Leapfrogging India’s skilling agenda with generative AI - Hindustan Times
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Leapfrogging India’s skilling agenda with generative AI

May 24, 2024 03:56 PM IST

This article is authored by Ved Mani Tiwari, Sagar Goel and Sriramprasad Rangarajan.

Bill Gates recently said, “generative artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to change the world in ways that we can’t even imagine. It has the power to create new ideas, products, and services that will make our lives easier, more productive, and more creative.” This technological innovation, which has transformed industries across sectors such as entertainment, banking, and technology, among others, is now extending its considerable influence on education and skilling.

Artificial intelligence.(Thinkstock)
Artificial intelligence.(Thinkstock)

The imperative for governments and organisations to upskill and reskill their workforce is undeniable. Yet traditional methods of learning and development often prove insufficient; they are relatively costly, struggle to keep pace with the swiftly evolving demands of modern skills, and difficult to personalise. However, the emergence of generative AI may offer solutions to these issues. By using detailed learner data, these platforms can tailor content to individuals’ specific needs, learning styles, and career trajectories. Moreover, generative AI technologies can ensure continuous content evolution by dynamically updating training materials. Whether it is incorporating the latest precedents in legal training or staying current with digital marketing trends, these technologies guarantee learners’ access to relevant, up-to-date content. Additionally, AI-powered mentorship and feedback mechanisms are now offering learners real-time support and guidance. For example, for language or technical learning, AI mentors or coaches could provide instant feedback, suggestions, and personalised tips, making the learning process engaging and effective.

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Armed with a burgeoning workforce, which is projected to reach 575 million by 2030, India stands at a crossroads of opportunity. As global markets face a potential shortfall of 85 million skilled workers, India could harness its surplus labour force of approximately 80 to 90 million workers and position itself as the world’s skill capital. However, realising this ambition demands comprehensive skilling initiatives, targeting both scale and quality. Supported by the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship and the National Skill Development Corporation, and by policy guidelines such as the National Education Policy, programmes like Skill India and schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), and novel financial instruments like Skill Loans and Impact Bonds, have prepared a solid base for India’s skilling ecosystem.

With a goal of skilling approximately 400 million workers, the scale of India’s aspiration is expansive. And this ambition reflects not only its domestic objectives but also a commitment to global development. While the need and opportunity of India’s national skilling agenda is evident, the pivotal question remains: How can we expedite progress? A possible solution is generative AI, the technology that promises, and indeed has already started delivering, transformative effects on skilling enabled by scalability, inclusivity, and personalisation.

What should India’s next steps be, to ensure optimal application to education and skilling? Generative AI can facilitate the scaling of high-quality skilling through personalised coaching, on-the-job training through simulations and customised role-playing, and rapid production of tailored content.

First, coaching rigour, which is crucial for effective learning, requires a balanced student-to-teacher ratio with high-quality educators. And generative AI now has the potential to serve as a virtual personalised tutor. It tailors learning experiences by adapting content, pace, and assessments to individual needs, thereby enhancing engagement, motivation, and comprehension.

Further, while generative AI may not significantly increase internship opportunities, it can mitigate the need for extensive on-the-job training by replicating similar environments in classrooms when paired with other technologies such as virtual reality. Generative AI is also accelerating content production and streamlining the creation of support materials like personalised lesson plans. By automating these processes, generative AI enhances efficiency, reduces costs, and allows educators to focus on more nuanced aspects of teaching, ultimately providing a time and cost leverage that benefits both instructors and learners.

A recent instance of the government stepping in to boost the application of generative AI in education is visible in Taiwan, where a newly developed chatbot, backed by Taiwan’s ministry of education and powered by advanced language models, offers K-12 students an interactive platform for language practice. In India, Google recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maharashtra government, with the intention of driving innovative and scalable solutions across major verticals such as education, agriculture, healthcare, sustainability, and start-ups.

From a financial perspective, the promise of generative AI is compelling. Large-scale programmes like Skill India stand to benefit immensely, with potential cost reductions ranging between 30% and 50% depending on the maturity and capability of the generative AI model. This means potentially doubling the reach with consistent programme constructs like short-term courses and blended delivery. Imagine using AI to teach lakhs of people about retail sales or customer service. The AI model can show different situations, like dealing with tough customers or selling products. This way, learners can practice and learn how to respond to real-life situations correctly.

This capability, coupled with anytime, anywhere access to learning and AI coaches and mentors, could truly transform existing programmes and outcomes across the board. Upfront investment in generative AI is reasonable and decreasing: A medium-scale generative AI programme has an estimated upfront cost of between $1 to 2 million. Such efficiency could translate to broader reach without compromising significantly on the quality of skilling.

While there are, undoubtedly, pros and cons to harnessing generative AI in pedagogy, focusing on the positives, and utilising the technology’s inherent strengths, could be transformative for skilling in India. On this arduous journey, collaborative efforts between the private sector and the government are crucial. The private sector has expertise in content, technology, and delivery, and the government has expansive reach, as well as a unified digital ecosystem—Skill India Digital—which has the power to harness the untapped potential of generative AI.

This article is authored by Ved Mani Tiwari, CEO, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and managing director, NSDC International (NSDCI), Sagar Goel, managing director and partner, Boston Consulting Group and Sriramprasad Rangarajan, principal, Boston Consulting Group and ambassador, BCGs Henderson Institute.

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