A Framework for Bridging the Education Divide in India

Access and Inclusion March 07, 2019

The advancements in technology have been instrumental in revolutionizing education across the world, raising literacy rates, lifting millions out of poverty and providing them with better job opportunities. While transformational this phenomenon has largely benefitted the developed economies with advanced infrastructure.

The majority of the developing and under-developed countries with large rural populations lack robust technology infrastructure and investment, thus lag behind in education. According to the World Bank data, least developed countries in the Asian and African regions still have a rural population of over 60% (1). With governments focusing more on the urban population with better infrastructure in order to propel growth, rural populations in these countries have failed to garner the required attention, exacerbating the education and skills gap.

While many international organizations have been involved at different levels across various developing and under-developed economies, they have failed to establish a comprehensive framework addressing the root of the education and unemployment problem at a large scale.

Taking the case of India, a developing country with a large rural population, it also faces challenges in regards to education and unemployment. According to a latest report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), around 11 million employed Indians lost their jobs last year, with over 80% of the job losses in the rural region alone (2).

AISECT has been working at the grassroot levels in India for over three decades, focusing on the upliftment of the rural masses through skills and ICT-based education. We recognized the potential of ICT and how it can be used to bridge the education divide in India, when the technology was fairly new to the world. So far, we have trained over 2 million people and created employment opportunities for more than 75,000 people within our network, which has a presence all across the country.

Around the time we launched AISECT, Rural India was unable to attract Government funding or donor support for the penetration of ICT-based education. Therefore it was imperative to make the AISECT Centres self-sustainable. This challenge was addressed by involving the local communities; they helped us identify industry skills which were more suited to their region. They also helped us understand how language, lack of electricity, and improper infrastructure could act as a barrier. By leveraging local insights we were able to design a well-tailored curriculum in their local language and reach a wider audience. We also pioneered the “Multipurpose IT Centre” model, which not only offers education and skills training but also utilizes the same infrastructure to offer services like e-governance and banking, thereby achieving self sustainability.

The majority of people in the rural areas belong to marginalized groups in economically challenging situations. In order to train these people it was important to adopt flexible timings at our centres so they did not have to miss work, which would have a very high opportunity cost. Later, with better internet connectivity in the rural areas we leveraged the opportunity to introduce Massive Open Online Courses for distant learners. Through AISECTMOOCS.com, we have till date provided free diploma and certificate courses in English and Hindi to 12,908 students with an aim to strengthen the online education ecosystem.

Realizing the importance of placement-linked skill development for a holistic success of our endeavors, we also assisted the training of youth in getting entry level jobs in their local milieu through online (Rojgarmantra.com) and offline (Rojgar Melas) placement initiatives.

With the majority of universities situated in urban areas, students from the rural areas were forced to migrate in search of better education and job opportunities. In order to strengthen the rural higher education system we established Central India’s first private university and the only one in a tribal area, along with several other universities in remote areas of the country. Through the AISECT Group of Universities, we have made world-class research oriented education accessible to students in semi-urban and rural parts of the country.

The Government of India launched the Skill India Mission in 2015 with a goal to skill over 40 crore people across different skills by 2022. AISECT has partnered with various state and central government bodies to help India reach its skilling target.

The AISECT model has the potential to be implemented across other developing countries and changing the lives of a large number of people. A successful implementation of the model based on local needs can help create a large skilled workforce and bridge the rural-urban divide across regions, thereby creating a more equitable world.

(1) https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=XL
(2) https://www.cmie.com/kommon/bin/sr.php?kall=warticle&dt=2019-01-08%2009:28:37&msec=666