ICTs in Technical and Vocational Skills Development: Reaching the Poorest Populations?

By Rao Bhavani and Ajay Balakrishnan, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India

ammachilabs-for-norragDuring the last Tech4Dev Conference[1] NORRAG and AMMACHI Labs (Amrita University, India),[2] jointly conducted a workshop on “ICTs in TVSD[3] – Promises and Challenges for Inclusive Development Reaching the Poorest Populations”. This session built both on the international policy debate and evidence around the topic, as well as on the practical experience and insights gained in the Indian context by AMMACHI Labs.

To introduce the debate Joost Monks (NORRAG) provided a critical analysis of the promises and challenges of ICTs in TVSD for inclusive development. TVSD is making a comeback on the international development agenda. It has specific mentions in 4 of the 10 targets under the education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or Education for All (EFA) Goals.[4] The main related SDG target is to: ‘substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ – by 2030.

With growing youth bulges and unemployment, TVSD for youth integration and social inclusion of the poorest populations has become a major development strategy, especially over the last 10-15 years. Developments in ICT lead to new synergies between TVSD and ICT. The major promises of ICT in TVSD include enabling large scale access to TVSD, improving the quality of learning, and rethinking and enhancing the relevance of the TVSD curriculum.

However, there are important challenges, including the lack of access to electricity or internet as well as gender inequalities with respect to access to technology. Other issues include the qualifications of trainers, the low esteem associated with TVSD, a lack of jobs, lack of hands on practice, and a lack of certification and quality assurance mechanisms. At the same time, smart phone costs are declining with a projection of subscriptions to grow to 5.9 billion by 2020. This offers the potential of allowing growing access and connectivity to poor populations A huge amount of data is being created (e.g. 90% of data in the world has been created in last 2 years) which offers prospects of improved policy planning, provided there is sufficient capacity and political willingness to analyse and effectively use these data.  With the projection that 80% of the world’s population will be connected via at least one social media platform by 2020, ICTs are set to provide a major new playing field in TVSD. This leads to new questions of course:  Is technology really the easy part? Are ICTs in TVSD a hype? What is the right blend for pedagogy, program design and implementation if we build on ICTs?

To illustrate this debate, building on concrete examples and experience, Rao Bhavani (AMMACHI Labs) shared her experience with ICTs in delivering TVSD targeting marginalized populations in India. One of AMMACHI Lab’s key focus areas in India are initiatives to empower women in rural communities through TVSD and life skills. This includes a number of internationally recognized pioneering approaches and projects such as the Women Empowerment (WE) Project that aims to improve conditions for rural women in India through AMMACHI Labs’ innovative computerized vocational education and training (cVET) programs in combination with Life Enrichment Education (LEE) tailored to the needs of the community. The aim of this blended approach is to ensure students receive the technical knowledge required as well as the confidence and support to take the learned skills forward.

Under the Women Empowerment project (2012 – 2014), more than 3,000 women were empowered using this model across 22 villages in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Under the 101-village adoption project called Amrita SeRVe (2013 – current), the training model was scaled to 21 states across India training over 1,500 women in multiple vocational trades, including toilet building and tailoring. After the training, the students are encouraged to form micro finance self-help groups and seek employment or start their own micro business. AMMACHI Labs is also deploying these solutions in schools to blend TVSD with regular schooling. In alignment with the Government of India’s initiative “Make in India”, AMMACHI Labs is currently focusing on developing eLearning courses and simulators to help scale TVSD for the manufacturing sector.

AMMACHI Labs initiates engagement with the community through collaborative outreach programs which establish trust and awareness about important environmental and life issues. A conducive atmosphere for learning is first created through icebreaker activities, learning games and group exercises focusing on various issues. Participants work together to solve problems in their village using brainstorming, dialogue, role playing techniques, skill and capacity building and much more.

The lack of access to skilled trainers was tackled by AMMACHI Labs by re-defining the role of the teacher in vocational education.  A locally hired facilitator is introduced, who is trained in the AMMACHI Labs blended learning model. The facilitator mobilizes students and creates the learning environment. This leads to the provision of TVSD and LEE sessions through eLearning packages. A trained subject matter expert is brought in for hands on sessions on a need basis only, reducing their requirement by up to 60%.

Ajay Balakrishnan (AMMACHI Labs) then gave some insight on the technology solutions developed and implemented by AMMACHI Labs. These include eLearning content for over 11 TVSD courses developed for low literate users in regional languages, haptics simulators to provide hands on training and my Sangham portal (an online portal) to deliver the training on tablets, manage trainings and centres. Whatsapp, Aview (an online collaboration platform developed by Amrita University) and Facebook are used extensively by the facilitators and operations staff for monitoring and evaluation.  These technologies allow the team to troubleshoot challenges at the grassroots level, in real time. Moreover, this helps to constantly improve the services using the real-time data available.

In our opinion, the main takeaways for the reaching the poorest populations using ICT in TVSD are:

  • The need to redesign the learning environment, including for example by:
    • Finding the perfect blend of technology and traditional teaching to provide high quality TVSD training at scale and reach inaccessible populations
    • Redefining the role of the teacher to that of a mentor and a facilitator
    • Extending technology to include monitoring and evaluation to ensure quality feedback for continuous improvement
  • To understand the aspirations of the students and trainers and assist with setting goals and provide the necessary resources and support in meeting them
  • To couple relevant life skills training with vocational training programs
  • To ensure active engagement with all the stakeholders in a community in order to ensure social and economic sustainability.

[1]The Tech4Dev Conference is the biennial flagship event of the UNESCO Chair in Technologies for Development hosted by the Cooperation & Development Centre (CODEV) at the EcolePolytechniqueFédérale de Lausanne.

[2]Ammachi Labs is a research and development centre at Amrita University, India, focusing on the use of ICT in skill development.

[3]TVSD : Technical and Vocational Skills Development.

[4]The EFA Goals, of course, included a ‘life skills’ goal that was vaguely linked to TVSD.

Rao Bhavani is the Director of AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India. Email: bhavani@ammachilabs.org

Ajay Balakrishnan heads content development at AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India. Email: ajay.balakrishnan@ammachilabs.org

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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