways in which TVET can internalize the dynamism and the best practices from the skill development initiatives.

Many countries now have Sector Skill Councils that look after the skill development requirements of specific industrial sectors. Generally, these councils are industry led organizations. One of the standard practices that the sector skill councils brought into the TVET ecosystem is developing occupational standards and qualification packs with respect to various job roles in industries.

At present skill development programmes are being designed based on the qualification packs developed and notified by the sector skill councils. What actually the sector skill councils do in this process is listing out the major functions of each job role in the industry, mapping the competencies required for effective and efficient delivery of each such function of a job role and consolidate it as separate occupational standards, and bundle the occupational standards together to have a qualification pack for the given job role. Therefore the objective of each skill training programme would be to develop the competencies as per the qualification pack for specific job roles.

In the above process, the sector, skill councils need the academic experts to design curriculum along with content to translate the competency listing to corresponding learning stuff as well as to design and fine tune transaction methods. Such engagements will provide the academia greater opportunities to identify the need for different transaction strategies for long duration academic programmes and short term job role specific training programmes and bring about innovations. This would definitely add much value to the QP based skill training programmes, and the experience gained during this process will automatically trigger quality enhancement initiatives in the case of TVET programmes as well.

One of the basic differences between a long duration academic programme and a short duration job role training programme lies in the dynamicity of the curriculum. Since a job role training would be as demanded by the employer industry, the programme developers and managers shall take much pains to identify the exact requirements of the employer and translate it into the curriculum. Therefore the curricula may keep on changing very fast. Whereas conventional long term TVET programmes give greater importance to the basic philosophies, sciences and technologies that are not supposed to change frequently. Though seemingly contradictory, it can provide wonderful results in a combination. I mean, the dynamicity of industry led skill training on the strong basement of basic philosophies, sciences and technologies!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Skill Development, a special purpose vehicle in the TVET ecosystem

Industry specific skill development based on the skill gaps reported by the employer industries is now a priority initiative across the globe. It triggers a natural query in many minds: ‘why do we need separate skill development programmes while there are TVET programmes?

 According to UNESCO’s international centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNEVOC) “Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and skills for the world of work. It replaces all the earlier terms used, which include:  Apprenticeship Training, Vocational Education, Technical Education, Technical-Vocational Education (TVE), Occupational Education (OE), Vocational Education and Training (VET), Professional and Vocational Education (PVE), Career and Technical Education (CTE), Workforce Education (WE), Workplace Education (WE), etc.

From the above definition, we can see that TVET is all encompassing. Now, the question ‘why do we need separate skill development programmes while there are TVET programmes?’ becomes more relevant. A lot of studies and surveys show that most of the existing TVET systems are not proactive enough to understand and address the changing human resource needs of the industry. It creates drastic skill gaps and which in turn increase the demand-supply gap of manpower.  It will be further complicated by the projected drop in the percentage of people in working age group, compared to the job opening anticipated in the next ten years in many parts of the world. Many studies reported that if the above problems are not addressed in an emergency mode, the adverse effect of it on the world economy would be drastic.

Since highly institutionalized TVET systems in various parts of the globe have decades or even centuries old history of existence, bringing a total shift in short notice or sudden and substantial changes in working strategies may not be possible. It necessitated short-term and long term alternative strategies to address the issue. Therefore, the present hype of skill development initiatives across the globe has to be considered as a part of addressing the immediate requirements through short-term policies. But for sustainable solutions, the active role of formal TVET systems is quite essential. The best practices of knowing industry requirements, collaboration with industry in the entire life-cycle of the skill training process etc have to be ensured in the TVET systems to make it fully responsive to the demands of the employer industries.

Now to the question, ‘how do the present skill development programmes differ from TVET programmes?, my answer would be, at present the skill development programmes primarily address the development of cutting-edge skills for entry level jobs in the industry, based on the changing needs. Moreover, the skill development systems largely address the non-TVET audience. Whereas the TVET systems give greater emphasis to the basic principles and technologies.  Here, the TVET systems need not be viewed as a separate entity from the skill training programmes. On the contrary, it should also be actively brought into the Frontline of skill development and explore the current development as an opportunity to build sustainable industry collaborations, which in turn will prove to be supportive in modifying and enhancing the acceptability of regular TVET programmes.

In the other hand, the skill development systems try to work out its own long term academic frameworks to allow vertical and horizontal academic mobility to those attend skill training programmes, for which the TVET systems have excellence. Therefore, rather than seeing skill development as a separate system, I would like to see it as a special purpose vehicle within the TVET ecosystem that  spreads its dynamism  all over the TVET ecosystem.