In a groundbreaking collaboration, the British Council and Microsoft have united to tackle the pressing issue of English language skills among marginalized youth in India. The two formidable organizations have signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) to empower over 400,000 individuals aged 18-25 across 17 Indian states under the “English Skills for Youth” project. The project aims to impart technology and language training to the youth, enhancing their employability prospects. This joint effort aims to empower the youth, particularly women, and open doors to educational and cultural opportunities.
In an exclusive interview with jagranjosh.com, Ms Gauri Puranik, Head, English Programmes India, British Council and Navtez Bal, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India enlighten how this partnership will train the marginalized youth and improve their employability.
Excerpts from interview
Gauri Puranik (Head, English Programmes India, British Council) & Navtez Bal (Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India)
1. Can you tell us about the partnership between the British Council and Microsoft under the 'English Skills for Youth' project? What led to this collaboration, and what are the key objectives of the programme?
Microsoft Philanthropies and the British Council were exploring ways to collaborate for improving life opportunities for young people and found synergies to integrate an English skills development module into Microsoft Philanthropies' existing projects. As a result, the 'English Skills for Youth' project has been co-developed, aimed at enhancing employability opportunities for the youth by improving English language proficiency, communication skills, and soft skills among youth aged 18-25, the majority of who are women beneficiaries.
2. How did the co-development process of the programme, integrating English and Tech skills for enhancing employability, took place? Could you share some insights into the collaborative efforts and the key elements of the curriculum?
The British Council and Microsoft Philanthropies have co-developed the ‘English Skills for Youth’ programme which will enable students to develop their English language skills by participating in after-college peer group clubs. The programme will be integrated into state government engineering colleges linked to Microsoft’s existing NGO/partner skilling projects for marginalised youth. By adopting this innovative approach, the project seeks to benefit 60,000 youth and 600 faculty members during the initial three-year pilot phase, with a long-term goal of reaching 400,000 young people engaged in Microsoft Philanthropies funded projects. The programme will focus on building English communication skills and soft skills that will enable students to present themselves confidently at job interviews and/or sustain their jobs in companies with a global customer base.
The beneficiaries will also be equipped with essential underpinning skills, including collaboration, critical thinking, soft skills, and leadership abilities, offering a holistic development plan for the youth. These skills are crucial for improving employment prospects and facilitating further education opportunities. British Council serves as the knowledge and partial implementation partner for the English component of the programme. The programme will initially include three NGO/partner organisations of Microsoft: Edunet Foundation, NIIT Foundation, and Data Security Council of India (DSCI).
The project has been designed to cover three key aspects:
3. The programme aims to benefit over 400,000 youth in India, particularly those in marginalised communities. Could you provide details about the geographical spread of the programme across India? Which states are being covered and how are the beneficiaries selected?
The programme aims to enhance the employability skills of young people across 17 Indian states. During the initial three-year pilot phase, the programme will be implemented in engineering colleges across linked to Microsoft Philanthropies current projects in Odisha, Karnataka, Telangana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.
After the pilot phase, the programme will be scaled to more states, including Delhi NCR, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Bihar. Overall, we aim to work with 600 colleges.
Listed below are the names of a select few colleges included in the pilot study:
4. Post-completion of the programme, what employment opportunities and job guarantees can the participants expect? How will you ensure that the skills acquired during the programme translate into tangible employment prospects for the youth?
Partner NGO’s working with Microsoft have set employment targets under this programme. On average, the existing partner NGOs aim to secure employment for 80% of the students. British Council and Microsoft Philanthropies are in the process of finalising the success parameters for the programme. During the programme, British Council will help students enhance their English communication skills and soft skills, thereby complementing their technical skill set and providing them with a competitive advantage. This will enable the NGOs to achieve their employment targets.
5. The programme highlights a focus on women learners and aims to empower marginalised youth, especially women. Could you elaborate on any specific customisations or initiatives within the programme to address the unique needs and challenges faced by women learners?
The programme has been carefully designed to provide students, including women, with maximum flexibility in accessing the content and learning at their own pace. Moreover, the programme content has been curated to raise awareness about gender-related issues and create an environment where students can openly discuss such topics. To ensure the programme is inclusive, we have enlisted the expertise of an inclusion consultant who will review the sample content and intervention model, to ensure inclusion-related issues are addressed appropriately.
Gauri Puranik (Head, English Programmes India, British Council)
1. How has the British Council contributed to the co-development of the 'English Skills for Youth' programme? What role does the organisation play in fostering cultural relations and educational opportunities within this collaboration?
British Council has played a crucial role in shaping the 'English Skills for Youth' programme in partnership with Microsoft Philanthropies. As a knowledge and partial implementation partner, we have leveraged our expertise in English language teaching, learning, and assessment to design the English component of the programme. To arrive at the model, we conducted a detailed scoping study which assessed needs across all stakeholder and beneficiary groups. Findings from the scoping study have helped inform the design of the project. Our team has worked closely with Microsoft CSR officials to develop high-quality, contextualised materials, resources and methodologies that focus on building English language proficiency, communication skills, and soft skills among the target beneficiary groups.
We believe that language and culture are intertwined, and we aim to promote cross-cultural understanding, diversity, and inclusivity.
2. How does the 'English Skills for Youth' programme align with the broader objectives and initiatives of the British Council in India? Are there any future plans to expand or replicate similar collaborative projects to further enhance employability and skills development among Indian youth?
At the heart of our work in English, culture, and education is the commitment to empower young individuals, with life skills that enhance their employment/ further education opportunities. Our aim is to provide opportunities for individuals in areas where English and other language education can help build resilience, develop agency and voice, and support academic and career goals. As leaders in English language expertise, we strive to establish global standards and improve the quality of English language teaching, learning, and assessment. Our large-scale English language training programmes are specifically designed to support young people, with a particular focus on girls, by providing them with the necessary English language, digital, and life skills to make informed life choices.
To achieve impact, we co-develop projects with our partners, considering all stakeholders, to arrive at practical and sustainable solutions. We have already partnered with 24 state governments to positively impact teaching skills and classroom pedagogy. These include the governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh, among others.
In future, we are open to working with like-minded partners and creating shared spaces for language learning.
Navtez Bal (Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India)
1. As the Executive Director of Microsoft, how has Microsoft's Corporate Social Responsibility (MSCSR) played a role in supporting the 'English Skills for Youth' programme? Could you elaborate on the initiatives undertaken by Microsoft to address the critical need for English skills among young learners in socio-economically marginalized communities?
Microsoft's commitment to bridging the skills gap and fostering inclusive economic and societal progress in the digital economy extends beyond digital skills training. Recognizing the importance of holistic training content, including soft skills, for the jobseekers of tomorrow, we are working with the British Council on the “English Skills for Youth” program towards embedding English language and communication skills into the tech skilling and livelihood programs of Microsoft India Philanthropies. The objective of this program, implemented through our non-profit partner Sakshi, is to empower underserved young women/girls undergoing our in-depth skilling programs for career pathways in Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, and Cybersecurity with language and soft skills.
The “English Skills for Youth” program emerged from insights we gathered through a project currently being undertaken by our university and industry hiring team. The project focuses on hiring in Indian vernacular/multilingual to support the challenges faced by youth due to a lack of communication skills. Through this project, Microsoft is aiming to support students and experienced talent coming from Tier 3 and 4 engineering colleges who may not have English fluency.
We conducted surveys with our interns and recent hires to understand if they would like to have been interviewed in another language other than English. 84% responded that they’d have preferred to have been interviewed in another language, in addition to English. Through the vernacular/multilingual project, we are evaluating ways in which we can incorporate Indian languages for testing and interviewing so that we can hire and onboard talent with sound tech proficiency but with basic English communication skills.
We are also volunteering for a 40-hour Business English Mentoring program in partnership with LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Philanthropies to enhance the interviews outcomes of more than 30 underserved girls from rural colleges, undergoing CyberShikshaa for Educators, in partnership with ICT Academy.
2. In terms of technology integration, what specific initiatives or tools has Microsoft developed or implemented to enhance the English language skills of the participants? How do these tools leverage technology to provide an engaging and effective learning experience?
Building a holistic, sustainable skilling ecosystem will require a collective effort from various stakeholders, including government bodies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and enterprises. Robust partnerships enable these entities to come together, pool their expertise, and leverage resources to create comprehensive skilling programs that address diverse needs and challenges.
The “English Skills for Youth” program will be integrated into rural engineering colleges linked to our existing NGO and partner skilling projects for the underserved. In the initial phase, our collaboration will involve working with Edunet Foundation, NIIT Foundation, and Data Security Council of India (DSCI). We have been working with the Edunet Foundation to equip 5,000 youths in Odisha with essential IT skills while our collaboration with the NIIT Foundation aims to provide IT skills training to 60,000 students across India. Furthermore, our association with DSCI focuses on empowering women in science and engineering with cybersecurity skills through the CyberShikshaa initiative. Ensuring proficient English skills is vital for students to secure jobs in companies with a global customer base. Our primary objective is to enable these students by equipping them with the necessary English and soft skills required to excel in their professional careers.
About the Expert
Head, English Programmes India, British Council
Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India