Is the young talent ready to take on jobs integrated with Artificial Intelligence? How is our education sector nurturing talent to become the pioneering workforce in the era of data-driven technologies? In an exclusive interview with People Matters, Narayanan Ramaswamy, the national leader of Education and Skill Development at KPMG in India, shared insights on the role of AI in skill development and preparing the workforce for tomorrow.
Education and Skill Development in India: 3-D Overview, Challenges and Opportunities
As the country with the largest working-age population, education, vocational development, and upskilling/ reskilling all have a significant role to play in our ecosystem. There are multiple dimensions to it.
- One, as the most populous nation in the world, we need to have our people skilled to have them rightly employed. This is from a human development and economic stability perspective.
- The second dimension is when we are looking at our economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the world currently, and with its size (we are the fifth largest economy), qualified labour becomes a crucial raw material to fuel this growth.
- The third dimension is due to our relative position globally – it is a reality that many Western economies and some of the Eastern ones, like Japan, are going to lean on Indian talent for their growth and stability. So, the need for education and skilling is very clear.
On the other hand, the current education/skill development ecosystem in India has been quite traditional and slow in its response. In the past 10-15 years, we have seen some urgency and some reforms take place in this sector. The School Education (K12) sector has seen rapid improvements in certain Access and Equity dimensions thanks to schemes like Samagraha Siksha (including erstwhile Sarva Siksha Abhiyan). However, the quality of school education, measured through learning outcomes, has been a cause of concern. A vast majority of schools in India follow the ROTE mode of learning, which does not help in reasoning and application.
Higher education in India has some elite institutions like the IITs and IIMs – which have produced some of the finest professionals and global leaders. However, a vast majority of institutions have been following a traditional format and have not been in sync with times. We still follow the old British method of affiliating colleges to universities – this has led to some 45,000+ colleges that don’t have / can’t have the autonomy required for a higher education institution. India has 1000+ Universities (many of them State Private Universities established in less than 10 years) and is already a country with the third most universities in the world. With the aspiration of getting closer to 50% GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio), we need almost three times the current capacity! So, there is a need to reform existing educational institutions, build newer ones and explore alternate means of educating and skilling our youth.
Hence, it is not surprising that we have seen a lot of positive development in this space in the past decade. Recently we have seen significant participation from philanthropic industrialists in setting up modern Universities. We have seen the rise of humanities and liberal arts universities. A new set of sector-specific Universities by the central government had been formed. Dual degrees and programmatic collaborations are now allowed. There is an effort to allow foreign universities to have their campus in India.
1. Collaboration of educational institutes and businesses to foster a ‘job-ready’ workforce:
Educational institutions should reach out to industries and large civil society in a better fashion. Over many years, educational institutions have become siloed, and this should change. Equally important is the industry trying to reach out to educational institutions. UGC has acknowledged professionals from business teaching in universities as ‘professors of practice’ – this is a big step forward. Similarly, we should look at faculty having a stint - like a deputation - to the industry in regular intervals to understand the industry requirements more. “I still remember when I was doing my MBA, one of our operations management professors had come back after a 2-year stint with Industry and his classes used to be distinctly different from that of others," says Ramaswamy
Furthermore, there is a need to transform our curriculum and pedagogical construct in tune with changing times. Today, content is available and accessible to all students. And the relevance of the curriculum is changing at a quicker pace. In this scenario, what should be the role of educational institutions – especially at tertiary levels (university and beyond)? A more agile and dynamic approach to curriculum design combined with a discovery and problem-solving approach to pedagogy will deliver better results. This will help our graduates to be lifelong learners and adapt to the work environment. It will prepare them for the job market – which is more dynamic and demanding compared to previous years.
2. AI integration in education to empower talent:
Artificial Intelligence or AI is a ground reality and no longer a ‘technical subject’. We should start looking at AI as a fundamental part of our future workplace and lifestyle. It is like how the Internet has affected our work and lives. If we roll back to the turn of this millennium, the workplace used to be very different. IT implementations / Automation was done predominantly for back-office functions like accounting, etc. Financial transactions happened face to face. Travelling across the globe needed a lot of planning. Shopping was done at physical stores. Marketplace meant a conglomeration of vendors and people in designated locations. Industrial planning still happens annually. The Internet changed all these.
"Every one of the above is now done differently – so much so that a millennial will find it difficult to believe the way we had been living and doing business in the 20th century. AI is going to play a similar role in the transformation of our business functions. NEP is clear at a policy level that technology should be the core of change in the education system. AI clearly is one of the front-running technologies that NEP is suggesting – there could be more like IoT, quantum computing, drone technologies etc. – that will significantly impact the future of work and job roles, " adds Ramaswamy
So, as we move towards adopting NEP, we should look at AI and these technology changes – not just as some lessons in the curriculum, but as a fundamental change and prepare our students (who will see the impact of these technologies when they get to the workplace) for a world that is impacted by these technologies.
3. AI in businesses for workforce upskilling:
At KPMG, we believe in contributing as advisors to education and training institutions. We guide them on the impact and transformation that AI (and other emerging digital technologies) can bring about in the workplace. We also help them understand how the learning environment itself is now impacted by these technologies.
- For example, Personalised Adaptive Learning (PAL) is now a reality. Trainees can determine the pace and depth of their learning.
- Similarly, simulations (with the help of AI) can provide a lab environment for millions of learners without the need for expensive equipment/materials.
- We connect skilling institutions to the best of these service providers and help them adopt.
- As advisors to various (central and state) governments, we help in defining Policies with AI in perspective. On many occasions, we work hand in hand with the government to implement these policies as well.
- As a leading professional firm, we have been adopting AI (and similar technologies) ourselves. In our daily client service and delivery, AI has started playing an important role.