There have been news reports where students that are barely 15 or 16 years old have been committing suicides owing to the lack of proper internet connections and bandwidth. Our present situations are only reminders of how the lack of proper dissemination of information and education can lead to disastrous results.
Quest Alliance, brainchild Aaksh Sethi, CEO, Quest Alliance strives to transform learning ecosystems through education technology, capacity building, and collaboration to build 21st-century skills for learners and facilitators. Quest is fuelled by research, strengthened by partnerships and driven by innovation and technology.
Here are detailed insights about the current scenario and how is his platform striving to help.
The full impact of the Covid-19 on education is still unfolding, but some things are crystal clear; this global crisis has challenged old, entrenched ideas about classrooms, the role of educators, and traditional methods of learning.
Across all our work, the lockdown has triggered an overwhelming openness and change in mindset to embrace digital learning. We have seen a lot of parents prioritising digital access and buying new devices for their children to continue their studies. Earlier the mindset was to use mobiles for astrology, bollywood, cricket and devotional (ABCD) content. But with the Covid-19 pandemic, education and learning seems to have increased significantly as a priority. We have also seen the flip side of this trend — children who cannot access technology have been extremely distressed. We have received over 700 calls for counselling from our learners on how they can navigate the Covid world, especially around learning and well-being.
One thing we have noticed is that because of access to digital technology, families are getting more involved in the learning process. This has resulted in improved emotional well-being and family relations because everyone is now more aware and engaged in what is happening in the life of the young people. However, there is a felt need for a learning environment which allows them to learn without fear, based on their interest areas. In other words, the learner does need to be more in control of their learning.
We know that learners need the presence of an adult in their lives to be able to learn effectively, and this has not changed in the Covid-19 scenario. However, the role of the educator requires a change, given the amount of self-learning that is taking place. Instead of a traditional teaching role, educators will need to encourage learners to share their knowledge with each other, facilitate peer-to-peer learning and monitor data on what learners are learning, while continuing to support them with their challenges and difficulties. This role is actually quite critical, where something happens in a synchronous manner while something is asynchronous – that is, where learners are learning at their own pace and coming to the teacher to share their highlights and confusions.
Could you share some anecdotes about Quest Alliance facilitating the same?
Quest Alliance has always advocated for self-learning enabled by technology as a key component to meaningful, empowered futures for young people. Almost all of Quest’s programs – whether with young girls in secondary schools, youth in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), or educators and facilitators looking to build 21st century classrooms – have a blended learning approach that involves key components of the experience being delivered through digital mediums.
Quest’s secondary schools program in partnership with IBM’s STEM For Girls project harnesses the power of coding to help young girls build critical thinking and problem-solving skills, empowering them to challenge gender stereotypes while negotiating higher education and meaningful career pathways for themselves.
Comprehensive, blended digital self-learning material is the highlight of the MyQuest program curriculum, which helps develop employability skills in over 1,30,000 ITI students, while the QuestApp provides over 300 hours of anytime, anywhere learning of 21st-century skills through bite-sized modules, quizzes and interactive games. Our MasterCoach program uses the blended learning approach to help educators and facilitators upskill to establish and run future-ready classrooms.
Technology really does enable scale without compromising on quality. Just in the 2 months of the lockdown, we engaged with the Department of Skills Development in Haryana and they rolled out our digital learning platform, Quest App with almost 40,000 Learners and 5000 Trainers across 170 Govt. ITIs.
Technology not only enables the actual learning, but also enables the process around learning. Educators and learners are connecting virtually through mediums like Facebook, WhatsApp and video calls as part of the learning process. Whatsapp has especially been very effective as an instant communication channel for motivating students and even monitoring student progress and providing instant trouble-shooting support.
How are you banking on technology to smoothen the entire process?
Technology has helped – first and foremost – to stay connected to the communities with whom we work. We were able to enquire about the well being of our students, to engage with them meaningfully, and to provide virtual platforms – not only to express themselves, but also to keep the learning cycle alive.
At one end of the spectrum, the Quest App provided a learning solution with over 250 hours of content made free-to-access for all, while at the other end, we leveraged simple technologies like IVRS messages to reach out to parents, teachers and students who did not have access to smartphones. Platforms like WhatsApp were used to engage students and urge them to continue their learning journeys, while video-conferencing tools were used to conduct virtual training of trainers (ToTs) and classes for students.
Even as the Covid-19 lockdown brought the education ecosphere to a grinding halt, Quest Alliance was able to connect and engage with our stakeholders through virtual platforms. Through IVRS, Whatsapp engagement, phone and video calls we have engaged with over 589 teachers in middle and secondary schools, 11,847 students and 10,180 parents since April 2020. Over 59,680 ITI students and alumni under the MyQuest program were able to complete their learning through regular live sessions organised on Facebook, as well as the government’s Bharat Skills platform, in partnership with the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship. 2801 trainers and educators attended MasterClasses via the Trainer Tribe platform, while the Quest App registered 42,506 new users – with over 39,000 registrations through partnership with the Government of Haryana.
How do you think technology is coming to our aid in such unprecedented times?
While extolling the many virtues of tech-enabled learning, it is essential to acknowledge the very pressing question of equal access to technology and online learning, which is an acute and absolute divide.
That being said, as learning ecosystems grapple with the continuing lockdown of traditional learning spaces, technology has come to the rescue, facilitating engagement between students and teachers, thus providing continuity in delivering learning experiences. Moreover, the necessity of shifting to digital platforms for learning – and the (largely) seamless transition – has helped counter many deeply entrenched biases and fears, which would have otherwise taken years – if not decades – to shift.
This enforced shift to virtual spaces has also addressed the question of scalability- proving that a quality classroom experience can be provided at scale quickly, efficiently and without bias. Access to quality resources like mentors and industry speakers has also become easier, with the barriers of physical travel and time transcended through a virtual session. These early successes have ushered in a new thinking among many within the education and skilling ecosphere – one that pushes for more virtual engagement, learning and innovation. Quest Alliance itself is now exploring the feasibility of all-virtual versions of our blended learning modules and stakeholder engagements.
What do you think would be a rough percentage of online education in the rural areas?
The National Sample Survey Office report 2017-2018 places rural internet penetration at 14.9% at the household level, with over 65,000 rural households surveyed. 10.8% of people (above the age of 5 years) were reported to have used the internet (in the preceding 30 days of the survey), of which 14.6% were male and 6.6% were female – showcasing the deep gender divide in access. However, data on whether those who have access used the internet for online learning remains hazy.
How can the rural folks be made tech-savvy?
A 2019 study released on digital adoption and usage trends by Kantar-IMRB projects that rural India will drive internet adoption over the next few years. In terms of internet usage however, accessibility is a key factor – not just in terms of the costs involved with procuring devices and connectivity, but more importantly – in the social constructs and mindsets that are at play. The NSSO report 2017-2018 finds that in rural households, internet usage by males is 14.6%, while that of females is less than half that – at 6.6%. In our work with young girls in secondary schools and ITIs across the country, we have many examples of girls not being able to access digital platforms and devices, while their male family members are allowed to do so. There is an urgent need to engage with parents and communities to bridge this gap if technology is to reach its full potential as an equal access opportunity for better futures.
At Quest Alliance, we have seen how adopting technology for learning can be boosted when the efforts are backed by learning ecosystems. For example, through our tie-up with the government of Haryana, 39000 students registered in the Quest App within two months, with 20000 registrations taking place in just two weeks.
If support systems can be put in place for first-time users, accompanied by the creation of shared spaces for engagement and the promotion of self-learning via digital platforms as a mindset, the potential for technology to empower marginalised young people is endless.
Lastly, can technology help in bridging the gap between the haves and have nots?
The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing impact on learners and the education ecosphere has uncovered many points for us to ponder – some encouraging, others rather alarming. We have witnessed limited access to technology for girls as community beliefs around how this will lead to girls going down the so-called “wrong path” still hold sway. At the same time we have – hearteningly – seen that the girls who get even limited access to technology tend to make the most of it, and have a higher motivation to learn in a short amount of time as compared to boys who tend to take the privilege of access for granted and not engage as actively as girls. The fundamental inequality of access to devices and the internet requires a mindset shift – that technology is not a bad influence but like everything else has a positive and negative impact.
Digital technologies have unlocked multiple opportunities: content creation and dissemination, community discussions on relevant issues, and the ability to reach across geographies. We have seen many people who were previously afraid of creating content now freely creating videos, conducting webinars, recording them and distributing them to a wider audience. The speed of this creation has been unprecedented, and we are seeing how learners who don’t have regular access to the internet are downloading content to use later. Sharing content with peers has also opened up.
At Quest Alliance, we believe that individuals will thrive if given the opportunity to build their own learning pathways and place themselves at the center of their own learning journeys. Harnessing the power of technology to build a self-learning practice and mindset will help create empowered young people who have the ability and the agility to navigate better futures for themselves.
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