If India has 15 million school dropouts every year, it also has the fastest growing mobile phone users. How do we connect the two? With Rs. 500 per course, SkillTrain’s mobile learning solutions show how rural youth can be engaged and empowered with self employment. This conversation with Ganesh B, founder, SkillTrain , brings out the need to tap low cost technologies to overcome barriers of location and language with innovative ways of bridging the gap between learning and earning. Here’s how the Skill Story unfolds:
Impact on learning vocational skills
Our learning modules cater to a range of vocational skills like mobile repairing, electronics repairing, electrical repairing, computer software, computer hardware repairing, home appliances repairing, masonry and plumbing. We’ve been able to make a considerable impact because all the challenges of the traditional model have been addressed in our model. So far, we’ve trained more than 500 – 600 students across three training centers. Starting with Jabalpur, now we’ve expanded to Mumbai and Gujarat. And we have 17000 registered users on our YouTube Channel from other countries as well.
Innovative work in the area of vocational training using mobile phones
We are trying and addressing the skill development needs of school dropouts in rural areas. We realize that the traditional models of vocational education do not really serve the purpose, because, one, they are very expensive, because of the huge investment in infrastructure that is required, and two is, the traditional models are restricted to towns, and cities, and not available in the rural parts. And therefore reach is a huge challenge for traditional models as well.
Mobile learning model
Model is pretty simple, we have videos that are developed for several courses, we go into villages and we distribute these videos free of cost to students on their mobile phones. And the kind of mobile phones that we are talking about are not high end mobile phones; these are very basic Chinese mobile phones that can play audio and video files. These are video files that we transfer, we copy on their micro SD card because there is no Internet on most of these mobile phones. So these are very simple gadgets.
The challenge of mobilizing people
We have to mobilize, because there is a stigma attached to vocational training, nobody wants to become an electrician or a plumber these days. So mobilizing is essential and quite an effort. We do a lot of rural marketing, we go into villages, we distribute handbills, put up posters, we talk to the local sarpanch and the panchayat. We go to schools, we make presentations, we go to ITIs. Without mobilization, it is very difficult for these people to reach out unless there is a strong word of mouth. To gain that trust it will at least take 3 to 4 years.
Simple and unique way of delivering mobile learning content
The content is distributed on mobile phones. After the learners go through the video content, we connect them with practical training centers in rural areas. Typically, these centers are repairing shops themselves or independent electricians and plumbers with whom we pair up these students. When the training is completed, we have an evaluation exam and certification and that’s how the entire process works. Apart from this, we also have our own blended learning centers – one in MP in Jabalpur, one in Mumbai and one in Gujarat as of now.
It’s our own certification. We only offer one month programs, after which they go through the evaluation process and they get certified. While our programs are aligned to the Government of India’s Modular Employability Skills (MES) syllabus, we do not offer any Government certification / affiliation.
One month is what it take to start earning
Currently, We focus only on self employment, we don’t talk about placement at all, because the way we see it is, these areas where we work, there aren’t many employment opportunities available locally. And we don’t believe in displacement, for that matter, we believe people actually become self employed to earn on their own without having to move out of their native places. All our programs are of one month to ensure that in a month’s time this person should be able to go and start earning something on their own, that’s the objective.
How is it benefitting the ITI graduates?
There’s infrastructure available in ITI s, no doubt, there’s faculty available, but the learning is largely theoretical, and not related to what is required immediately to start earning. It doesn’t really matter, they don’t need to have the latest technology that the industry has. But, ITIs must focus on baseline skills and more from the practical perspective to make their courses relevant for each sector.
Views on certification
Why should someone go through an ITI course, only then get the government certification. Why can’t the government work as an independent certification body whose primary role is to assess anybody on skills. You can have the government benchmarks. Somebody who’s a practicing electrician who has never gone to school, if he wanted to get certified he should be able to approach, take the evaluation process. If we follow this process, we can connect them to the jobs the industry has. So, that is what we would be pushing for. That is eventually what should happen in India. If the government doesn’t do it there will be private certification agencies who will get into that mode and start certifying people. Adding more ITIs will not solve the problem.
Content in other languages
We are looking at other languages, currently it’s only in Hindi for the simple reason that its much larger market segment, but slowly, we are looking at having it in other languages. Being in English, it has got lot of interest from African countries. So we are looking at translation and voice over in other languages as well. Right now we are populating as many courses as we can.
The road ahead
We started by addressing the needs of the dropouts but now we have expanded our scope to youth employability, beyond dropouts. We realize that skills are the main problem in other segments as well. We also had engineering students coming to us to learn skills so we’ve gone beyond dropouts. The need for skilling is all pervasive.