Odisha at 100 Years: Technical Education and Skill Development

The Discovery of Steam Power in Europe in the second half of the 18th century saw society progress at a rapid pace. This period of 100 years is termed as the “Industrial Revolution.” Its effect was seen in the textile industry, the transportation industry and chemical industry among others. The second phase of the Industrial revolution came towards the end of the 19th century. It was around that time that steam power was harnessed effectively in the railways, in ships, and in vehicles, and that electricity was discovered, all of which led to the capitalist economy and influenced society as we know it today. Under the influence of this period there was also a revolution in education, with the creation of applied science through the skill and knowledge of the industrial world. It replaced the Gurukul system which had existed through generations to give way to training of traditional livelihoods with training centres/institutions. These institutes began appearing first in England and then France in 1790. In 1835 Rensselaer Polytechnic became the first US university to offer a degree in civil engineering. At the same time in British India, industrial training centres were being set up in Kolkata and Bombay. In year 1842 and 1843 such centres were being established in Guindy of Madras and Roorkee respectively. Next came engineering colleges in Kolkata, Pune and Guindy, all in the year 1856. In 1887 the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute in Bombay, the Indian Institute of Science established by Jamshedji Tata in Bangalore and the Jadavpur Engineering College came into existence.

To understand the future of industrial education and skill development in Odisha, it is important to analyse this background. When Odisha became the first linguistic state in 1936, there existed here only the government institution set up in Sambalpur since 1884, along with the Survey School in Cuttack, later transformed into Odisha Engineering School. Apart from these, Dr. Stuart – a civil surgeon-had set up a Medical training centre in 1876. This was most of all that consisted of Odisha’s technical training institutions till 1936. The first engineering college in Odisha was set up in 1956 in Burla, which gave the much needed technical assistance in the building of the Hirakud Dam. In 1961 a central institute – REC – was set up in Rourkela. By the ninth decade of the 20th century, the number of technical institutes in Odisha could be counted on our finger tips. We had IMIT, Cuttack (1962); CET Bhubaneswar(1981); IGIT Saranga (1982); RCM Bhubaneswar (1983); OEC Bhubaneswar (1986); and lastly XIM, Bhubaneswar (1987). Keeping up with the Liberalisation, Globalisation and Privatisation of our economy, our states technical education sector now has around 630 industrial training centres(more than 600 of them private), 121 diploma colleges or polytechnics(100 private), 224 engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, and M.C.A educational institutions(more than 200 of them private). From 7000 colleges under the AIECTE around 14 lakh students are registered nation wide. Odisha’s share in this in proportion to our population is 3% less. Keeping in mind the trouble this sector has faced in the past and to bring out a solution, and also in keeping with the national level Knowledge Commission led by Sam Pitroda and the report by Dr. Yashpal, the Odisha government had established a task force for the development of the education sector. At the same time, for improvement in the sector of Technical Education, a BPUT Technical Education Task Force was also set up, whose aim was to establish a Biju Pattnaik University, along with proposals for development of education present already in the State. Under the leadership of acclaimed scientist Dr. Trilochan Pradhan, both these reports had been tabled in 2010. It included the present state of technical education, its problems, their solutions, and a road map for the future. After extensive talks with the different people who deserve to benefit from the sector, which included students, teachers, and administrators, an elaborate report was presented.

Though we today have a number of private technical education centres, they are still way below the number required in the future. But because of the low quality of education in this sector, the interest in a student’s mind for technical education has dwindled. Even if there may be a lack of jobs, especially after the world economic crisis of 2008, there still is an urgent requirement for skilled labour in the fast growing economy of our country. If we are to increase the per capita income and the use of consumer goods to meet the world average, then our economy will inevitably grow in the coming 10 years. Hence if we do not set up the foundation, and recruit qualitative human resource from right now, then we will be giving way to barriers to our own growth. If we want to shed away the title of being one of the backward states in Odisha, then improvement in the quality and expansion of the education system is unavoidable.

Odisha’s population at the time of its foundation in 1936 was 1,31,29,000. By 2036 it will have reached a whooping 5,77,59,000. Out of this 20%, i.e. 1,15,15,800 will be of school going age, and out of this, 20%, i.e. 23,10,360 will be of college going age. Right now the number of kids giving their matric exams is only 7 lakh, and those giving +2 exams is 3.56 lakhs. This means that around 1 lakh children are failing, and 30-40,000 go for industrial training. Out of the remaining kids, around 50,000-2,00,000 kids have to leave studying and join some kind of a job. Out of the children passing their 12th boards, around 65,000 science students show no interest for technical education. Only 20-25,000 students show interest to study engineering. Hence 30,000 seats lie vacant in that stream. Therefore there remains a lack of trainers and teachers alike. Good students are afraid to venture into the line of teaching due to low salaries and job insecurities. The state of universities is such that even if they have resources they are unable to use them due to government regulations and guidelines. On the other hand, private institutions find it a challenge to secure loans from banks. And those who can only get it for short terms at high interest rates, making the maintenance of infrastructure difficult. It is pretty much the same in the Diploma and ITI sector. The worst part is the malpractices which occur when conducting exams. This is why most students who do qualify are unfit for any kind of employment. This naturally results in kids not being attracted towards technical education. That’s why the Centre along with the State have started focusing on short term skill development programmes, which is a good effort. But there are many challenges in this effort also. Recently Odisha state government has formed the State Skill Development Authority with the founder of MindTree Subroto Bagchi as its head. The plan is to train around 8 lakh youth in the next 3 years investing about 1000 crore. In this process the infrastructure of ITIs, Engineering School and Colleges can be put to good use to ensure that the training provided is of the highest calibre.

The history of technical education in Odisha and its current status points clearly to the critical steps that must be taken now to ensure that Odisha at 2036 will have the supply of qualitative and trained manpower it will invariably need for growth and development. If the goal is to see a prosperous Odisha free of abject poverty, illiteracy and inequitable regional and social development, then the current economic growth rate of 8-10% must be maintained over the next 20 years. While this is a necessary condition but it is not sufficient in itself as evident from the pattern of growth and unequal distribution of wealth since liberalisation of Indian economy in early nineties. Given the increase in our population by 2036 and the major increase in the size of our economy at the projected growth rate, one can easily estimate the requirement of educated, skilled and quality manpower to service our needs as well as the needs of the larger economy nationally and globally. One can easily see the need for long-term planning to create opportunity for quality technical training for at least four times the number that is able to access the same as of now. It is critical that the pressing maladies dogging the current education system from high school to higher education as well as professional education in the state are addressed as quickly as possible. For this to happen, not only education and the consequent human resource development must get the highest priority in government planning but the political will must be strong to implement the same. This will require awareness among the masses and public pressure on the government. It is not impossible and probably the only road to our prosperous and sustainable future.

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There was a time only a few centuries back when the likes of Bishu Maharana built the wonder called the Konark temple which made Odisha famous for its temple architecture, construction, sculpture, art and traditions that reflected skills of highest calibre. There is no doubt that only through focused efforts on technical education and skill development that we can reclaim our lost glory. A small example would illustrate the multifarious implication of education. Umashankar Pradhan came from a humble lower middle-class background from Kathalkaitha village in Gajapati district. After completing his attending from SKCG college in Paralakhemundi, he could attend the JITM Engineering College (now Centurion University) which was close to his village. It was made possible only because he had financial support from a scholarship. After his engineering he completed masters from IIT Delhi and recently joined Google in Silicon valley. But more importantly Uma only recently spent over a lakh of rupees to set up solar powered street lights in his village so that more children can study at night and feel safe and perhaps follow in his footsteps. If by strengthening technical education and skill development Odisha can produce a couple of Umashankars from each of its 50000 or so villages, I am sure Odisha at 2036 will be a very different place.

 

(Writer is a part-time Civil Engineer and Academic, University of Michigan alumnus, social activist by choice and political activist by compulsion, passionate for Odisha’s sustainable development. He can be reached by email at dhanadam@gmail.com and 9437513080 on phone. His Twitter handle @DhanadaKanta)

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