India’s focus on its youth – Analysis of the Union Budget

Published: August 2020

“Despite being home to one of the youngest populations in the world, India spends less than 4% of its annual budget on youth-focused schemes”

Restless Development, a global agency for youth-led development and The Quantum Hub joined hands to undertake a study to closely examine India’s budgetary allocations to understand how they address the challenge of preparing our youth for the future.

The study systematically analyses the Union Budget of India over the last five years from a “youth development” lens. By undertaking a broader, all-encompassing exercise that is similar to gender budgeting, the analysis throws light on the government’s priorities for young people while also showcasing trends in allocations to different youth schemes across the years.

The analysis is especially relevant at this time when the economy has been ravaged by the pandemic and opportunities for youth, in terms of education, skilling and capacity building, as well as employment have been severely constricted. Given that India has the largest youth population in the world, it remains an urgent need, more than ever before, to focus on the development of young people.

The analysis shows that the proportion of funding allocated to youth-focused schemes has declined in recent years; in fact, it is at its lowest in the 2020-21 budget. More than a third of India’s population will be in the age group of 10-34 by the year 2021, but the 2020-21 Union Budget outlay for this group is only 3.9%, indicating a lack of adequate focus to development of youth in India.

Of the total budget allocated to youth-focused initiatives, the largest proportion is earmarked for education, followed by skilling and employment. Within education, 75% of the funding to higher education goes to highly selective autonomous institutes, such as, IITs and IISc. At the same time, funding for state higher education institutions has reduced by 78%. The overall skilling budget has halved from 2.8% in 2016 to 1.4% in 2020. In terms of scale, the largest skilling scheme Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana is looking to provide soft skills training to a mere 10 million young people, out of over 450 million young people.

Moreover, despite the fact that mental health concerns continue to affect young adults in India, a concern that has gained greater prominence during the pandemic, there is no large-scale focused program to address this problem.

The study notes that “India is one of the youngest countries in the world and if we wish to leverage the power of this young population, there needs to be a strong and concerted effort towards youth development. Even though there are a wide variety of schemes and initiatives in the government’s policy arsenal, a strong focus on the youth still seems to be lacking. The allocations specifically meant for youth are concentrated in areas of education and employment, with not enough focus on other critical areas such as mental health or civic participation and leadership that are required for a well-rounded, meaningful and healthy life.”

Access the detailed analysis here
Read the analysis summary
Presentation on the analysis

India needs digital citizenship education

Author: Aparajita Bharti
Published: November 30, 2019 in the Times of India

Alina, 17, Mumbai, says she often gets taunted about her weight on her pictures online. Abhijit, 18, Delhi, mentions he got bullied when he posted his thoughts about the 2019 general election results. Sonali, 16, Kolkata, acknowledges that she remained quiet about her depression and anxiety till she found an online community where she let it all out.

Our relationship with technology is one of the most defining aspects of our life. On an average, Indians spend roughly three of their waking hours on their smartphones. This includes time for conversations, accessing news/information, forming new friendships, entertainment, work, etc.

Teens spend more time online than anyone else. A survey published by McAfee in 2014 titled ‘Tweens, teens and technology’ revealed that 71% teens interacted online with people they don’t know in person, 64% admitted to having created fake profiles to appear more likeable and mature, while 46% admitted “they put themselves in danger to see more engagement/activity on their posts.”

Given the salience of technology in a teenager’s life, and potential associated risks such as cyber-bullying, poor mental health, access to adult content, harassment and body shaming, parents and educators are rightly concerned about managing their kids’ time and interactions online. However, their approach ranges from instituting complete access control to following complete non-interference. While one is akin to hoping that the clock turns back, the other is like leaving an amateur swimmer on their own in the ocean.

So, what should the appropriate response be? First, parents and schools need to acknowledge that many of the behaviours and risks that manifest online reflect their teens’ lives offline, however much they are amplified online because of the anonymity and physical distance offered by the internet. Therefore, we need to invest in social and emotional development of our children. We need to re-inforce positive behaviours such as empathy, respect, tolerance for people who do not ‘fit in’ or who are different. It is important to make teenagers aware that they can be at the receiving end of behaviours such as bullying, even if today they find themselves at the other end.

While parents can engage in this dialogue at a personal level, schools need to institutionalise social and emotional learning as a part of their regular activities. A key learning for us from our initiative – the ‘Counter Speech Fellowship’ that runs in partnership with Instagram, across six cities in India and works with teenagers on these themes online – has been that such programs need not be prescriptive, but should serve as a platform for students to openly share their experiences. The aim should be to create a space for students to reflect on their own behaviours and finally become champions of positive behaviours among their peers.

Second, educators and parents must keep themselves updated with safety features of social media platforms that are popular among teens – like turning off comments, filtering specific trigger words, and reporting content related to self-harm. Third, at an ecosystem level, school education boards should prescribe a digital citizenship curriculum that schools can follow not just for teenagers but even for younger students. A recent survey by McAfee conducted among affluent kids across 10 major cities in India suggested that 62% of the surveyed kids (aged 4-12) had an e-mail address. Out of these kids, 67% were 4-8 years old. This shows that the age at which kids are experimenting with internet is reducing rapidly.

While many private organisations have worked on disparate digital citizenship curriculums, there needs to be a common consensus on the required approach by involving academics, technology companies, parents, school administrators and teens themselves. As more and more teenagers from tier 2 and tier 3 towns and cities in India join cyberspace, this becomes even more pertinent.

It in fact can be argued that social media usage is intrinsically linked with broader civic education, and this is also an opportunity for shaping citizens of tomorrow to be mindful of the power of social media and its equal ability to be deployed both for positive and negative causes. For far too long, we have parked the blame at technology’s door itself for encouraging these behaviours, but constant and innovative engagement with youth is essential in making the internet a more hospitable space.

The blindspots in India’s skilling programme

Author: Vanya Gupta
Published:  December 11, 2019 on the India Development Review (IDR)

India is expected to add seven crore individuals to its labour force by 2023—a 21 percent addition to the existing base of 33 crore. Given this rapidly increasing workforce, creation of employment opportunities and skill development is vital for the Indian economy. This is especially important because India faces a massive skill development gap; only 4.69 percent of India’s current workforce is formally skilled. Cognisant of this, the government has undertaken several measures to meet the challenge. The launch of the Skill India Mission in 2015 was one such important measure. Under this mission, several skilling initiatives were launched, including flagship schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), to train a large number of youth in industry-relevant skills so they may secure better livelihood opportunities.

While initiatives such as PMKVY have received enormous backing from the government in terms of budgetary and administrative support, they have not delivered on the expected outcomes. For instance, during the 2016-2020 period, the government committed more than INR 12,000 crore to PMKVY. While lakhs of candidates have been trained through the programme, a large number have not been placed. In fact the first iteration of PMKVY was heavily criticised for its poor placement record, in addition to the poor quality of jobs in which the candidates were placed. Many candidates seemed to have been placed in informal sector engagements without job security, in trades such as electrical repairing and self-employed tailoring.

Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Where does the scheme fall short?

A 2019 analysis by The Quantum Hub (TQH), the organisation where I work, suggests that these outcomes are, in large measure, expected. A closer look at the programme design highlights issues with stakeholder incentives, as well as challenges in implementing the scheme’s provisions.

Insufficient incentives for training partners: The PMKVY is designed in such a way that training, certification, and placements are implemented through Project Implementing Agencies (PIAs) or training partners. These organisations receive funds upon completion of different stages of skilling. As it so happens, the least amount of money is allocated to student placement—30 percent of the payment is released at enrolment and commencement of training, 50 percent on certification, and the remaining 20 percent on placement. This leaves very little incentive for PIAs to push for placements or provide post-placement support. Moreover, students do not pay any amount of money to receive training. This not only affects how seriously candidates approach training, but also deters them from holding the PIAs accountable for quality training.

Low implementation capacity due to geographical spread and absence of standardised testing: Delivering effective, on-ground skill development requires high implementation capacity. Since the scheme is implemented by PIAs with training centres dispersed across the country, monitoring and quality control is hard to execute. Once training is complete, assessments and certification are done by selected third-party agencies. However, standardised testing is difficult, given the diversity of trades taught, which range from plumbing to apparel to Information Technology/Information Technology enabled Services (IT/ITeS). This creates room for discretion at the local level and opens avenues for collusion. The incentive for collusion between PIAs and testing agencies is also high given that 50 percent of the payment in PMKVY is linked to a candidate clearing the examination.

Leakages due to problems in tracking placements in the informal sector: In the case of wage employment, the last tranche of payment to PIAs is linked to the submission of proof of placement, either in the form of an offer letter or proofs of salary (such as bank statements). This opens another avenue for leakages, especially given that it is difficult to produce placement records (salary slips and certificates) for people working primarily in informal economic setups such as plumbing and tailoring. Our analysis of programme data from 2018 in Haryana shows that a large number of youth (the highest among all trades) skilled through PMKVY ended up becoming self-employed tailors. This seems odd especially in a state where automobile and ITeS are some of the largest and fastest growing sectors. While it is hard to say so conclusively, the fact that these tailors are ‘self-employed’ rather than ‘actively’ placed could be one explanation for the anomaly. It is possible that PIAs enrolled a greater number of candidates in the tailoring category simply because it exempted them from having to invest in placements and it was easier to submit documents proving self-employment. As per PMKVY guidelines, self-employment also qualifies as placement if the PIA is able to submit a self-declaration letter from the candidate, and another verifiable document such as a trade license.

The government’s own reviews also corroborate our analysis. The Sharda Committee Report (2016) examined how skilling schemes could be rationalised and optimised, and the role played by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and India’s Sector Skill Councils (SSC). SSCs are bodies constituted with members from the industry, and are tasked with creating curriculum and supervising the entire skilling process. The report highlighted that in order to achieve targets, SSCs sometimes compromised on the quality of training, assessments, and certifications. And that training courses were too short to effectively supply a decent skill set, and schemes needed to be restructured for more effective implementation. The committee also reported that skill development courses offered poor placements to participants and added limited value to their employment opportunities.

An alternate approach to skilling

Our analysis and the findings of the Sharda Committee Report both call for a re-examination of the way skilling is currently being imparted in India. Luckily, there is already a scheme called the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS), which may be capable of bridging some of the gaps identified above. Currently, NAPS is a small scheme, with a 2019-2020 budget of only INR 61 crore. This is a meagre sum when compared to PMKVY, which has been allocated INR 12,000 crore for 2016 to 2020.

NAPS is unique because it uses employment as a means of skilling youth and aligns the objectives of stakeholders in a productive manner. The scheme incentivises potential employers who wish to engage apprentices by paying a part of the apprentice’s stipend. The government currently shares 25 percent of the prescribed stipend, subject to a maximum of INR 1,500 per month per apprentice with the employer. Since apprentices are recognised as trainees and not workers under NAPS, it also exempts employers from meeting certain labour law requirements such as those prescribed under the Industrial Disputes Act or the Employees’ Provident Funds Act for the duration of the apprenticeship. By directly engaging with the industry, apprentices are able to pick up relevant skills on-the-job and are often well positioned to get placed after.

Surprisingly, though NAPS has been around for a while, it hasn’t managed to scale up. In 2016, only 30,165 establishments were engaging apprentices—a miniscule number when compared to the total number of establishments in the country. While the government had set a target of engaging 50 lakh apprentices cumulatively by 2019-2020, so far it has managed to engage only 14.45 lakh apprentices since NAPS’ inception in 2016.[1]

However, we feel that the design of NAPS is largely effective and it has the potential to drive skilling in a big way. What the scheme needs is a stronger push from the government. The government should invest more in streamlining enrolment by strengthening the NAPS portal and possibly increase stipend amounts to incentivise industry to take on more apprentices. Unlike other skilling initiatives, investment in NAPS is likely to lead to more sustainable skilling outcomes, as establishments might see apprentices as an asset (having invested both time and money in their training).

At its core, NAPS is similar in design to the German Dual Vocational Education and Training system (DVET) that combines work experience, learning on-the-job, and classroom education, and is considered one of the best practices in skilling across the world. This model is increasingly being discussed in policy conversations in India and Dr MN Pandey, the Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has also emphasised the need to impart apprenticeship training as a part of regular courses for students.

What we need now is a concerted shift away from PMKVY and similar schemes, towards models that leverage apprenticeship as a core tool for training. Increased focus on creating awareness and higher budgetary allocations for NAPS will help provide the practical skills necessary to bridge the skill gap in the Indian economy.

Footnotes
1. The figure of 14.45 lakh apprentices has been calculated using data from a July 2019 PIB press release, which reports 3.78 lakh, 4.00 lakh and 4.45 lakh candidates have undergone apprenticeship training during the financial years 2016-17, 2017-18 & 2018-19 respectively.