Your Quest starts here

January 13, 2020 03:00 PM
Mr. Aakash Sethi Image
Aakash Sethi has carved a niche for himself in the education technology space. He is credited for stewarding Quest Alliance, a not-for-profit organization (NPO) that has transformed learning ecosystems through education technology, capacity building and collaborations to build 21st century skills for learners and facilitators.
 
At a glance, with 35 partnerships, the NPO has put together 300 hours of digital content that has brought 10,00,000 youth and educators into its fold.
 
The statistics are impressive and the numbers may be soaring high, but surprisingly, a personal failure had kick-started this journey.
 
By Kavitha Srinivasa
 
By 2023, Quest Alliance plans to impact four million learners and facilitators across the country. Technology is in the crux of this vision.
 

The Beginning


As a schoolboy, Aakash enjoyed playing basketball in his hometown Ahmedabad and probably would have remained a happy-go-lucky boy.
 
Ironically, when he failed in his class 9 exams, it stood him in good stead. In true sportsmanship, he learned to cope with failure as he watched his classmates move on. As he put it, “I became more resilient. I could cope with the emotions.” But then, he didn’t want to shift to another school as he quite liked the extracurricular activities that the school had to offer.
 
While pursuing an Economics Degree at St. Xavier’s College in Ahmedabad, Aakash joined a youth organization. This gave him scope to become the trainer that he always wanted to be and motivate youngsters to become socially responsible. This led him on to a Summit on World Sustainability in South Africa in 2002. “That’s where I saw both sides of the coin. One side had corporates talking about investing in youth. On the other side were youngsters trying to find their bearings. I felt both ends should be bridged,” said Aakash.
 

From Corporate to CSR


Aakash felt it is necessary to be a changemaker in order to bring in the desired change in the world. He entered the corporate world, where he had stints in India and Middle East. He learned firsthand how investments are strategized into corporate social responsibility (CSR).
 
More revelations happened when he got into the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and attended their conference in Egypt. Some involvement from his side helped them establish their presence in India. This gave Aakash an opportunity to begin Quest Alliance in 2005. This is part of IYF, with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The initiative is for educators and educational institutions to use technology in teaching and learning.
 
He gained an insight into skill development for a facilitator through a computer-aided project on education. Quest’s Digital Lifestyle kits helped equip NGO trainers and teachers of classes 9 to 12. “Skill programmes at that time were not so mature or focused. They were mostly in MS Word format with PowerPoint presentations,” added Aakash.  
 
When the project ended in 2009, Aakash had found his calling. Quest Alliance, an acronym for Quality Education and Skills Training, was registered as an NPO in 2009 in Bangalore. As its CEO, Aakash took to philanthropy full time.
 

The Quest for Technology


Quest uses technology to make education relevant to the requirements of the 21st-century learning and employment. It is crucial because over half the country’s population is less than 25 years of age and they need to be employable. “We conduct two-day workshops to scale up the digital learning outreach. First timers are handheld till they get the hang of using laptops and smartphones,” explained Siddharth Bountra, Sales & Marketing Manager at Quest Alliance. 
 
Some brainstorming revealed that technology can be leveraged for education, employment and entrepreneurship. Self-driven learning for life is the basis of the NPO’s goal. This happens through interactive digital lessons whereby learning modules use digital tools for activity-based learning. “To break down the process, tablets are loaded with learning resources, backed by portable projectors and speakers to improve learning outcomes. Digital lessons have e-facilitators for self-learning,” reasoned Bountra. 
 
The intent is to engage learners and educators. “Students have good communication skills. They are extremely confident when it comes to customer interaction and teamwork,” expressed Anuraag Srivastava, Diamant Triumph, MetallPlastic Pvt. Ltd. Scalable programmes have resulted in a diverse outreach. Quest, in partnership with the Bihar Education Project Council, had launched the School Dropout Prevention Programme called Anandshala across 113 schools of Samastipur district in Bihar. It uses data as a critical tool to create a more responsive education system and drives advocacy. Attendance levels have improved as it has reached out to 4,00,000 Children.
 
The NPO’s Secondary Schools Programme is to make technology accessible for girls in government secondary schools. This is for them to make informed career and life choices using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and coding. An open learning space, ChiliPili Loka, is thrown open for discussions, workshops and performances as well. Job-readiness forms the core of MyQuest, which uses digital self-learning material in its experiential group activities and classroom sessions. Trainers imbibe new facilitation skills which helps develop the students’ market-oriented skills.
 
Quest has developed a digital life skills tool kit which is a self-learning digital toolkit that helps trainers instruct young people in critical life skills. This evolved into a flagship programme called MasterCoach, intended to hone employment skills. MasterCoach facilitates teaching skills that happens through workshops and online modules. Developed in-house, the course content is interactive. As users browse through the content, animated questions pop up. The thrust is on domain knowledge and digital skills, along with critical thinking and problem solving abilities. The other key programme is Trainer Tribe, an online platform for trainers to connect. A community of like-minded teachers comes under this wing. So far, 3,000 teachers have shared their learnings.
 
These learning programmes have resulted in a diverse outreach that happens through state government and corporate partnerships. With time, the NPO has attracted CSR contributions along with individual donors. Quite understandably, Quest Alliance has been recognised as one of the best NGOs to work for in India in 2017 by Great Place To Work Institute. This recognition is to do with the fact that the NGO has created a positive experience for employees with great workplace culture, along with people management practice and a comprehensive employee survey. Of the 26 NGOs that undertook Great Place to Work, Quest Alliance has made it to the top 10 list.
 
“The next version of Quest Alliance will be ready by August 2020. Next year, the partnership circle is expected to increase to 15. As per the five-year strategy, it is intended to create a curriculum of all programmes,” summed up Bountra. 
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The Quest App is available on Playstore. This is an anytime, anywhere learning device offering interactive content on a multi-device gamified platform. It can also be deployed in offline settings through RaspberryPi-based server. So far, 1,90,000 users have gone through this programme.

Its courses extend to career skills, communicative English, entrepreneurship skills, life skills and digital literacy. What’s interesting is that trainers can also create customized courses by uploading their own training material to create a holistic learning experience for the learners.

That’s how it’s clicked with people. “Quest App courses were interesting, and it focused on different aspects of life and career, and the importance of communication and digital literacy to succeed at a workplace. It stuck with me,” said Halida Ahmed, a user from Guwahati.

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