Part 2: Can technology-based learning improve employment rates in India?

This is the final blog in a two-part blog series on a program developed to expand English-language skills to address employment challenges in India using technoloy-based learning. This blog will focus on the challenge this program aims to address, and the feedback our most important stakeholders – students – provided about the technology they are using.

In India, many graduates with bachelor’s degrees lack the English-proficiency skills they need to get jobs and launch their careers. Many students turn to vocational training programs to get additional skills to increase their chances at employment, but most of those programs do not provide English-language courses. Sattva Consulting partnered with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to identify programs that could incorporate technology-based courses to help students learn English.

In our last post, we talked about how those programs were chosen and what we aim to achieve. We met Madhu Kumari, who travelled to Bangalore from Jharkhand for a vocational training course at Unnati, one of our five program partners, in December 2017. At that time, she barely spoke any English. Her success in working as a call center employee depends on the skills she receives from Unnati. In this post, we aim to share the feedback we received and the lessons we learned from our most important stakeholders – the students themselves. Madhu and her classmate Mahendra shared their feedback on four technology-based apps that were created to help students with Spoken English Skills (SES).

Lesson 1: Personalize and prepare. Madhu and Mahendra had different levels of English-language skills when they started the program at Unnati. The apps that provided customizable, personalized learning opportunities were more useful than those that provided a one-size-fits-all model.

Lesson 2: Context is everything. India has 22 official languages. English comprehension varies across students from different states, so any app that aims to help with English-language skills must provide lessons and support in different languages. The app that earned the most student engagement offered support in 18 languages.

Lesson 3: Context is everything – really. In Madhu’s class, all students use pre-paid data connections to access the apps. However, about half of the students had pre-paid connections that needed to be re-charged frequently – and the data they were able to purchase only lasted about 10 days. Technology-based interventions in a country like India should be mindful of data constraints and be able to fully function and save data offline.

Lesson 4: Interaction promotes learning. Madhu and her classmates unanimously said it was the ‘talk back’ feature that they liked best about apps they tried. They enjoyed being able to speak to the app and have a conversation, without worrying about their accent or feeling self-conscious, like they might in a classroom. We are looking at strengthening voice recognition features in apps to add value to the student experience.

Lesson 5: Gamification rules. Madhu and Mahendra loved seeing their scores go up in the app as they took quizzes. Surveys deployed across Madhu and Mahendra’s classrooms indicate that students are especially motivated to use an app when they can see how their friends and classmates are performing and where they stand in comparison.

Madhu, Mahendra, and their classmates have shown us that it is possible to design and develop low-cost scalable solutions to make a dent in one aspect of the daunting, but solvable, challenge of India’s employability crisis.

Sulagna Datta is a Senior Consultant with Sattva Consulting. She leads design, implementation and delivery of strategic projects in the areas of Education, Sports and Skill Development for employability. Before joining Sattva, she was an investment research analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Avijit Arya is an Associate Consultant with Sattva Consulting. His areas of focus are data analysis, program management and monitoring of projects. Prior to Sattva, he worked towards improving learning outcomes in government schools in Rajasthan, India.