What does it take to build joyful learning experiences for children?

At the end of USAID’s program in 2015, we continued to work with government middle schools in Samastipur, Bihar, under our flagship program Anandshala. Over the years, we have researched, experimented and learnt a lot about what it takes to sustain these learning experiences.

Bihar’s dropout rate at the middle-school level (6-8th grade) is 8.9%; the highest in the country. Samastipur was one of Bihar’s most educationally backward districts. Low learning levels, coupled with a lack of infrastructure and resources resulted in high student-teacher ratio, which exhausted an already fraught situation. The subject-based curriculum training for educators was not adequate for 21st century teaching practices that children needed. A lack of recognition and support for teachers and headmasters also led to further demotivation.

Through Anandshala, the school dropout prevention model was adapted and integrated with existing government systems to support change at a school level. It was vital for us that the school, the community and the government work together to drive lasting change. There were 6 key areas we focused on to help create and nurture joyful, meaningful learning environments where children stay, engage and learn.

1] School enrichment

Curate and conduct activities that help children learn outside the classroom, engage with peers and sharpen their 21st century skills. For example regular morning assembly, Bal Sansad (student parliaments) and last class activities.

2] Student agency

Let students take the lead. Create a safe environment where students can talk about the challenges they face. Empower them and provide the support they need to find solutions to challenges. Strengthening Bal Sansads has helped build student ownership and created support systems to improve school environments.

3] Educator capacity building

Build capacities of educators to help them identify, curate and provide the nuanced support their students need. Boost data-driven response strategies and 21st century mindset to aid better feedback loops in the classroom.

4] Content and pedagogy support

Help teachers find ways to make content more engaging. Teacher workload, if designed properly – can be reduced, and their time can be focused on improving teacher-student relationships.

5] Parents and community engagement

Keep parents, caregivers and the community involved in the child’s learning journey. Build trust between parents and schools through regular open houses, home visits or an automated telephony system like IVRS to keep them updated on progress.

6] Change leaders and teacher recognition

Support the government system to train school and community stakeholders on building joyful learning environments. Recognize and reward educators and schools for good practices. The Anandshala Shiksha Ratna Puraskar has been initiated and run for over 5 years in partnership with the District Administration of Samastipur, and has managed to promote adoption of good practices across the district.

With the generosity of the district government in Samastipur and funders like – the Charities Aid Foundation, the Dalyan Foundation, Impact Foundation India, HDFC, The Hans Foundation, Voluntary Service Overseas, Porticus Asia Ltd., Give India Foundation, Idea, Max Foundation, Mid Valley Health Care Services Pvt. Ltd., Sanjeev Prasad, UNICEF and VIP Industries – we were able to co-create a scalable model for government middle schools that:

  • Nurtured a more responsive education system
  • Helped students from the most marginalized backgrounds stay, engage and learn
  • Increased focus on building 21st century skills
  • Improved learning outcomes
  • Bettered teacher-student relationship
  • Enhanced student leadership and ownership towards schools
  • Improved teacher motivation and community engagement

Since 2015, Anandshala has impacted 106,800+ children, 53% of whom are girls. It has built capacities of 3,800+ educators and worked with government education functionaries in 380+ schools.


Educators who are driving the wheel of change: Insights from Gujarat

In Gujarat, Quest Alliance began implementing IBM’s STEM for Girls project through a facilitator-led model in 2020. Currently, the project runs across 143 schools of 6 districts. Building on systems-driven change, STEM for Girls builds capacity of school teachers to become champions of STEM education for their students, and to carry the work forward in schools through modules on self-awareness, gender-awareness, computational thinking, and career-awareness. Facilitators from Quest Alliance and implementation partners work with the school and the community as a whole to develop an ecosystem that encourages students, especially girls, to pursue their interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Progress and change, however, are varied and subjective across locations. 

5 Educators and their realities on the ground: Facilitators talk about the challenges of their jobs

Facilitator Dhaval Patel in a classroom.

Dhaval Patel and Jessica Parmar embarked on their facilitation journey with Quest Alliance in 2020 when STEM for Girls kicked off in Gujarat. Today, they are seasoned facilitators, but not without having faced challenges. As a male facilitator in an all-girls’ school, Dhaval would be met with giggles when he started to explore the differences between sex and gender with his students. But, with examples of how one has to fill in their sex or gender in application forms, he got his message across.

“A teacher’s body language matters. Strong content is not enough, strong facilitation is key,” says Dhaval.

He notes how rampant gender stereotypes are. But, it is not only stereotyping, but also concern about unsafe environments that drives parents to restrict their daughters. In a parent engagement event, a parent commented to Jessica, “You are asking us to let our daughters study away from home. Who will be responsible when they elope? How will you help then?!” Taken aback, Jessica realized how deep-rooted are the issues with which we are faced. 

Facilitator Jessica Parmar with some of her students and their guardians.

In rural Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, Mahmad Iliyas, a facilitator of Quest’s partner, Human Development and Research Centre (HDRC), finds that he cannot conduct sessions on menstruation. Instead, he calls upon help from female anganwadi workers to speak to his girl students. 

Facilitation that drives change

Through continued, interactive facilitation techniques, the needle starts shifting. Teachers express interest in the training curriculum, and even visit STEM for Girls classrooms to pick up a few facilitation techniques.

Jessica recalls how a particular teacher sat in her training sessions to understand why a student who rarely responds in his class, is an active participant in Jessica’s! With increasing emphasis from the government on smart education, teachers, too, understand why the curriculum is important, and encourage students to explore Scratch (a block-based coding language for young learners) in the school computer labs – in a government school ecosystem, this is a change that our facilitators are proud of. 

Facilitator Mahmad Iliyas

In Iliyas’s schools, teachers, headmasters, and parents have come to know about and support our work with students. Influential community members pay visits to schools, and running water has been made available so that girl students do not need to stay at home during their menstruation cycles. 

Facilitation as mentorship

When a student confided in Jessica about how her mother is abused at home, Jessica informed the school authorities to ensure a proper intervention. 

For students, facilitators become guides and mentors. Our facilitators realize that there are some deeper crevices that need systemic intervention.

L-R: Jhanvi (student), Vaishali (facilitator), Khyati (facilitator), Niyati (student)

Facilitators like Khyati Kadvatar from our partner, Navajeevan Trust, find inspiration while they inspire. Under Khyati’s mentorship, her students Niyati and Jhanvi from Rajkot have grown confident and articulate. Niyati dreams of becoming an architect, and designs home plans on her mobile phone. Jhanvi is a recipient of the district-level Inspire MANAK award for her model of a foldable solar panel, and will soon compete at the state level. In fact, it was upon seeing Jhanvi’s art work in projects did Khyati encourage her to begin building the models she drew. 

Khyati, as well as her fellow facilitator, Vaishali Parmar from HDRC, enjoy facilitating the curriculum. Their methods are student-centered and engaging. 

Facilitators as champions of impact

Our facilitators agree that true change begins one person at a time – and, often, with how they each change their own lives! Jessica recounts how she did not have such awareness of gender, self or career when she was a student, and now knows how deeply gender stereotypes can be challenged. For others like Dhaval, Khyati and Vaishali, facilitating curriculum in classrooms and aiding positive change is a way to fulfill their purpose of enabling gender equity and enabling quality education opportunities for their students. The curriculum has impacted them as much as they have impacted their students.

Written by:

Shinjini Chowdhury

Communications Manager


Personalizing Blended Learning Experiences For Learners

Bengaluru: Twenty three year old Nayana M. initially found it difficult to comprehend lessons taught during her online classes in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She dropped out of the B.Com programme and took up a job at a government office on a contract basis.

She picked up digital literacy skills on the job. It took her a few months to understand how to operate the computer, but is now adept with technology and says, “If I face any hurdles, I try to solve them on my own.”

She later enrolled into the National Skill Training Institute for Women to pursue a course titled ‘Architectural Draughtsman’. She has also been using the Quest App regularly and says that she finds it easy and interesting as it helps her learn through experience. The app developed by Quest Alliance has around 250 hours of interactive, gamified content and aims to help the youth build skills around Communicative English, Life Skills, Work Readiness, Digital Literacy, Technology in Careers and Self-Employment.

Nayana says that online resources are useful as it helps her learn at her own pace and gives her flexibility to learn during her free time. After navigating through the app and many other online resources, she says she often needs to get a few doubts clarified and therefore finds the combination of online and in-person classes useful. Nayana’s story is one of many examples that demonstrate blended learning as the way forward in a world where the teaching and learning process has changed dramatically after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Educators and their experiments during the pandemic 

Teachers and students were initially caught off guard and were forced to switch to online classes as educational institutions had to be closed during the pandemic. After several months of experimenting, teachers realized that merely replicating what they did in offline classes on online platforms served no purpose. So they decided to tweak their pedagogies and upgraded their digital skills to make classes effective online. Similarly many educators also realized that merely livestreaming their offline classes for students who were attending classes online was not serving their purpose.  

Anusha G., who worked as a facilitator in Bengaluru Rural and Chikkaballapur districts for the IBM Stem for Girls project said that teachers and educators are now eager to use online tools to supplement their offline classes.

“I have realized that students learn many concepts easily when it is presented in an audio visual format and hence ensure that I conduct some classes online as well. Moreover, as an educator, I strongly believe that a lot of learning can happen outside of the classroom space and we should encourage students to adopt self learning.” 

How blended learning made its way into classrooms 

With schools and colleges reopening for the 2022-2023 academic year, many teachers have decided to incorporate the best of both worlds (online and offline classes). A concept note on the Blended Mode of Teaching and Learning published by the University Grants Commission (UGC) defines blended learning as “the term given to the educational practice of combining digital learning tools with more traditional classroom face to face teaching.” 

However, the same document also points out that blended learning cannot be looked at as a mere mix of online and in-person classes. It defines blended learning as a “well-planned combination of meaningful activities in both the modes.” The blend depends on various factors which are focused around learning outcomes and the learner-centered instructional environment.

The National Education Policy 2020 too has emphasized the promotion of blended learning in schools and higher education. The policy states that while “promoting digital learning and education, the importance of face-to-face in-person learning is fully recognized. Accordingly, different effective models of blended learning will be identified for appropriate replication for different subjects.” 

In fact, Robert Gagné had proposed a series of events that form a conducive environment for learning – which are also extremely relevant for designing blended learning experiences. The nine events of instruction are as follows: gain attention of students, inform students of the objectives, stimulate recall of prior learning, present the content, provide learning guidance, elicit performance, provide feedback, assess performance, enhance retention and transfer. 

Designing blended learning experiences for different learner personas 

While there are students like Nayana who are adept with digital devices, there are many students who are struggling with technology and devices. For Thanushree H.S., a class nine student in Girls Government High School, Gauribidanur, Chikkaballapur district, online classes were a struggle as she had poor internet connectivity at her home. Besides this, she found it difficult to get access to a mobile phone as her sister also had to attend online classes and there was just one smartphone to access.

“It was very frustrating as I would get disconnected midway through the session as the internet was patchy. I was disappointed that I was not able to learn through online classes.”

She however says that as classes are now offline, she is able to learn better. 

The examples of Nayana and Thanushree suggest that students’ association with technology and online learning behavior differs based on their learning personas. A single approach for learning may not help all types of learners. 

Providing blended learning solutions for different learners 

The study titled “Blended Learning: Experiences in public education and  design principles for low tech environments” published by Quest Alliance classifies learners into five categories or personas – ambitious impeded learners, self driven learners, adaptive learners, instruction-dependent learners and isolated learners. The study was led by Indira Vijaysimha, Founder, Poorna Learning Centre, and Farhat Ara, Researcher, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

The research paper maps different personas based on students’ online behaviors, digital literacy, various contextual challenges as well as their attitudes toward blended learning. This classification has paved the way to understand the needs of different types of learners. The study in turn has recommended different designs for blended learning. 

The qualitative study was conducted with students, teachers, principals and parents from 11 states which are – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Uttarakhand.

The study noted that designing an online learning environment for different types of learners necessitates a “radical approach in pedagogy and technology use”.  

Priyanka Krishna, Research Specialist, Quest Alliance who oversaw the study said that the key idea of keeping personas in mind while designing for blended learning is to build learner-centric environments that support the diversity of learners and create inclusive environments which drive belongingness for improved learning outcomes.

“Instead of a tech-first, one size fits all approach, keeping the diverse needs of the learners as a focus helps build blended learning models responsive to different kinds of learners and their social circumstances.”

It is evident that the different types of learners have personalized needs. Teachers and educators will find it easier if they are able to understand their learner with regard to their access to and usage of technology, their attitude towards technology and blended learning as well gauge how much of a self learner they are. This inturn will help them design a blending learning approach which is effective and centered around their learners’ needs. The design principles suggested in the study provides direction for educators, institutions and other stakeholders of how they can design as well as implement and execute their blended learning approaches.   

Download our research paper: Blended Learning: Experiences in Public Education System and design principles for low tech environments ↗.

Written by:

Tanu Kulkarni

Communications Specialist


Nurturing adolescent aspirations in Jharkhand

Girl Champion Neelam at the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand

Celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child this year was special with a visit to Jharkhand in early October. The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, a good two-and-a-half hour drive from Deoghar in Jharkhand, is located in the Phadam village in Palajori block, and is well connected by tar roads. The drive speeds past hillocks, lush green landscapes, clear air, herds of goats, and ducklings. Towards the end of the village, just next to the main road, is a pucca house with a narrow entrance. The world behind the narrow entrance took me by surprise. The walls are full of artwork by adolescent girls – hearts, parrots, peacocks, menstruating women, arms raised asking for menstrual hygiene,  impressions of girls’ hands on the charts with their photographs, their names and much more. 

At the adolescent girls’ centre, about twenty girls aged between 10 and 16 have gathered. After a round of introductions, they head outside into the open space around the house for some routine gameplay. Once back inside, they energetically fished out board games – one on myths about menstrual hygiene, another on factors that could support or impede the journey of an adolescent girl to be self-reliant, and another on problem-solving in times of crisis. Some of them hadn’t played the games before. They read the instructions out loud, shared their own interpretations and ended up in a laughing heap as the confusion grew.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As we spoke, I found the girls loved to play and paint at the centre – two very powerful mediums to liberate the body and express voice. Some of these girls had just restarted school as secondary schools are now slowly reopening in Jharkhand. Others were looking forward to the opening of their own schools – some of which are a good 8-10kms away from the village. I wondered what that distance would mean for them, and asked about their commute. “We will cycle to school!”, they all said confidently. Not even for a moment was there an iota of doubt in any of them – they were determined to to study, and they had worked out how to overcome the barrier of distance. 

During the lockdown some of them learnt to make rakhis, decorate diyas that earned them Rs 10-15 each. They kept these earnings to use in the club, where even some the younger ones proudly shared that they had “learnt something to earn that money.”

Adolescent girls playing board games in the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand.

Neelam is a Girl Champion for the community where this centre is located. A Girl Champion is a peer educator who facilitates club activities and is often seen as a role model in the community. She told me that while the club usually welcomes about 10 or 15 girls on a typical day, they had a special reason for gathering in larger numbers on that day. The club was getting a computer, and the Quest Alliance Anandshala team was setting it up. Like any ‘NGOwali’, I checked if the girls had used computers before. None of them had, even though some of them were in grade 10 and 11. But they had seen a computer, and understood the concept. When I asked some more questions about accessibility to digital platforms, they revealed that a majority of them had used a mobile phone for calls or messages, but not computers. Intrigued, I wanted to know what caused the excitement over this computer here at the centre. One of the girls volunteered an answer – “We will use Google!”. When asked how that would help, she replied in a typical adolescent tone – that unique mix of exasperation and amusement – “Humko nahi pata aur kya ho sakta hai computer pe, hum dekhenge toh pata chalega na?” (We don’t know what else can be done with a computer, we will know once we work (look) into it).  The spirit of curiosity and exploration was obvious, apart from the palpable joy of the entire group celebrating the arrival of a computer. 

Seeing the club in action gave me hope, and sparked many thoughts and ponderings. The girls in this club in remote Jharkhand seem confident, curious, wanting to explore, and ready to take risks. If we assume a similar spirit kindled in adolescents across the state, why then does Jharkhand have high child marriage rates, and issues of early pregnancy? The delicate spirit of this group resonated strongly with me. It is a spirit which, if nurtured, could only grow stronger and take on challenges as a community, but if throttled could get discouraged quickly. 

This was a sobering reminder of what many individuals experience during the adolescent phase. In contrast, Neelam is a wonderful example of that spirit nurtured. Having had to discontinue her studies due to health issues in the family, coupled with mounting education fees and other costs, she saved an honorarium payment, enrolled in college and is currently facilitating the club and pursuing her studies. In a way, she personifies the impact of Girl Champions in the community.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As State, society and civil society organisations, can we truly be open to engage with adolescent girls and parents, with the objective to encourage them? Each one has a role to play in making our schools a space that is encouraging and engaging. How do we as CSO’s not label programmes and not favour certain kinds of strategies over others? How do both state and CSO’s make parents allies and not operate in the paradigm of “parents are not interested”? These are questions that need quick and effective answers. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that adolescent girls are part of the solutioning, and models can be built to harness the adolescent spirit. Games, play, income-generating activities, modules and courses, health, computers, literacy – we need it all to support adolescent girls in the country. Many more Neelams are in the making at the club. They have defined their own paths, and we owe it to them to support their dreams and ambitions. 

Words By: Deepika K Singh, Quest Alliance
Photos By: Shitanshu Sharma, Quest Alliance


Choice & Circumstance: STEM aspirations among adolescents in Gujarat

Anandi1, from Rapar in Kutch, of a pastoralist community, speaks of how girls in her village are not allowed to study further. Anandi has managed to convince her parents. Rani, who is in a similar situation, says her parents are angry with her choice. Lahi tells us that she has discussed pursuing computer learning with her parents. Bidiya from Junagadh, on the other hand, laments that girls from her caste are not encouraged to continue education. 

Anandi, Rani, Lahi, and Bidiya and many young adolescents like them face several barriers to access higher education and to choose subjects of their choice. Their challenges are marked and made acute by socio-cultural factors; their caste, class, and location. For instance, For Anandi from Kutch, the gender norms are worse than her counterparts in the tribal belt of South Gujarat. Each of the different region’s histories and cultures intersperses to determine the challenges and opportunities for young adolescent girls. Often several of them will face a backlash from parents for their choices. At other times, adolescent girls tend to believe the self-limiting beliefs they have heard regarding their abilities. 

Quest Alliance’s work in Gujarat under the IBM STEM for Girls program reaches 14,000 students in Gujarat and works to enable girls to break some of these shackles, encourage them to pursue their dreams, and strives to break gender stereotypes to enhance their agency and make informed career and life choices. As part of the program, to build on the experience from the field and to generate primary evidence to inform the program, we undertook research with 345 students (85% girls and 15% boys) in the government secondary schools of Gujarat across 15 districts2 to investigate young adolescents’ ability to choose subjects of study,  the barriers they face in employing these choices and the interventions required to empower them to exercise these choices. 

Despite gains in higher education for women, research shows a clustering of women in particular sectors like health care and assistance, nursing, and clerical jobs3. The highest gaps are in engineering and technology accounting for only 10-20% female participation4.  According to AISHE5, The Engineering and technology enrolments for 2018-19 are 71.1 percent male and 29.9 percent female. It is partly because the nature of subjects is already determined to be gendered, with STEM subjects specifically considered to be masculine. These gaps, if not addressed, run the risk of further exclusion of women in a workplace where trends in the future of work suggest the highest increase of jobs in the technology sector. 8 out of the 10 fastest-growing jobs are in the technology sector6. Additionally, our recent research study7 “STEM Mindset, Careers and Women” shows that STEM skills and mindsets are essential requirements across sectors. Against this, considering that math, science, and technology are emerging as top skills required across careers now and in the future, we must examine two critical queries: where and how do young women enter an increasingly STEM-oriented economy? What amounts to true choice, and are young women able to employ it? 

An empowered choice should include a critical understanding of one’s own beliefs, the infrastructure to enable these choices – instead of adaptive preferences – and the agency given to adolescents to employ this choice. Against this, in Gujarat, we find that several factors contribute to adolescent decisions. 

Geography Matters. So does Infrastructure.
Nearly 62% of respondents base their decisions on education on the proximity of schools to their homes. Additionally, teacher availability, capability to grasp a subject and context, ability to manage classwork and housework, as well as job prospects are key elements that determine subject choices among secondary school students in Gujarat. Interestingly, the tribal belt of South Gujarat(1) showed the highest uptake for Science subjects, despite being one of the state’s poorer regions. This could suggest that economic conditions can only be marginally relevant, while gender, space for autonomy, and infrastructure hold greater value toward making subject matter choices. We also noted that students from districts considered under North and Central Gujarat were more focused on self-related outcomes (“I will find job satisfaction”) whereas students in Southern Gujarat were seen to place a higher value on social outcomes (“My family’s social status will improve”). 

Career Pathway Information is Critical
One key finding of the study was the information gap regarding Science careers. Many students have little to no knowledge of potential career choices available to them. Many of them do not pursue science subjects (even if they are initially inclined to do so) due to a false belief that jobs in the science stream are few and far between. 

Relevance of Growth Mindsets
Ability-based biases were seen to be predominant among most students. The belief that only “intelligent” students can take up science and math is prevalent amongst adolescents, with nearly 70% of students admitting to the belief that one’s intelligence determines their math and science abilities. Close to 55% of students believe that an “innate ability” in these subjects cannot be changed. Both boys and girls were found to hold these fixed, limiting beliefs about who can succeed, based on ability, as well as exam scores. However, girls scored worse than boys. 

Gender is a key mediator of choice
The study found gender norms and gender stereotypes play a key role in decision-making among young adolescents. Nearly 37% of the adolescents believed in gendered notions of subjects that  ‘Men are better than women at Science and Math’ thus limiting their choices based on the internalisation of limiting beliefs. Gender norms play a significant role as well. We find that equitable distribution of household work may improve the chances of girls choosing Science. For instance, As noted earlier, the ability to manage housework and schoolwork was a key concern for all students. However, for students choosing Science; this does not emerge in the first three factors influencing decisions. For instance, in districts under Saurashtra regions and Kutch and Morbi region, reasons such as having enough time in classwork and housework (for over 50% of the sample) are prominent determinants for subject choice as opposed to less than 30% in districts considered under Central/North and South Gujarat where Science is preferred more prominently.

The importance of relatable role models and negotiation to employ choice
Our study also found that negotiation is one of the key methods through which girls employ choice. Students use role model examples to convince parents of their career choices, with more favourable opinions towards achievers from one’s community, village, or town. Negotiation was observed to work best for adolescents when parents and students shared an understanding of the possibilities of choosing their desired stream. We find that having relatable role models makes a considerable difference.

Multi-stakeholder model essential 
An adolescent’s socio-cultural landscape strongly influences the choices he/she makes regarding their studies and careers. Our focused study, as well as continuous interventions in the sector, show that multiple actions are required to make a positive impact on an adolescent’s choice and decision-making. Firstly, evidence-based approaches must be used to understand the nuances of regions and geographies. Further, since the choices an adolescent makes are situated amidst family, school, and societal structures, engagement with multiple stakeholders allows for more impactful shared experiences. Second, Gender – related interventions must be addressed also towards boys. The evidence from our research points significantly to the fact that girls fare much better on gender awareness issues. 

Bringing girls to a place of power will need interventions to address these challenges. These will include understanding the location-specific challenges of the adolescent, addressing self-limiting beliefs towards STEM subjects and careers, addressing the paucity of knowledge in relation to career-thinking and potential career pathways that are available, introducing relatable role models, and engaging with parents and community towards better gender norms. 

Written by:
Priyanka Krishna
Research Specialist, Quest Alliance

 (1) All names are anonymised
(2)   Districts considered for the study: Ahmedabad, Banaskantha, Mehsana (clubbed under North and Central Gujarat). Jamnagar, Botad, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Junagadh (clubbed under Sourashtra regions), Kutch and Morbi, and Narmada, Surat, Dang, Chota Udepur (clubbed as South for purpose of study to gain implementation specific details)
(3) https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/the-future-of-women-at-work-transitions-in-the-age-of-automation
(4)  http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/science-technology/engineering/women-in-engineering/
(5)   http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/reports
(6)  Emerging Jobs: India, The fastest growing jobs in the country, LinkedIn, September 2018.
(7) https://www.questalliance.net/our-publications


Songs & Stories from Quest 2 Learn 2021

Live storyboard of the Q2L Songs & Stories event by Tanvee Nabar.

During the pandemic, educators and learners both faced various challenges in delivering and accessing learning. Despite the bleak scenario prevailing during the pandemic, there were learners, educators, parents and policymakers who came up with innovative solutions to ensure that the learning process continued. To bring the stories and experiences of these individuals on a common platform, the curtain raiser to the Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) 2021, Quest 2 Learn stories and songs was organised on 29th July, 2021.
This year, Q2L is hosting a series of dialogues, webinars, and panel discussions on emphasising the relevance of self-learning to enable a successful school to work transition for our young people in a world struck by the pandemic and other such uncertainties. The three key thematic strands for Q2L, this year, are facilitating a self-learning environment; equity and inclusion in future careers, in a world of pandemic and environmental crisis; and systems change to strengthen collaborative action in the education and employability sectors.
A series of songs based on the principles of ‘Nirgun (without any properties) and Nirbhay’ (fearlessness) was performed throughout the webinar. Educators, learners, parents and CSO partners, government and industry bodies attended the webinar on 29 July.

Facilitating a self-learning environment
Amar Prakash, a parent from the Patori block in Bihar, shared that he conducted surveys in his community, which found that children were demotivated due to prolonged school closure. He engaged the children in his community, by taking them to farms and gardens, and by using art forms. Amar also worked closely with other parents and older children to facilitate a self-learning environment. This story was motivating for all the audience in the webinar.
Another inspiring story of self-learning was shared by Sachin Kumar, a grade 9 student from Bihar. When the pandemic hit and schools closed, Sachin was unable to access learning and education. However, he took steps to enable learning for himself and his peers. He took a few important steps in this regard. First, he used the Anandshala Resource Center to access the Unnayan App to continue his learning. Then, he began the Gaon Bana Vidyalaya initiative, where he engaged young students in learning from his village through art and play. Sachin’s friends started similar initiatives in their own communities after being inspired by him. At the end of sharing this story, Sachin called out all young people to share their skills and knowledge with children in their communities to enable continued learning.
The stories above are based on the theme of ‘Facilitating a self-learning environment’. It will engage with a new narrative that shifts power to learners.

Equity and Inclusion.
Soni Marandi, an educator from Jharkhand focused on the theme of equity and inclusion. Being a survivor of early, child marriage herself, Soni is now a Girl champion in the Anandshala programme who, advocates against child, early and forced marriage in her community. During the pandemic, the amount of unpaid care work substantially increased for young girls. Soni facilitated virtual sessions with these young girls to motivate and support them to continue learning. While school closures persist, Soni’s recommendation is that alternative learning spaces be provided to ensure that young people, particularly girls, continue to have access to learning during the pandemic.
The theme on ‘Equity and Inclusion in future careers, in a world of pandemic and environmental crisis’, in Q2L, will explore the new employability trends, rise of new career opportunities and greater prospects for financial independence, amidst lack of access to resources and opportunities for growth, cultural barriers related to gender, caste and economic status. The current century and the changing economic and workplace trends exacerbated by the pandemic brings a range of opportunities and challenges for the youth. Successful school to work transitions are contingent on equipping them with the right skills needed for the 21st century.

Systems-change to strengthen collaborative action
Dr Avinav Kumar, State Project Officer, Quality Education from Jharkhand, spoke about how a blended learning approach would be needed to ensure continuous learning during the pandemic. In Jharkhand, the Education Department formed Whatsapp groups where teachers and block facilitators were added. These WhatsApp groups were able to reach out to over 15 lakh children. The Department also reached out to parents to orient them on how to guide their children on learning during the pandemic. While these measures were successful in ensuring that learning did not come to a standstill during the pandemic, Dr Kumar recommends that a blended mode of learning is needed to reach children who do not have access to digital devices. He also stressed that children have the ability to self-learn; they just need teachers to act as facilitators and guides.

Systems change to strengthen collaborative action in education and employability, as a theme in Q2L, will explore enhanced engagement with government systems, policymakers, policy and budget influencers in order to co-own the agenda on systems change. There is a need to continue the discussion on self-learning to enable a successful school-to-work transition and hear from a diverse set of stakeholders. In order to fulfil the objective, Quest Alliance organised a three-day summit from 25th to 27th, August, 2021. The conversations featured educators, learners, CSO partners, government partners and officials, funders, and industry representatives, centered around themes such as emerging patterns with COVID-19 and its implications for education ecosystem, role of education technology in self-learning environments, and the future of work and successful transitions for India’s youth.

Read more about the 2021 Q2L Summit here. Watch this space for videos of the sessions, coming soon!

The Q2L Songs & Stories event featured music by Vedi from The Aahvaan Project, and live storyboarding (graphic recording) from Tanvee Nabar at Ladysfinger. Watch a recording of the Q2L Songs & Stories event here.

Written by:
Priyambada Seal
Advocacy Manager, Quest Alliance.


Making informed career decisions.

An analysis of the kind of career decisions taken up by women trainees after their ITI training.

We live in a world of paradoxes and the declining participation of women in the labour force is one such reality that has become a cause of concern and shame for all of us. Despite rising-levels of education in women, year-on-year, the Female Labour Force Participation Rate(FLPR) of women in India is on the decline. This dismal trend represents the way women are perceived in our households, forced to make compromises at every step of their career journeys.

“I was interested in studying engineering but my parents asked me to join this Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and study the beautician course – they did not want me to do an office job and this ITI was near our house,” says Radhika (name changed), Student, State Govt Women ITI

Radhika’s reality is not uncommon among women, who pursue vocational education in government-run women ITIs. The pandemic has only made matters worse and further exacerbated this gender divide in the workforce. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), as of November 2020, 67% of all men of working age (15-64) were employed, in comparison to just 9% of women, who were employed in the same period of time.

The second wave of the pandemic which was more intense and led to an exponentially large number of deaths has made it even more difficult for women to enter the workforce. But, amidst this grim reality, are there new trends in employment for women that have emerged?

“Earlier I was looking for jobs related to my trade but there were so many issues like low salary, timings and distance from home. I then came across a tele-calling role which paid more and I was able to convince my family to take it up, even though it had nothing to do with my trade,” says Nikitaben Tadvi, an alumna of Basic Cosmetology from NSTI, Vadodara.

In March 2021, Quest Alliance analysed the placement trends of 3983 women graduating from ITIs and NSTIs across Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. We specifically looked at what sectors and roles working alumni have taken up.

According to the study, during the pandemic, 46% of the working alumni opted for non-trade based employment, garnering a monthly income of Rs. 8400 which is Rs.600 more than income from trade-specific employment.

This finding must be placed in the context of the challenges women face in ITIs to convince families to allow them to pursue a career. Family support (or the lack of it) plays a pivotal role in key career decisions made by women post course completion. Factors like distance from home & perceptions about the type of jobs women can do play a significant role in ensuring if a young woman enters the workforce.

The findings in that respect indicate that women in ITIs were able to negotiate with families to take up non-trade specific job roles owing to higher average monthly incomes and greater flexibility with respect to location and job timings. New employment options like work from home due to the pandemic has also helped many women enter the workforce.

“I used to work as a teacher before the pandemic. But after I lost my job, I decided to take up a work from home job opportunity as a telecaller. I get paid Rs. 12,000 a month and work from the convenience of my home,” says Janvi Harvi, an alumna of fashion design technology from Govt. ITI, Junagad (woman).

The study also looked into state-specific trends and offered insights on the kind of jobs women in ITIs were pursuing post course-completion.

While Delhi had 42% working alumni who took up trade-specific jobs; Rajasthan on the other hand had 74% women working in trade-specific jobs. The difference in states may be attributed to availability of trade-specific industry, migrant population in a region and the perception of families regarding the kind of employment suitable for women.

Quest Alliance’s intervention in women ITIs and NSTIs since the past four years has helped influence deep seated perceptions in families about the need for women to enter the workforce, and the kind of jobs they can take up. Activities like virtual parent engagement initiated by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs, during the pandemic, have given parents an opportunity to both understand and support the aspirations of their daughters.

“I promise to support my daughter in her career and bring up marriage only when she is of the right age to take decisions on this,” says Jitendra Kumar, a parent of an ITI student in Delhi

Additionally, the Placement Officers in ITIs and NSTIs have also played a pivotal role in negotiating with parents to support their daughters to take up non-trade based jobs. Events like virtual job fairs, industry guest sessions, and job drives organized in collaboration with Quest Alliance have gone a long way in supporting women students in ITIs find a job despite the pandemic.

“The one thing that I am really proud of as a Placement Officer is that even during the pandemic, we were able to place our trainees via a virtual job fair. In UP, women trainees are weary of the private sector. They think that as women the only thing they can do is work as trainers in ITIs or as teachers for the government. It is this deep rooted mindset that we are up against. And, every placement in the private sector feels like a small victory” says Neerja Sood, PO, NSTI (W), Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh

The intervention by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs across states in India is a testament to the fact that a concerted effort in changing deep rooted perceptions about women entering the workforce can bring in long-term behavioral change in families and encourage more women to enter the workforce.

An ecosystem level approach involving all stakeholders (parents, students & institutes) has helped women students in ITIs and NSTIs make use of opportunities like work from home or take up higher paying non-trade based jobs during the pandemic. For a woman to take up work of her choice; she needs to be self-confident, believe in herself and speak out and negotiate. Therefore this choice to work in a trade based or non trade based sector is a function of women’s agency.

Quest Alliance’s intervention has helped women develop this agency and given them the confidence to take control of their careers and learning journey.

Key insights from the study can be seen here.

About the JPM project:
Quest Alliance, supported by JP Morgan, has worked with 84 ITIs and NSTIs across 19 states impacting around 40,000 disadvantaged young women since January 2018. Women are provided essential life and career development skills. The program also seeks to influence systems change, through capacity building of ITI leadership, placement officers and trainers on gender sensitization, industry engagement and placements.


A rapidly changing job market amidst the pandemic highlights the need for promoting self-learning

According to a report by UNICEF India will have 31 crore graduates by 2030, of which 16 crore will lack skills to be employed. This links to the way learning is delivered in Indian classrooms, whether it be in schools or colleges. Indian classrooms have traditionally been very teacher driven, where learners are almost completely dependent on the teacher.

Continue reading “A rapidly changing job market amidst the pandemic highlights the need for promoting self-learning”

Challenges Young Learners Face in Accessing Online Education During Covid-19

While educators have geared up to deliver digital learning experiences, students have been working to adapt to their new reality, too. This means adjusting not only to life away from the classroom, in whatever location they find themselves now, but also to the new learning environment of the virtual classroom.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education dramatically. At the rate at which the change has happened, it is likely that the integration of digital technology in education will further accelerate, and online learning will eventually become an integral feature education ecosystems.

Continue reading “Challenges Young Learners Face in Accessing Online Education During Covid-19”

The Platform Economy and the Pandemic: What We Need to Look Out For

The ‘Future of Work’ as a policy concept has received much attention in the last few years. Rapid developments in emergent technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things, automation, and robotics, have fuelled debate and action from policymakers, educators, and businesses to fully leverage the opportunities these new technologies present. The equal amounts of anxiety and excitement that this debate has presented uptill now, needs urgent revisiting in the context of the ongoing pandemic induced economic changes.

Continue reading “The Platform Economy and the Pandemic: What We Need to Look Out For”

What Should The Covid-19 Pandemic Change?

Ideally, our discriminatory and unsustainable systems.

Unprecedented — A word used to emphasize or describe something that hasn’t happened earlier, at least in our living memories. How we respond to Covid-19, beyond taming the virus in the short term, only time will tell; but there is no doubt that these are unprecedented times for all of us. Never before has the world found itself in exactly the same situation across continents, time zones, political systems, religious affiliations and economic status. This is not to say that everyone’s affected the same way — while we keep hearing that the novel coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate”, more evidence suggests this ongoing pandemic is exacting a higher toll on marginalized communities, the old, the sick and those with lower incomes.

Continue reading “What Should The Covid-19 Pandemic Change?”

Upgraded MSDE Employability Skills Curriculum Gives Prominence To 21st Century Skills And Self Learning 

There has been a sea of transformation in the teaching and learning process after the pandemic. Various government departments and institutions are trying to adapt to this scenario and shift gears to create new learning experiences that will resonate with the students. 

Keeping this in mind, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) recently launched a revamped curriculum on employability skills in association with Quest Alliance, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and various other curriculum bodies within the MSDE ecosystem. This initiative is being supported by the Future Right Skills Network (FRSN), a collaborative effort by Quest Alliance, Accenture, Cisco and J.P. Morgan.

In picture: (L to R) Ishvinder Singh, Cisco; Sourabh Anand, J.P. Morgan; Trishaljit Sethi, Director General – Directorate General of Training; Rajesh Aggarwal, Former Secretary, MSDE; Kotresh H B, Partnerships Specialist, Quest Alliance; and Nikita Bengani, Director – Youth Program, Quest Alliance.

The curriculum aims to orient and prepare students on how they can adapt to the job market post-COVID. Aspects such as career development, professionalism, adaptability and building resilience are given emphasis in the new curriculum. 

So far, most of the curricula for Employability Skills (ES) across the various skilling initiatives and professional courses in India, had a theory-first approach. The practical aspects mostly focussed on last-mile skill development such as the development of resume, interview skills were ignored. As a result of this, while students had technical skills, they did not have the critical 21st century skills to face an interview or secure a job. The current curriculum addresses this need and ensures that learners have the required skills and the right mindset that will make them more employable. 

More than 2.5 million students from over 15,600 government and private Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) will benefit from the program which includes a revamped and expanded 120-hour curriculum in Hindi and English.  Some of the modules include introduction to employability skills, digital skills, citizenship, diversity and inclusion, career development and goal setting, getting ready for work and entrepreneurship. Variants of the curriculum of 30, 60 and 90 hour duration are also being launched for both long-term and short-term courses. 

Speaking about the new curriculum, IAS officer Rajesh Aggarwal who led the initiative and was Secretary, Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship until recently said:

“For young people to be able to keep pace with the fast changing world they need to keep up-skilling and reskilling. Employability Skills are extremely key in enabling the transition of young people into the world of work with confidence, which is the single most important aspect any employers look for. Hence it needs to be embedded in every skilling program.” 

Explaining further, Aakash Sethi, CEO, Quest Alliance said, “The 12 modules in the curriculum have been chalked out keeping in mind the post-Covid job market and its volatility. The modules help learners build self learning mindsets and find a place for themselves in new kinds of jobs, such as those in the green and gig economy.” 

Since there is a dearth of ample job opportunities, particularly in small towns and rural areas, there is a need for young learners to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. The new curriculum in fact empowers learners to consider self-employment as their options. Besides this, there is a simple, yet practical exploration of digital fluency and safety. Some of the other topics that are also included in the curriculum are: safe banking, use of UPIs, use of MS office, mobile application for day-to-day use. The curriculum also aims to keep students abreast about financial and legal literacy. As the job market has become volatile after the pandemic, the new curriculum will equip learners with skills that will make them resilient and future ready. 

A Student Workbook from the Upgraded Employability Skills Curriculum

The curriculum will provide three key benefits to learners: build 21st century skills, develop a self-learning mindset and become career-ready in a post-pandemic world. 

Various experts in the industry too have pointed out how the revamped curriculum will improve the employability of learners. Speaking about the new curriculum, Harish Krishnan, Managing Director and Chief Policy Officer, Cisco India and SAARC, said, “Digitization is accelerating the need for new skill sets across production, manufacturing, and service industries, and it is important for candidates to keep up with the ever-evolving technology and business landscape. The revamped curriculum is aimed at addressing some of the industry- training gaps and helping youth navigate the future of work as well as improve their employability.”

Adding to that, Kshitija Krishnaswamy, Managing Director and Lead – Corporate Citizenship, Accenture in India said, “As industries transform in the digital economy, all types of work will be impacted and require a new set of skills. Developing these skills require the attention of the entire ecosystem, and collaboration between government, academia and industry.”

Maneesha Chadha, Head of Grant Programming, APAC, J.P. Morgan said, “The transformation of the ITI ecosystem is opening up employment opportunities for young people, allowing them to participate in India’s economic growth. We believe this growth should be inclusive and are focused on ensuring that young women graduating from ITIs have the skills it takes to build their career pathways.”

To help rollout the new curriculum in a smooth manner, a National Master Trainers Workshop was organized by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) in partnership with Quest Alliance and the Future Right Skills Network (FRSN). The aim of this workshop is to strengthen the skill training ecosystem by transforming the way the employability skills curriculum is imparted. As many as  90+ educators across the skilling ecosystem have been trained so far. These trainers are amongst the 270+ master trainers, who will go on to train and mentor 2400+ Employability Skills trainers in adopting a blended learning model to impart the ES curriculum.

It will further help educators to upgrade their skills for new age classrooms and familiarize themselves with blended learning models. While physical books covering the revamped curriculum are being released now, digital copies for blended learning will be available soon.

The new curriculum along with cascade trainer capacity building model is a step towards addressing critical gaps in the skilling ecosystem and building ownership amongst educators to adopt new pedagogical practices and mentor their peers in the same. 

Trainers from not only government-run vocational education institutions but also from short-term and long-term courses conducted by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) are part of the trainer capacity building intervention. 

This marks a strategic shift in government policy towards employability skills and is a testament to multi-stakeholder collaborative efforts like the Future Right Skills Network in building consensus for the need for employability skills in the vocational education ecosystem to ensure young people find jobs and remain relevant in the future workplace.  

The Future Right Skills Network is on a mission to empower young people in technical and vocational training institutes with employability skills for the knowledge economy. The partners of FRSN have also come together to advocate and create awareness, disseminate critical knowledge and shape a forward-thinking mindset to empower students with future-ready employability skills.

Written by:

Tanu Kulkarni

Communications Specialist