By Rusen Kumar
NEW DELHI: There has been a continued discussion on 21st Century Skills or Life Skills or Socio-emotional Skills since the start of the millennium, however there has hardly been a consensus on how to measure and define these skills across the country. To provide a solution to this problem, Evaldesign is launching a handbook on Measurement of 21st century skills- Critical Thinking, Creativity, Empathy and Executive Function.
Government has Skill India as one of its flagship program which aims to train over 40 crore people in different skills by 2022 – What aspects of this handbooks can the Government implement to ensure that they achieve the set goal?
The Handbook of 21st Century Skills is a cumulation of extensive research undertaken to define and measure four key skills- Creativity, Critical Thinking, Empathy and Executive Function. These skills have been linked to entrepreneurship- a key component of the Skill India initiative. Further, these skills have been recognized as essential for the evolving economy (and world), thereby making way for not just a larger number of jobs, but also a workforce that is better equipped to meet the needs of the 21st Century.
Akanksha Bapna, Founder & CEO of Evaldesign talks to Rusen Kumar, editor, India CSR Network about the impact the handbook seeks to create in the country and the gaps in impact assessment of the education sector.
How do CSR programmes benefit from the services provided by Evaldesign?
Evaldesign is an Education Research Consulting Firm that focuses on designing and evaluating programs. We believe that evidence and data-driven insights are key to designing and implementing impactful programs. Through our research and design inputs, we work not just with CSR funders, but any individual or organisation wanting to improve the accountability, efficiency and efficacy of their education program.
What are the glaring gaps in the CSR for education and education based programmes?
Identifying where the gaps in education are, and where efforts are really needed is critical to effective CSR. This is where measurement comes into play. Through rigorous measurement we can increase efficiency of programs and policies, reduce duplication of effort, and gain an in-depth understanding of the needs on the ground. For example, we have had project requests to map the education landscape in certain cities in Maharashtra for the sole purpose of identifying where CSR funding can plug the gaps.
What does the launch of the handbook look to achieve in India?
There has been a great deal of conversation in recent years around the importance of developing these 21st Century Skills. However, efforts to outline these skills often involve overlapping competencies and inconsistent, sometimes unfamiliar terminology. Yes, we agree that these skills are important, but do we agree on what these skills mean? The launch of the Handbook is an effort to unpack these skills and outline their components in a mutually exclusive manner so as to create a common platform for researchers, practitioners and policymakers and further enrich the discussion on 21st Century Skills in India and globally.
The handbook also highlights the fact that these skills are overlapping and need to be developed together. It also highlights gaps in measurement of these skills. It is likely that to implement teaching and learning of these skills at scale, standardized assessments may come into the picture and that they may not include some of the immeasurable skills. We need to stay focused on developing newer methods of measuring the skills that are not yet measured.
What has your journey as a woman entrepreneur in the impact assessment space been like?
I always find this as a woman part of the question amusing. My being an entrepreneur is much larger than me being a woman. And I am not saying that biases against women do not exist. I really feel strongly about the fact that other women in our country do not have the kind of freedoms I have. The default state of the world is to take away your freedoms, and it is a daily fight to keep yourself free (and I mean figuratively as well as literally). So the first step is to recognize that you deserve it. And then fight for it. Because no one else is going to come and give you your rights for free.
When the Nirbhaya case happened, I was really saddened to hear some really smart college students (girls) saying that they should not be out late at night. I want them to say that they should have the right to be out and be safe at any point in the day or night.
Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster and whether you are a man or a woman, you need to have the grit to see things through, take disappointment and the lows. So having a supportive set of family and friends has been a blessing. Evaldeign is now in its 5th year. I personally am a little oblivious to gender related biases, primarily because if you know your work and make sense, people listen to you. As any enterprise or startup, there are ups and downs, the field is always a challenge and consistently throws up surprises. But three things have helped. The vision of the firm to make people think – this keeps the team aligned completely. The focus on education and evaluations and not getting distracted with too many ideas. And third, the attention to quality. The last has helped us get repeat clients and grow without any kind of marketing strategy.
What is your 5-year vision for the company?
Evaluations are hard – as in the number of factors that are involved in implementing a large scale evaluation are countless. So the problem is how do we grow and have an impact at scale. We are currently in the process of researching methods to automate parts of evaluation in education, so that many more organizations can take our tools and use them, without the intense consulting that is currently the model of operation. Then we just come in to provide insights on the basis of the evaluation. We are already getting established as a good education evaluation firm. We want to be THE place to go when someone needs to understand education impact in 5 years!
About Akanksha Bapna: Akanksha Bapna has worked extensively on K-12 Education, bridging the gap between policy, research and practice. In the past, Akanksha has worked with the Abdul Latif Jameel – Poverty Action Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to build education research capacity for the Haryana State Government, Department of School Education, where she set up a large research team for in-house research by the Department. She was a Senior Research Fellow at India’s top Think Tank – Centre for Civil Society, where she led the organization’s education research agenda. Her focus has been the efficient use of public funds and increased equity and quality for education. Akanksha has extensive analytical and quantitative experience in experimental design, both in the field of science as well as in the social sciences. Akanksha holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge and a Masters’ degree in International Education Policy from Harvard University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.
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