In keeping with the Centre’s push on skill development, the Gujarat government is planning to revive technical institutes that have been defunct for decades. As a pilot project, a Skill Tech High School in Kalol, Gandhinagar, was launched on June 25 with an overhauled curriculum, now in English medium, instead of Gujarati.
The technical school with its first batch of 40 students is housed in an existing Government Technical School (GTI) in Kalol, which has not had a single student in the past four years.
“With this initiative, the department wants to increase the job worthiness of students after Class XII who wish to take up a job instead of higher education,” Principal Secretary (Education) Anju Sharma said. “Also, (it would provide) better entrepreneurship prospects for them, (as the school would) guide them on launching their own start-ups.”
Commissioner for technical education Avantika Singh Aulakh added, “Practical training will be imparted at nearby industrial units, which will give students a better understanding of technical subjects, in the event that they want to pursue diploma or engineering courses.”
The revived Skill Tech High School is affiliated to the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, and not the Technical Examination Board, which is now nearly defunct. The affiliation will enable it to function as a full-fledged high school, with a focus on vocational training.
“The medium of teaching will be English, which till now was Gujarati,” said Manish Patel, Principal of Kalol GTI, which has been converted into the Skill Tech High School. Earlier the technical institute was a substitute for classes IX and X, he said, but “the new high school will cover Class IX to XII, apart from offering a completely new course curriculum with new vocational courses”.
Hope for the future
Prahlad Parmar, father of Jignesh, one of the students at the Kalol school, says, “Despite being a farm labourer I am educating all my five children, with the hope that they all are able to find good jobs. We were told that the new school will give Jignesh better job prospects after Class XII.” Similarly, Mehul Thakor, another student, says, “With a government school offering English medium as well as technical skills without any fee, it is much better than any private school. I want to work after Class XII and so I am here.”
A new path
Earlier, students were required to attend classes only two days a week for a course that offered seven academic subjects including Science, Social Science, Mathematics, and Languages (including Gujarati, Hindi, English and Sanskrit) and Computer Science, along with three vocational subjects, namely Basic Engineering Maintenance Process and Safety, Elements of Engineering and Engineering Drawing.
The new tech school will offer four new vocational courses, Computer Technology, Electrical and Electronics Hardware Technology, Workshop Technology, and Engineering Drawing. The first batch of 40 students will now undertake a common foundation course in Class IX. In Class X, students can choose two among four vocational courses, and in classes XI and XII they can specialise in one of the subjects.
Bustling to defunct
Government technical institutes were started in 1957, providing a base for engineering education, at a time when there was a national focus on industrial growth , and an industrial policy resolution was introduced in 1956.
At present, the total of 26 technical schools in the state, which once had 2,000 students, are left with just 1,800. While the Government Technical High School in Chhota Udepur has closed down, another in Veraval is on the verge of shutting down, as it has no students anymore. Similarly, the Sir Homi Mehta Technical High School in Navsari, the only one with a hostel, shut down its residential facility, as there is no demand.
“It has been almost a decade since we have been trying to convince government authorities to change the technical school pattern. Finally we have been successful,” said Rajan M Gohil, Principal of both the government technical high schools of Ahmedabad in Gheekanta and Saraspur. He is also a member of the committee formed for the revival of these schools. While, the Saraspur school has nearly 40 students, the Gheekanta school has none.
Technical Examination Board Secretary P B Shah, who is also the in-charge deputy director of technical education, said, “After a Supreme Court order in 2006 that there should be no differentiation between technical and non-technical school students in admissions to engineering colleges, enrollment to technical schools saw a sharp decline. This was because, until 2005, additional marks were given to students coming from technical schools.” He spoke of a time when the number of applications for technical school admissions far outnumbered the available seats.
“Admissions were done on the basis of a merit list at the time But now the situation is very different,” he said.
Manish Patel said the introduction of Computer Science as a subject in regular schools in the early 2000s was also a major factor in the decline of tech schools. “The grant-in-aid schools would insist that students take the subject as they would charge an additional fee for it. Thus, students did not have a reason to enroll at tech schools for computer science,” he said.
ITIs replace tech schools
By this time period, the Technical Examination Board, to which these GTIs are affiliated, had also become almost defunct. In 2008-09 when the Gujarat Technological University was formed, all diploma courses after Class X were brought under it. With poor enrollment for the courses, in 2013-14 the TEB staff were declared surplus and posted to other departments.
“At present, the TEB only does the work of verification of diplomas and certificates, conducting the examination of government, grant-in-aid and private technical schools, running a few post-diploma certificate courses, and, from last year, conducting the examination of radio technologist run by the Cancer Society which was so far run by Gujarat University,” P B Shah said.
However, on speaking to a few students and faculty members of technical schools, it emerged that the technical schools had been neglected all these years as the state government began focusing more on Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which came almost two decades after technical schools and polytechnic institutes were set up.
“Technical schools were pushed down on the priority list of the state government. There was acute staff shortage, the course was not upgraded and technical schools were not inclu-ded in the National Apprentice-ship Act. This led to a decline in students, as they switched to ITIs or polytechnic institutes,” one of the students said.