September 2008

Linking Learning and Livelihood Through ICT

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CAP Foundation imparts vocational and employability training to underprivileged and out-of-school youth. Apart from facilitating learning, these courses also enable the youth to acquire life skills needed for a positive education-work-life balance. The core module of CAP, which is the life skills education, has been digitised with the aid of multimedia tools. Integrating ICT has helped CAP overcome two major challenges — prevention of the dilution of its well-formulated life skills curriculum and effective facilitator training. This article analyses how the current ICT initiatives has helped CAP develop tools that would add value to its work, help it realise its mission, and provide learning and livelihood solutions for underprivileged youth across regions and countries

In the global, high speed, knowledge driven and competitive new economic order, all facets of modern society are increasingly becoming knowledge dependent. Without the essential knowledge and skills, disadvantaged communities will remain on the margins of society resulting in loss of their potential contributions to the society.

CAP Foundation endeavours to provide education and life skills to a wide range of difficult-to-reach groups of disadvantaged youth through community based programmes spread across India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

It imparts vocational and employability training to in-school, out-of-school and post-high school youth enabling them with entry level competencies in the labour market. The emphasis on Life Skills make re-integration into formal school and institutes of higher learning possible for those youth who have dropped out of mainstream education. Apart from providing education, CAP Foundation also engages with  communities. Right from community targeting, local market scan and student mobilisation to post-training placements, it maintains a strong community focus. On the whole, it aims at social inclusion by enhancing access to education and thus envisages an equitable society.

To further its aim of enhancing educational outreach, CAP Foundation has integrated Information and Communication Technologies in its vocational programmes and life skills modules. It works in the following way: First a need is identified and then various options are explored. An action plan is formulated on how ICT can address the issue, following which the Foundation proceeds with the design and development of suitable ICT interventions. 

The current ICT initiatives of the Foundation include:

  • Digital Life Skills Toolkit,
  • Digitised CRS Module and
  • High School Curriculum Supplement 

Digital Life Skills Toolkit

Life skills is an important and indispensable part of the CAP model. With an increase in the number of training centres, there arose a need to train more facilitators. But over time, the life skills curriculum was being diluted. In order to effectively train facilitators in life skills, there was a need for a support tool. It was felt that ICT tool in the form of multimedia programmes could capture the essence of life skills training, and distribution of such programmes would enable packaged expertise to benefit audiences. 

ICT enabled CAP to develop a facilitator training module for its life skills curriculum, which also helped mitigate its dilution, as the facilitators were now equipped with a self learning and continuous reference tool.

An important aspect of life skills education is its emphasis on the  constructivist theory while delivering lessons. This methodology was incorporated by the DLST by linking delivery of life skills with activities.

Life Skills education has four focus areas:

  • Developing personal competencies
  • Social and interpersonal skills
  • Managing situations
  • Getting ready for work

The ability to learn and maintain the work-life-education balance is the important result that life skills education seeks to attain. In the current educational paradigm, learning what is deemed not immediately relevant is often discarded as unnecessary. Life skills education may seem distant from the skill based education, but it certainly helps the learners in their careers, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It thus contributes to the overall growth of an individual, and hence enhances the quality of education.

Digitised Customer Relations and Sales (CRS) Module 

For students wishing to pursue a career in Customer Relationship and Sales(CRS), an understanding of the nuances of dealing with customers is needed. Equally important is their work readiness. More so for those coming from economically disadvantaged background, who need a thorough experience of the urban, consumerist lifestyle.

With the help of ICT, a comprehensive support tool comprising visually appealing demonstrations suited to a scenario was developed to make the CRS course more effective. 

The new CRS module developed includes simulations of retail lifestyle with numerous photographic representations and many video demos. The video demos were shot at shopping centres, thus giving a real time picture of the skills required in the retail business.

Some examples from the CRS module include:

  • Grooming,
  • Body language, and
  • Handling a customer, right from their entry to departure after billing

High School Curriculum Supplement (HSCS) 

With an ever increasing number of career options available today, there is a need to educate learners on the various careers that they could take up. The High School Curriculum Supplement tool connects the core subjects taught at school with related careers paths through packaged career expertise along with visual appeals on a multimedia platform. 

In the first phase of HSCS project, around 20 modules across four subjects were developed and delivered. The audio-visuals, along with effective learning support material helps sustain the learners interest and involvement.

The HSCS helps foster a spirit of inquiry and exploration in a learner and connects them to their aims. It gives them an opportunity to understand the nuances of various career paths and help them take informed decisions.

Subsequent initiatives will enable a more comprehensive career directory that explores a vast variety of career options available to young learners.

Cap has also implemented this project in government schools, where teachers have been trained in the delivery of these lessons. Such   partnerships help extend the impact of this initiative while enabling the educational institutions to use technology confidently and imaginatively in teaching and learning. 
 
Future Initiatives: Expanding Scale and Reach

CAP is constantly involved in an effort to extend its community based model to newer target groups. While its current ICT initiatives focus on enhancing quality of learning, it intends to focus more on scalability and enhancing the reach as part of its future initiatives.

There is a need to provide continuous education for CAP Foundation pass-outs and other working candidates who wish to acquire new skills and move to well-paying jobs. For this online programmes can be introduced through learning management systems. 

Another possible intervention is e-community centres to address the learning needs of communities and engage them at different educational levels through a tv channel for young people, vocational training, part-time and full-time continuous learning programmes.

 The Internet provides possibilities for real time sharing and management of individual learning plans and portfolios to keep a track of the student's development. Therefore there is a need for a system that enables easy organisation and collection of information from a variety of sources, to foster a better understanding of students. 
 
Challenges in Implementation of ICT

ICT implementation in education faces lot of challenges. A major challenge is the lack of convincing evidence that ICTs are making a radical contribution to efficiency or effectiveness either at national or organisational level. Although technological advances have helped create necessary infrastructure for promotion and delivery of e-Learning, they cannot be solely responsible for the success of this learning approach. The extent to which the teacher and learner can use the technology available to facilitate the learning environment is more important.

The second challenge is that of preparedness. Often facilitators complain of lack of motivation among learners. Online programmes can thus be risky as these demand self-motivated learners. Moreover, there is lack of acceptance on the part of facilitators to use ICT as an educational tool.

Awareness of the opportunities that implementation of ICT entails for learners and employers is very important. Concerns about costs are always raised in discussions related to technology. Start-up costs can be high, but economies of scale are significant. Widespread awareness of e-Learning can draw the masses towards its fold.

The Way Forward

Keeping in mind these challenges, CAP Foundation has made modifications in its ICT policy to overcome the roadblocks. For example, since hardware is expensive and resources limited, CAP volunteers try and adjust with whatever little facilities are available to them.

Since it is natural to have mental blocks about a new teaching/learning method, facilitators are given enough time to acclimatise with the ICT tools. A two-step training, where facilitators are given initial training and then provided continuous support, helps them to be better prepared for using ICT.

Organisations need to work with the realisation that technology is only a tool and no technology can fix a bad educational philosophy or compensate for bad practice. Educational choices have to be made first in terms of objectives, methodologies, and roles of teachers and students before decisions can be made about the appropriate ICT interventions. It is not the medium that makes the difference; it is the way in which the designer and instructor use the features that are available. Emphasis should therefore be on understanding how e-Learning environments can help people learn. 

ICT and Social Inclusion

ICTs hold great promise in empowering individuals and groups from the disadvantaged sections of the society. A fair and concerned humanity requires that the education we provide is made available to a broader range of historically suppressed groups. Educational programmes, language teaching, and training for social and job skills need to be specially designed and delivered to these groups. In contrast with this escalating demand is the lack of preparedness of our education system to even deal with the existing demand.

There are signs that ICTs may be a catalyst for divergence between
groups: helping the rich more than the poor, men more than women and urban dwellers more than those in rural areas. Defying such possibilities, CAP Foundation strives to achieve social and educational inclusion through its multifarious efforts.

References:

  • ICTs for Education: A Reference Handbook, Wadi D. Haddad
  • ICT for Education: Potential and Potency, Wadi D. Haddad, Sonia Jurich
  • Creating a Knowledge-Based Society Through E-Learning in Korea, Hyunjeong Lee
  • Emerging Trends in ICT and Challenges to Educational Planning, Gudmund Hernes
  • e-Learning in Australia and Korea: Learning From Practice, Josie Misko, Jihee Choi, Sun Yee Hong, In Sook Lee
  • Objectives and Strategies for Effective Use of ICTs, Gajarag Dhanarajan
  • The Economics of ICTs and Global Inequality: Convergence or Divergence for Developing Countries? Richard Heeks & Charles Kenny 2002  

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