Quest, an acronym for Quality Education and Skills Training, combines technology to enhance the quality and relevance of education and work transitions of disadvantaged youth, their aim is to address the challenges of 21st-century learning and jobs.
Thirty-six-year-old Aakash Sethi, Founder and Executive Director of Quest Alliance, makes an important point when he says, “With more than half the population under the age of 25, India is capable of great agility. But a disconnected education and employment sector leave many youth unemployed. There is a need for a clear shift in how people think learning should take place and to try new methods and approaches that are centred on the learner. For this, technology is key in enabling youth to learn and stay connected, and is the power to bridge the education system and the opportunities of our emerging economy.”
With digital technology holding an overwhelming capability to scale and sustain various initiatives in education and skill development, Quest Alliance has taken charge of bringing online technology to the fore and make learning playful and impactful, making it an enriching experience for both the learners and facilitators.
The formative years
Aakash, an economics graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, recalls how Quest was drawn out of his own experiences of disenchantment with an education system that just won’t accept failure as a result, blaming the student for it. “I failed in ninth grade because I skipped classes. I just didn’t enjoy school. That was a tough phase in my life, because when you fail, in the Indian context you are looked down upon in some sense. I had to work hard even to get my classmates to accept me as a basketball player,” he says.
“But that’s when I really started to get involved in other things; getting into sports, technology, basically doing more than just academics. I had a lot of time to do this because I knew the curriculum back to front. By the time I was in Class X, I got the usual 75 percent to become a decent student and a national basketball player. I feel the biggest lessons one can draw are from one’s failures, not from the successes.”
This philosophy, a fire to change the face of education, the way the system functions and an experience in developing and executing youth development programmes having worked for AIESEC, and International Youth Foundation (IYF) was what percolated into shaping Quest’s culture.
Aakash founded Quest Alliance in 2005 as a programme of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help educators and educational Institutions drive the use of technology in teaching and learning. In 2009, after the IYF mandate ended, Quest Alliance established itself as a not-for-profit trust that focusses on research-led innovation and advocacy in the field of teaching and learning.
Ever since, though based in Bengaluru, Quest Alliance has demonstrated and enabled scalable and replicable solutions in educational and vocational training in 25 states across the country.
Engaging classrooms equals empowered learners
Quest gives utmost importance to building a teacher’s capacity to make classrooms engaging, knowing that engaging classrooms makes for empowered learners. “We recognise that only by involving educators, civil society, industry, and the government can we create environments conducive to self-learning, so that today’s youth can find and create the purpose for themselves. It makes our efforts scalable and adaptable,” says Aakash.
Raising funds through CSR contributions and initiatives of numerous corporates along with reaching out to individual donors through online campaigns once or twice a year, Quest uses diverse digital learning tools like tablets with learning resources for teachers, portable projectors and speakers to enable the process of continuous learning for teachers and enhance academic support available for them. Currently, they are reaching teachers and educators across 200 middle schools through this.
Programmes fuelled by research and driven by innovation and technology
Thus far, Quest has designed scalable and replicable solutions primarily across three programmes: the Anandshala or School Dropout Prevention Program was launched in 2011 in partnership with the Bihar Education Project council across 113 schools of Samastipur District. This programme aims to ensure that every child stays, engages and learns in school by creating a conducive learning environment where students get an opportunity for creative self-expression.
The programme zeroes in on improving the implementation of government policies around quality learning in Indian schools. On a larger level, through advocacy and capacity building, it attempts to foster a responsive education system.
Since 2012, Anandshala has empowered 1,000 government schools, reaching out to over 2,00,000 children of Class V-VIII in the Samastipur District of Bihar. It has impacted 4,000 teachers and 1,000 headmasters, engaged 250 government functionaries and developed a cadre of 20 resource persons.
In a shift to creating a visible change on the working front, the myQuest programme focusses on skills and career development for the youth, along with improving facilitation skills for trainers using a blended learning approach. “With a powerful combination of digital self-learning and classroom activities supported by innovative material and strategies, MyQuest motivates trainers to learn new facilitation skills, while enabling students to build tangible, market-oriented skills, discover confidence and self-awareness so that they connect with the right careers and achieve their dreams of success,” shares Aakash.
MyQuest benefits youth between the ages of 17 and 30 in both rural and urban contexts, primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds who are in urgent need of employment and skills. Since 2009, this programme has trained 1,00,000 youth and engaged 2,000 trainers, across 25 States with 18 team members.
Finally, the Quest 2 Learn programme was developed to curate and disseminate knowledge. A unique incubation and discovery space, it engages in identifying user needs, researching techniques and analysing trends in learning. In addition, it develops new toolkits that bring about systemic change in models that link learning and livelihoods while sharing its discoveries through community events.
Lakhs of dreams secured
Since 2005, the impact Quest Alliance has been able to generate has been tremendous. Operating in over eight regions in India their network of 7,000 educators and teachers trained in making the classroom a more interactive and engaging space, have managed to deploy over 200 hours of blended curriculum.
Their team that has expanded from four individuals to roughly a hundred today, has enriched the lives of over four lakh students in government schools through programmes that leverage technology, arts, sports and body movement.
Not stopping at just this, from the 1,40,000 youth impacted; 17,000 of them have been trained and placed in jobs in customer interaction, sales roles and entrepreneurial skills setting them up to start or grow their own businesses.
Quest’s next step is to constantly evolve, says Aakash. In light of this, they have launched Quest Hub – a one-stop shop that empowers educators to engage with blended learning strategies,materials, and networks to develop 21st century learners. They have also launched a Quest App on Playstore with 300 hours of digital content along with Trainer Tribe — an online platform for trainers to connect, learn and grow across the country irrespective of their languages, state or domain.
Looking to the future Aakash says, “Our goal is to set new benchmarks in the school-to-work journey; we need to do this together. We crafted our theory of change and laid the foundation to reach one million children and youth in India by 2020. To reach this we look for more CSR investments, organisations and individuals to partner with us and leverage our toolkits, work with us and contribute their time.”