Back to school – a reintroduction

Hello CASI enthusiasts,
I’m reintroducing myself since it’s been over a year since I last posted to the CASI blog.  My name is Kristi Littleton and I’m a recent Penn grad from the class of 2015.  I interned with Leap Skills Academy in the summer of 2014 and now I am currently working full time for the same start-up.

For those who may not know Leap’s story, it is a skill-development company founded in 2013 with the mission to help youth from non-tier 1 towns to achieve their career aspirations.  It mainly does this by providing skills training to college students and young people who have just entered the workforce.  The training generally consists of soft-skill training, basic IT skills, business communication (in English), and recruitment preparation.  These skills sound like pretty basic common-knowledge things that we might know intuitively, but surprisingly they are not as ubiquitous as you might think. Imagine that you hired a fresh college graduate in the IT industry and asked them to help out a customer with a problem that they’re having, but your fresh college graduate had no idea how to talk to the customer and so the customer got frustrated and left.  Or imagine that you are a recruiter looking for fresh graduates to work in the retail industry, but all of the resumes that you are looking at are formatted weirdly and have serious grammar mistakes.  You realize that none of the candidates would have the language skills required for the job.  Language isn’t the only problem either.  It may be a lack of confidence that makes it difficult for your new employees to give their opinions during a team meeting and then you end up missing out on important feedback from your teammates.  These are a few examples of the challenging situations that actually do happen.  A lot.  And it’s impacting employers because they cannot find qualified individuals to work for them.  At the same time, it impacts students who graduate from college and expect to be able to find a job, but instead are turned down time after time.  This is the skills gap that we are trying to overcome slowly but surely.

We are currently working in two small cities, Yamuna Nagar and Ambala, in the state of Haryana (located to the North of Delhi).  Skill development is a very hot topic in Indian politics today, so if you read Indian news you are likely to hear a lot about it.  Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has included skill development prominently in his plans to promote India’s economic development.  Under the current 12th five-year plan, the government hopes to have 50 million skilled workers by 2017.  This seems like a daunting task, which is why the government has started several initiatives to encourage the private sphere to tackle this problem.  Organizations like Leap have started to pop up across India as a result of these initiatives.  Like the private education system in the U.S., many of these organizations have low-quality programs that are not creating the impact that they promise.  There are also some organizations that are delivering on their promises and bringing real change.  The distinction between the two is difficult to manage and the poor-quality companies tend to give a bad name to the entire lot.  So much so, that I recall hearing someone say that education start-ups in India are a joke.  And what a sad joke to hear considering the many young dreams and aspirations involved.
Well, quality is not something you can necessarily tell by just looking at a website or a brochure.  The best way to determine whether something is real is to see it with your own eyes.  And so I walked into a Leap classroom last summer, not really sure what to expect, but trusting the incredible people from CASI that helped me to get there. I was relieved to see that the trainers were invested in the students and would go out of class time and out of billing hours to help them achieve their goals. They showed an above and beyond dedication to the craft of education and to the dreams of their students.  I was so sold by the integrity of the organization that I came back a year later to help further Leap’s mission.
I work as the “Manager of Content and Learning” which discarding the fancy title, basically means that I help build and review Leap’s lesson plans as well as track the quality of Leap’s programs.  It’s a daunting task for a twenty-two year old fresh out of college with only a bit of experience playing recess games and teaching summer school with elementary-aged children.  But perhaps it is this enormous challenge that makes working for Leap such an exciting adventure for me.  I can’t think of another place where I would have as much freedom to explore new ideas in education and to be involved in the educational process on so many different levels. Moreover, I get to be in India, which is exciting enough by itself!
I look forward to sharing some more of my experiences during my post-grad experience in India with the wonderful CASI family!
All the best for now,
Kristi

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About Kristi Littleton

University of Pennsylvania Class of 2015, majored in Biology. Works at Leap Skills Academy in Delhi, India.