Training on Plumbing

Location: Amritapuri, Kerala
Course: MES Assistant Plumbing
Duration: 3 months
Total number of Participants: 7
Gender: Female
Number of first time computer users: 6

On August 11, 2011, SAVE delivered for the first time, the Assistant Plumbing course based on the Modular Employable Skills (MES) syllabus at Amrita University, Amritapuri, Kerala. Participants consisted of 7 women from within 10 to 15 km of the Amritapuri campus. While varied in their educational attainment, occupational histories, and economic levels (above poverty level, but towards the lower economic spectrum), the participants were driven to initiate a positive change in their lives with the hope that completion of the course would lead to better opportunities for themselves and family.

Since this was the first time the computerized driven MES based course was delivered, developers and researchers intended to identify the following:

  1. The optimal delivery strategy for the computerized course
  2. Impact on usability 
  3. Additional content to supplement the computerized 

SAVE worked with Amrita SREE to recruit participants for the course. Amrita SREE is an ETW initiative that is actively engaged with the local community through its facilitation of self help groups. Amrita SREE publicized the course to women in the local area (within 20 km of the Amritapuri campus) through its network of self help group coordinators. In the end, 17 women presented an initial interest to attend the computerized course, of which ten students committed to taking the course –seven out of ten completed the course.

Through follow-up discussions with the students that dropped out, the three individuals that decided not to continue with the course cited reasons such as: physical ailments that would make it difficult to engage in strenuous physical activity, scheduling conflicts, and family responsibilities. It was clear, however, in contrast to the students that remained, a lack of interest in plumbing as a profession and inability to find it compatible with current life objectives, were perhaps the most apparent reasons as to why the three students chose not to continue.

Pre-course surveys were administered to all of the students (Appendix 1). The most salient findings are summarized below. All of the students were literate, and six out of seven were educated until the 12th grade. Household incomes varied, ranging from Rs. 2,000 per month to about Rs.9000. Students cited wanting to increase income and financial independence as their main motivations for attending the course. The three most common challenges that made it difficult for students to take up employment (prior to attending the course) were lack of training/education, responsibilities at home, and the distance to travel or transportation. Six out seven of the students were first time computer users. While plumbing is traditionally a male dominated profession, the students' perceived working alongside men as not a problem.

Education Age Religion Average Monthly Household Incomer Course Expectations No of Students with prior Computer use
31 to 49 Hindu Rs. 6,000
  1. Increase income
  2. Increase financial independence

A majority of the students were apprehensive about using the computer for the first time. A group computer tutorial session was arranged, which efficiently trained the students in the basic computer functions, while the group setting also helped dissipate initial fears. The students were able to navigate through the application independently by the second day.

Students initially sat two per computer (as there were approximately 17 students and 8 computers). By the second week, however, since 7 students remained in the course, a computer was available to each student. The students felt comfortable and confident enough to work on the computer independently.

MES recommends a theory to practical ratio of 30:70. Students accordingly received a combination of theory through the computerized platform, in-class activities (such as role plays), group discussions with resource experts and facilitators, site visits, but greater emphasis on the practical (hands-on) learning. Life Enrichment Education (LEE) courses were also incorporated into the curriculum, delivered by guest speaker on various topics such as professional development, communication skills, recognizing and dealing with work place harassment, etc.

Training through the computer enabled the students to self-start, without having to wait for the teacher or other students to arrive. If a student finished the lesson before others, that student would spend time in reviewing older lessons. The computerized course provides for this flexibility. The LEE courses varied from role play activities that helped prepare students on how to professionally solicit and maintain plumbing contracts to how to recognize and respond to work place harassment. Facilitators utilized the group discussion format to interact with students on topics such as: 

- First-Computer Use
- Back in school-Motivations for coming back to school.
- Learning Plumbing
- Plumbing as an Occupation
- The plumbing field (facilitated by woman plumber/construction)

In addition to the chapter quizzes integrated into the computerized course, periodical assessments (theory and practical) were also incorporated into the course. These exams were developed, administered and evaluated by the resource expert and an external reviewer from Amrita Industrial Training Centre ( ITC).

A survey was conducted at the end of the course to obtain the students' feedback on the entire course: computerized instruction, facilitator and resource expert performance, and gauge attitudes towards vocational education, plumbing as a profession, suggestions for improvement. While students were unanimously satisfied with the course, one area they felt required improvement was the workbooks, and suggested integrating more workbooks into the e-learning course in order to better prepare them the practical procedures. The most prominent change the students noticed in their lives since taking the course was the positive impact on self-discipline. One student wrote:

"I feel very happy. [Before] I was not able to attend my children properly. There were situations when I had to go to my children's school but I was not able to go. But now my life has become systematic so, I am able to finish my work fast and now able to attend to such things. My husband and children are also learning to adjust as well."

Following the successful completion of the course, the 7 students began a 3 month Assistant Plumbers apprenticeship with Amrita University. Having seen the course to completion, it is apparent the course energized in the participation a high sense of empowerment:

"This project has changed our life style, behavioral pattern and attitude towards difficulties. By continuing with this project we are sure that we can achieve anything. As per our opinion, generally all training programs are started to increase publicity and earning money for themselves. This project is entirely different."

This study also evidenced how the combination of CVET with LEE empowers students to be confident in themselves and their new found profession. On January 3, 2012, the seven graduates of the Assistant Plumbing course successfully led an International Workshop on Haptics and Computerized Learning for Skill Development in Vocational Education at the IEEE International Conference on Technology Enhanced Education (at Amrita University, Amritapuri Campus from January 3-5, 2012). Attendees of the conference consisted of internationally renowned scientists, researchers, and academics in the field education and social development technology.

The seven students single-handedly delivered a live presentation of the SAVE application, by demonstrating the navigation and components of the computerized course and also performed a live demonstration of how to repair two of the most common plumbing problems that occur. The students explained the nuances of learning through haptic technology, demonstrated how to troubleshoot common household plumbing problems and shared their own experiences of learning through a computerized vocational training program. In response to the students' stellar performance during the International Conference, the batch of 7 is being heralded by the media as the first women plumbers in India, trained through AMMACHI Labs' innovative approach.

The seven students have also successfully completed a 3 month internship and are officially working as Assistant Plumbers.

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