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Heralding a new era of inclusive vocational education

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Vocational education refers to learning modules focused on equipping students with technical skills required by an industry, a job, or a vocation. It aims to enhance the employability and entrepreneurial abilities of students, provide them exposure to a work environment, and generate awareness among them about various career options. In recent years, several policy-backed skill development initiatives have been supporting the push for vocational learning within schools. The Samagra Shiksha programme by government, for instance, acknowledges the need to mainstream vocational education, where students from classes 9 to 12 are offered various subjects such as information technology (IT), agriculture, and tourism and hospitality as part of the school curriculum. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2022 also provide impetus to the vocationalisation of education.

 Bridging the Gap in Livelihood Opportunities

Vocational learning is intrinsically linked with livelihood opportunities for children with special needs (CwSN) as well. According to this report, there are approximately 3 crore people with disabilities (PwDs) in India, out of which only 34 lakh PwDs have been employed across various sectors. Exposure to different skill-based learning modules including engineering, computer science, and other aligned streams can be a crucial step in enabling CwSN to access job opportunities that are available for them in the market.

Addressing the Challenges and Exploring Alternative Approaches

Most educators in the field agree and point to the fact that in the absence of any concrete guidelines to help customise teaching or evaluation methods for different learning needs, children are usually promoted to the next class. This is an even larger issue when CwSN have to study alongside neurotypical students. Is there an alternate approach for vocational education for CwSN? If CwSN have to be provided with better market-linked learning through vocational curriculums then there is a need to focus on how it is currently being delivered in the country. Here are a few key areas that need attention:

1. Pedagogy and curriculum

In vocational education for children with special needs (CwSN), it is crucial to identify and adopt the appropriate approach. This involves introducing new learning and teaching methods actively, such as:

Implementing a multi-skill foundation course

This course consists of various subjects and emphasizes hands-on learning. It covers topics like workshop and engineering techniques, energy and environment, gardening. Also, nursery and agriculture techniques, food processing techniques, and personal health and hygiene. By employing an experiential learning-based pedagogy, the multi-skill foundation course aims to enhance employability. And also encourage the development of vocational skills among students. Currently, this course is available to students in classes 9 and 10 in schools across India.


Assessing Capabilities & Interests

Experts believe this course aids students in planning their future and helps teachers assess their capabilities and interests. It benefits CwSN by enabling collaborative decision-making, recommending suitable subjects for classes 11 and 12. However, optimizing it for CwSN requires efforts like mapping disabilities and enhancing teacher capacity to meet their needs.

Embracing a multidisciplinary approach

Each child with special needs needs a personalized learning plan with assistive devices like Braille or speech output devices, mobility aids, and therapies. A multidisciplinary approach in inclusive education allows students to choose subjects and methods, offering flexibility and diverse perspectives. It enables tailored teaching for individual needs, such as customizing chapters. And using props, devices, and specialized labs in IT classes for children with autism or hearing impairment.

2. Policy considerations and frameworks

A comprehensive framework outlining the adoption of more inclusive teaching methodologies by teachers and school boards is imperative. In order to help develop curriculums that cater to the needs of CwSN for vocational learning. This can include:

Creating detailed policy education frameworks for CwSN

Detailed frameworks that specifically cater to CwSN are needed. For instance, the National Credit Framework suggests credit systems based on learning hours, offering subject flexibility. However, it lacks special provisions for CwSN regarding flexible learning modules and a roadmap for their education within the NCF and NEP vision.

Inclusive Frameworks for Vocational Education

The framework lacks specific guidance for CwSN, failing to provide curricular goals and competencies for them. Policymakers should create a separate section with policy suggestions. Including illustrative use cases would aid special educators in implementing inclusive teaching techniques. This section can outline competencies and offer guidance on customizing subject curricula for children with various disabilities.

Accommodating different kinds of disabilities:

The national body SCPwD recommends industry-linked curriculum skills for PwDs, but their vocational job classification focuses mainly on physical disabilities. There are no specific guidelines for children with intellectual disabilities. However, the NCF’s flexibility can be utilized to align infrastructure, curriculum, and models for children with intellectual disabilities in consultation with special educators, equipping them with relevant job skills.

3. Infrastructure and industry linkages

To create an effective vocational training curriculum for CwSN, incorporating assistive devices, mobile skill labs, and customized hands-on training is crucial. Connecting vocational training with internships and industry exposure at the school level helps students progress towards meaningful livelihood pathways. Webinars, workshops, internships, and job-specific skilling modules facilitate interactions with professionals. However, schools may lack industry connections and knowledge to provide industry-specific training. Therefore, collaboration between schools and industries is essential for a smooth school-to-work transition, as businesses often have dedicated budgets, induction training modules, and special hiring programs for PwDs.

A great Catalyst

Vocational education is critical as far as education for CwSN is concerned, as it can be a catalyst for livelihood opportunities. This can empower CwSN to lead a dignified life. Educators, policymakers, and private players must collaborate to devise market-linked learning pathways that can enable CwSN to adopt critical work and life skills.

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