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October 24, 2009

Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) Fiasco

One wholesome aspect of Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s development plans for the State is that they pivot to a large extent on vocational education rather than on the pointless and so-called liberal higher education leading to BA or BSc degrees that generally do not ensure jobs. We have a situation where an undergraduate with some well-honed skill earns much more than a graduate with no skills at all. The Chief Minister has done well to realize that a liberal general education not leading to jobs is a luxury that only the affluent countries can afford, and that countries like India must continue to link education with jobs. No wonder his government has doubled the number of seats in engineering colleges and planned to set up institutes of fashion designing, plastic technology and the like. Unfortunately, he has also been planning to give a boost to development to vocational education and training through the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) of the State. This could be folly of the highest order for at least two reasons. The first is that the development of Assam has been sabotaged by people from within who have all the wrong attitudes to work and the development of skills — both manual and cerebral. Doubling or trebling the number of seats in engineering colleges is unlikely to help because during the last three decades or so most of our engineering graduates have degenerated into technical clerks. Had they become engineers of fine mettle, we would not have seen so many engineers from outside being engaged to build simple flyovers in Guwahati. But what is even more alarming is that apart from a very rapid decline in manual and cerebral skills that they have invoked upon themselves, it is their attitude to manual work and manual skills that has adversely influenced the work culture of the entire State, as have the attitudes of the political executive and the bureaucrats. The choice of the ITIs to bring about any significant social change by imparting useful vocational training or even developing the required manual skills is downright tragic because the 24 ITIs of the State have ceased to exist for anyone else except themselves. And the self-esteem of those who head the ITIs of the State is at such low ebb that some of them pity themselves for having to look after “street urchins”. The ITIs continue to exist as if to go on paying salaries to their staff for little work and for performing the mere ritual of existence.

It is not our opinion of the ITIs alone that has to determine the government’s course of action on augmenting vocational training. Recently, the Directorate of Financial Inspection carried out an inspection of how the ITIs were utilizing their funds. The report of the Directorate shows how ITIs were misusing their funds, how they were indenting defective, unspecified and sub-standard materials, how valuable machines were lying uninstalled since the date of their procurement and how several ITIs did not have instructors for several subjects for years together. The man in the street will, of course, make the right inferences about why unspecified, sub-standard and redundant equipment that cannot be installed and must lie in the crates were bought in the first place. He will smell greed, corruption and swindling a mile away. The government, however, is blind to such major offences against the public if we are to go by the number of such anti-people officials who have been punished. But the fact remains that if vocational training and the business of developing skills is left to these worthless ITIs, the State is not about to move a single step forward in the matter of developing skills required in the 21st century. Likewise, the State government must also change its attitude to what is considered as upright and honourable earning — what is earned through one’s labour and one’s skills — against what is easy money of the kind that the government has always visualized for militants who surrender and deign to return to the ‘mainstream’. The State government has sent out the unequivocal message to our youth that one who has taken up arms against the state and then surrendered arms ranks a higher priority and deserves an easy unearned income than the youth who never picked up arms at all. This is the worst way of developing skills that have to do with earning one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow. It is the government’s own attitude to work and earnings that will ensure the development of skills rather than the number of institutions that it can set up for vocational training. THE SENTINEL

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