Educating young India with 21st Century Skills for the future workforce

Workplaces are increasingly becoming digital and more than 75% of future jobs require Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M). The transformation of the education technology landscape to meet this required skill force, is unquestionable.

According to a study by HSBC, 51% of Indian parents said that the ultimate goal they wanted for their child is to build successful careers. And, when it came to the choice of subjects, the largest number of Indian parents wanted their child to study engineering. Observably, most of the ed-tech startups launched in the past few years either focus on online tuitions or on cracking entrance tests.

While these meet the expectation of parents, the big questions are – is the Indian education technology sector creating solutions to prepare the next generation with the requisite skills for the future workforce? What are the gaps that have to be met in 2017, to ensure that effective workforce is created for this growing economy?

Innovation mindset

To teach 21st century skills like innovation, critical thinking, collaborative learning and problem solving, requires a revolutionary change from within the education industry. In most schools, rote learning is the norm and failure to score marks is penalized heavily (in school and at home). Teachers need professional development, methods need change from teacher-led classes to student-led, from telling children what to do, to enabling them to think and create solutions, from textbook learning to hands-on practical experiences. In the U.S, at High Tech High, ninth graders must develop a new business concept—imagining a new product or service, writing a business and marketing plan, and developing a budget. The teams present their plans to a panel of business leaders who assess their work. At Robotix Learning Solutions, Chennai, kids think of real world problems, e.g. pollution and think of technology they can create to solve this problem. Students create a robotic model that clears garbage or code an animation program that can be used as a tool to educate the community on the effects of pollutions and the need to clear waste effectively.

21st Century Skills

To succeed in the 21st century workforce, children need to be equipped with 21st century skills such as problem solving, computational thinking and innovation, so that they become the creators of technology, not mere consumers of it.

Research shows that one of the most effective ways to learn problem solving and computational thinking is through robotics and coding. With majority of current jobs and future jobs falling under the S.T.E.M fields it is crucial to include robotics and coding into school curriculum. Recently, the Australian Government introduce Coding in all schools as part of the national curriculum.

Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of Khan Academy, the on-line learning non profit company said of the importance of coding “It’s the kind of skill that people across many industries can benefit from, because programming helps us automate and speed up tasks. I know of a firefighter who programmed an Android app to help his team fight fires faster, and of a psychologist that’s using programming to study how little kids learn about the world. As a kid, I used programming to assign chores to my siblings!”

15-year-old Kenneth Shinozuka created a sock device with sensors controlled by a smart phone to keep his grandfather, an Alzheimer patient, safe. 11-year-old Kylie Simonds created a portable IV machine backpack for kids undergoing chemotherapy and transfusions.

Early exposure to hands-on project based learning, through robotics and coding, will create thinkers and innovators.

The Urban-Rural Divide

“India lives in villages” said Mahatma Gandhi. This rings true even today, with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reporting that 53.7% of India is poor. Access to good quality education is a huge challenge in rural  India.

When we survey some ed-tech solutions available, they are expensive, proprietary, only available through laptops, mobile phones, computers and through the Internet. While some parents in cities spend Rs.12,000 a year on tuitions,  Rs. 45,000 on a robot and Rs. 6,000 for STEM classes, parents in rural areas are still battling with access to good quality basic education. Initiatives like Google’s Internet Saathi, Dharavi Girls Code by Nawneet Ranjan and Indian Girls Code by Robotix Learning Solutions are aiming to bridge this rural-urban divide in education by providing digital literacy to all.

The education market is estimated to be $70 billion in 2017. With increasing penetration of mobile phones and Internet, the increase in education technology is inevitable but the type of education technology introduced along with focus on skill development is the need of the hour and the challenge is to ensure that no one is left behind.

Aditi Prasad is a winner of the Digital Women Awards and co-founder of Robotix Learning Solutions. She is based in Chennai. Views expressed are her own.

Feature Image Credit: Plum.IO