Recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning, or Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), as it is called in India, aims to guide the skills development strategies and initiatives in line with India’s target of skilling 300 million people by 2022.
Challenges and opportunities
India is one of the youngest nations in the world. More than 62 per cent of its population is in the working age group (15-59 years) and more than 54 per cent is below 25 years of age. Its population pyramid is expected to bulge across the 15 to 59 age group over the next decade. It is estimated that the average age of the population in India will be 29 years by 2020, compared with 40 years in USA, 46 years in Europe and 47 years in Japan. During the next 20 years, the labour force in the industrialized world is expected to decline by four per cent, while in India it will increase by 32 per cent. This poses a formidable challenge and a huge opportunity. To reap the reward of this demographic dividend, which is expected to last for next 25 years, India needs to equip its workforce with employable skills and knowledge so that they can contribute substantively to the economic growth of the country.
India faces two challenges: the paucity of a highly trained workforce and the non-employability of large sections of the conventionally educated youth, who possess little or no job skills.
National standards, policy and framework activity
The National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) was established in 2015, superseding the National Skills Development policy of 2009. The new policy identifies the common standards and overall institutional framework that will act as a vehicle to reach the expected outcomes.
One of the operational strategies of the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship is to create a national framework of qualifications with an open/flexible system, which would permit individuals to accumulate knowledge and skills over a period of time and later convert these, through testing and certification, into higher competences, recognized in diplomas and degrees. This integrated framework, covering both TVET and general education, is known as the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) and is anchored in the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA), an autonomous body created to implement the NSQF.
The National Skills Qualification Framework notification dated 27 December 2013 defines the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as ‘the process of recognizing previous learning, often experiential, towards gaining a qualification.’ This RPL policy seeks to provide formal recognition to individuals who have gained learning informally, such as through training in the workplace, community and/or voluntary activities. It creates opportunities for personal and career development, or to allocate credit towards other qualifications or learning programmes to candidates who have the skills but no certification to prove it. The strength of this approach is the outcomes-based quality-assured certification, wherein the competence of the individual is determined by assessments against standardized benchmarks. This RPL policy is mandatory for all stakeholders undertaking RPL for NSQF compliant qualifications. The certifying bodies must submit qualification-specific RPL strategy detailing the procedures. This strategy will be included in the qualification files for approval by the National Skills Qualifications Committee (NSQC).
The primary objectives of the RPL policy for India are as follows:
- to facilitate formal recognition of skills/competences acquired through non-formal and informal channels by measuring them against specific standards, thus opening up education, growth and career advancement opportunities. ‘Competence’, as defined in the NSQF notification, refers to the proven ability to use acquired knowledge, skills and social abilities in the discharge of responsibilities. It is the ability to do a job well;
- to provide a basis for structuring procedures and criteria for RPL implementation, monitoring and evaluation, including resourcing and quality assurance;
- to assist in raising awareness about RPL;
- to clarify the stages and structure for RPL systems;
- to establish a basis for data-collection mechanisms to be developed for tracking and analysis of RPL-certified candidates;
- to support social inclusion efforts by providing access to education for those currently excluded from the formal sector due to lack of skills recognition and certification;
- to enable certification of skills, productivity and quality assurance for the workforce;
- to establish the connection between increased skills, certification and wages, thereby providing a pathway for increases in income and job mobility, including overseas migration; and
- to encourage industries/employers to facilitate certification of their employees through RPL.
Benchmarking individuals learning against the NSQF Level Descriptors is expected to help individuals identify requirements for progression. This will improve career progression and the upskilling of learners and workers. Additionally, it will facilitate the engagement of experienced practitioners as resource persons. (Ministry of Finance, 2013).
Given India’s huge non-formal and informal sectors, the government has established an NSQF that is arranged in ascending order from Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) 1 and RPL 2 through to level 10. The NSQF is a reference framework for the validation of skills and competences that have not been formally recognized. In particular, it will benefit those who have acquired their skills through informal hereditary work, casual work and on-the-job training. Skills recognition and certification initiatives provide an important pathway for the ninety per cent of Indians who work in the so-called rural and urban informal economy (NCEUS Report, 2009).
An indicative credit framework is linked to the NSQF. The credit framework has the dual objective of achieving both a skills certificate and an academic general education certificate of an equivalent level for each occupational task and level of learning. School boards, technical boards and universities are being encouraged to switch to credit-based curricula and to establish equivalencies between vocational and general education (Ministry of Finance, 2013).
RPL, sometimes referred to as ‘assessment tests’, is used increasingly in India for applicants who apply for jobs in developed countries, such as Australia, but who do not have the sufficient qualification to meet the education criteria under the immigration guidelines of those countries. RPL allows those with genuine hands-on experience in the nominated field of occupation (such as welding, motor mechanics, cooking, fitting or metal fabrication) to demonstrate at their knowledge confirms to appropriate standards under the immigration guidelines of developed countries. RPL applicants are still expected to provide details of all the relevant education they have completed.
Skills development is the shared responsibility of key stakeholders, i.e. the government, the entire corporate sector, community-based organizations and industry and trade organizations, as well as highly-qualified and dedicated individuals who have been working in the skilling and entrepreneurship space for many years and other stakeholders.
India-EU Skills Development Project. 2013. Report of the Conference on the National Skills Qualifications Framework: Making it Happen. 22-23 May, New Delhi. New Delhi, India-EU Skills Development Project.
Ministry of Finance. Department of Economic Affairs. Notification No. 8/6/2013-Invt. on the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). Gazette of India: Extraordinary, Part 1, Section 2. New Delhi, Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs.
National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS). 2009. Skill Formation and Employment Assurance in the Unorganised Sector. New Delhi, Government of India.
Source: UNESCO UIL