India’s economy is the envy of many nations, averaging 7% GDP annual growth for many years, but how does this rising star give its young people a rounded education balancing technical attainment and soft skills, to help students and workplace recruits thrive in a fast-changing world?
While the country’s leading employers grumble that graduates aren‘t ready for work (a common problem in growing economies worldwide) many observers believe that the underlying problem is the sheer weight of expectation placed on the country’s young people – to compete for jobs and succeed at work, irrespective of their background.
As a result, school and university studies in India frequently prioritise exam grades instead of ensuring that teenagers develop subtle soft skills to get by at university, work and socially. Small wonder that data show that India’s young people are unhappier than in most countries. Delhi’s city government typifies changing attitudes among the country’s leaders, having introduced mindfulness lessons as part of a wider, state-sponsored ‘happiness’ curriculum. But even as India’s younger population reaches working age, deeper and more subtle soft skills instruction is needed, especially as technology continues not only to change the dynamics of the workplace but also to automate away many of today’s manual tasks altogether.
Amid these powerful forces, how are Indian schools to give young people the soft skills that help them adapt to and contribute in new workplaces and study environments? And how are schools to embed this new soft skills teaching into timetables already bursting with academic subjects and co-curricular activities?
Compared to the certainties of academic subjects, teaching soft skills is often regarded as challenging: these subjects are hard to define and even harder to practise. But successive research has revealed a growing appetite among employers, parents and academics in leading economies, for a greater focus on this kind of skills learning – delivered in and out of school hours.
This need for life skills is increasingly being addressed by flexible online learning, whose capabilities are being transformed year on year. With the inexorable rise of gaming and virtual reality in entertainment products as well as emerging education technologies, students naturally embrace the virtual world’s learning possibilities. And today’s online learning tools are a world away from the one-dimensional e-learning products that India’s teachers themselves experienced as students in the early Internet years.
We believe that the latest edtech innovations, such as EtonX’s bespoke virtual classrooms, with new technical capabilities and remarkable user accessibility, provide a further breakthrough – bringing soft skills into their curriculum. By using the latest WebRTC protocols, these new classrooms can be accessed via a browser without additional software downloads. These step changes in learning are based on improvements in video streaming and other technologies that enable structured but sympathetic teaching that replicates, and even improves upon, the experience of being in a physical classroom.
We believe there are five key advantages when using a virtual classroom over a physical setting for teaching these crucial soft skills.
1. Teacher-student interaction
First, in a virtual classroom’s live video streaming, our virtual classroom ensures more natural teacher-student interactions. All students are visible to their tutor and to one another, which encourages participation and peer-to-peer learning. This novel classroom allows easy and genuine communication between young people in different countries and backgrounds, enabling them to participate in a mix of in-class conversations, role plays and debates.
2. Breakout rooms
The second advantage is that virtual breakout rooms are more private and more effective for learning and developing ideas than their real-world counterparts — they prevent eavesdropping on other groups.
3. Increased confidence
Third, we have found that even shy students are willing to role-play in a virtual classroom because (almost paradoxically) the screen acts as a distancing mechanism, making these exercises seem less threatening than they would do in person. Teenagers can acquire and, crucially, practise skills, such as how to give a speech, active listening or handling a tricky conversation.
4. Practice for the workplace
A fourth benefit of this online virtual environment is that it gives teenagers a taste of interactions such as video conference calls that are routine in university courses and workplace training around the world but rarely encountered as school. This practical element will build students confidence and stature in the eyes of prospective employers.
5. Cultural learning
Fifth, these virtual classrooms allow pupils to be exposed to greater diversity, enabling them to study alongside a broader range of people or different cultures from around the world.
As a result of these capabilities, seen in EtonX’s Future Skills Programme of live online soft skills classes, students can develop job-focused soft skills learning that is woven into school timetables and co-curricular activities. With this leap forward from previous e-learning capabilities to humanised technology environments, India’s colleges can now prepare young people to succeed – however much their world changes.