Tata STRIVE, the skill development initiative of Tata Trusts focuses on skilling the youth for employment, entrepreneurship and community enterprise. We connected with Ameya Vanjari, Head, Technology, and Innovation, Tata STRIVE to understand how they are ensuring continuity in the learning for the students, future perspective on skilling courses during the times of COVID-19 crisis. Learn more from the excerpts from our conversation below.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis
We at Tata STRIVE are underway with a holistic response to the crisis, supported by technology. When we started understanding the gravity of the situation early in March 2020, our response was three-pronged – safety first, work continuity and rehearsing, and preparing for the possible futures.
We wanted to ensure the safety of our employees, learners, partners, and alumni. When we suspended our center operations, we made sure all our learners reached home safely. We contacted our alumni, who recently joined in employment to find out if they were safe and if there were any risks to their jobs. We also shared the right information to help all of them stay safe and take precautions.
Technology has played a major role in work continuity. While the platforms to collaborate remotely were always available, we had to issue clear guidelines for our staff, conduct training to ensure that our staff is equipped to use these digital tools effectively. While some adopted quickly, for some the shift was not as easy.
Apart from using technology to collaborate, our HR teams are engaged with our employees. Work from home, with the additional challenges due to lockdown, is causing additional stress in some. This is where continuous engagement is key.
We have urged our employees to use this opportunity to learn a new skill, take up a new online course. We have also initiated some critical projects that will help us in the long run – like, benchmarking our courses, use of technology in the future, impactful external communication, etc. We have formed cross-functional teams that are running these critical projects.
While these are mostly for our corporate/central teams, we have started an initiative called STRIVE Evolves for our field team. The field team has formed different groups and is engaged in sessions where experts share their experiences, increase awareness, etc. The teams are also engaged in creating digital content, like shooting videos on some topics, connecting with alumni, and capturing learning too.
So, while classrooms are suspended, and undoubtedly there is disruption, but work continues.
Rehearsing and preparing for the possible future
This is a disruptive and most unprecedented change! This will potentially lead to considerable changes to how we operate, to the ecosystem and industries we work with. Some changes are temporary, and others will stay with us for long – in the new normal. We have started thinking about these and working towards being prepared for them in the coming days.
The first change which will stay with us is the increased use of – technology in education (EdTech). The learning transfer happening outside the classroom with the help of a digital medium will stay with us. Increased use of technology in skill development will take place like the increased use of videos, self-learning materials, assignments, research, etc.
The second change that will stay with us is a new safety, hygiene, and workplace norms. This might mean, a classroom that can accommodate 30 students right now, may have to accommodate only 15. Combining the EdTech and new safety norms, we might have to reschedule the sessions, redefine our operating models, and relook at conducting the sessions differently.
There will be changes in the demand pattern for jobs too. Undoubtedly hospitality and travel could see reduced opportunities in the immediate future. On the other hand, we may see an increased demand in the sectors of healthcare, digital technologies, agriculture-related courses, and logistics, not just in the near future but for the years to come.
We plan to discuss this with our partners and plan batches based on the demand. However, it is not easy to predict how things will evolve and open-up. Hence this space needs to be watched closely and plans are being kept agile and flexible!
Use of technology in learning transfer in skill development: Challenges, learnings, and outlook
The forced shift from classroom to online learning has shifted the mindset of those who always doubted if learning can happen through a digital medium. This shift has been significant, and the effects will stay with us even after the COVID-19 pandemic goes away.
Since we adopted the technology very early, as the TCS iON platform from our first batch, the shift was not very difficult for us. Recently, we conducted digital assessments using mobile applications. Usually, it is done on our campus through invigilation, but now we used the video sessions to invigilate.
Related Article: How Tata STRIVE is impacting skill development through quality that’s scalable and sustainable Read More: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/tata-strive/
Similarly, we are also effectively making use of google classroom, TCS iON Glassroom, and Google Meet sessions, along with other latest digital tools. These are the steps taken towards ensuring continuity in learning. In this quest, we see our facilitators and students innovating and using the platforms to do things effectively. Like conducting interesting interactive quizzes on a mobile app, like holding debates and discussions remotely. This adoption of technology is very heartening to see.
Rethinking the learning pedagogy and shifting to technology
The STRIVE way today includes a blend of activity-based learning, project-based learning, learning from repeated practice, learning from peers – all facilitated by our magicians in a classroom setting. Using technology for learning is not merely moving ‘The STRIVE way’ from the classroom to a video session. Experience tells us that we cannot run the online sessions continuously for more than two hours. A self-learning video cannot hold attention for more than 10 mins. We needed to rethink the pedagogy on how to adopt activity-based learning or project-based learning, how to break down the sessions into assignments, quizzes and other ways to ensure that learning transfer is effective and learners are engaged. We are already working on a few experiments along these lines, and relooking at courses and content in this light.
Response to digital learning
One of the challenges we are facing is the uniformity of learning is not the same across all the centers and the courses. In some centers, 60-70% of learners have the ability to attend these sessions. Whereas in rural areas, only 40-50% of students have the ability or access to attend the classes and participate effectively. Some of them who have gone back would want to engage themselves in agricultural activities than attend these sessions. In some places, only 40% of the learners have mobile phones with the required data packs. Therefore, we are not able to reach out to all through these mediums and sessions.
On the other hand, our work has been appreciated and there is a success story. In the state of Odisha, we have been working with the government on employability skills and helping them driving change and transform ITIs. Our faculty has been deployed in all the government ITIs there for training the students in employability skills. We also take up activities other than employability skills within these ITIs to drive change. Since the lockdown came into effect, our facilitators started taking these sessions through online medium. When principals and authorities saw this, they were happy and asked other faculties to adopt too. We conducted sessions to help the adoption and use of Technology by other ITI faculty – so that the learning does not stop.
Hands-on training cannot be replaced with technology
We are all aware that not all courses are amenable to digital learning. Likewise, a transformation of youth, development of confidence, and soft skills too cannot be delivered entirely through digital learning. On courses, when we compare an Auto Technician course with a course in the financial sector, it is obvious that the latter is amenable to online learning, to a large extent. This is because an auto technician course requires certain equipment to train the learners. Having said that, for the Auto technician course too, we are trying to maximise the learning with the use of digital tools. We are showing them videos, demos, and equipping them with knowledge. But for the practical skills, the learners have to come to our labs and learn it hands-on. Virtual reality, simulation, and other digital technologies are at our disposal. I’m sure in the future, we will use them to blend physical with the digital, giving an immersive experience to learners, remotely, digitally. However, in the context we operate in these are not viable today.
To conclude, I feel COVID is a catalyst that has shifted mindsets and increased the speed of changes in shaping new models for skill development for the days ahead.