SEPTEMBER 30, 2021

Enabling 12,000 students to choose their career paths

By Abhishek Sharma

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Antarang is one of the organisations that has had an immense conviction and excitement to use WhatsApp chatbot for their career awareness program. They saw an opportunity to strengthen their existing program by making it available on WhatsApp in addition to in-person and online sessions with their student beneficiaries. It got highlighted due to limited access to the students from the school ecosystem during COVID year, and their moving out of school after 12th made it difficult to reach and stay connected with the beneficiaries. We talked to their team members currently leading the chatbot program to hear more about their journey.

Abhishek: Can you tell us about the programs you’re running on Glific?

Priyanka: We are running a career & self-awareness program for career planning that focuses on students who are in their 9th to 12th standards. It helps them choose their career path and pick courses that match their career aspirations. The program ensures that students have access to accurate career information whenever they need.

Swati: In Maharashtra, there are junior colleges after 10th std which involves an entire admission process on how to pick streams and colleges. A lot of times, the information related to the process and the courses get updated by the govt which is floated on circulars. It is challenging for students to keep up with accurate information or decide their career path.

Venil: We are using Glific as a part of this program wherein students who couldn’t attend our in-person sessions can get the information on the chatbot.

A: Can you give us a background of the program before you started it on WhatsApp?

V: The awareness programs used to happen within school hours where the facilitator would address a large class, and then do a 1-on-1 counselling at the end. We used to support the admission process for Class 11 in-person, interacting with the students and helping them out. It was a challenging process but it was a project that we’ve always wanted to do a large scale for which we didn’t have the right mechanism.

S: A big challenge for us has been that once they move out of the school ecosystem, it gets much harder to stay connected with them and track that. With the bot we’re also able to reach them beyond their schooling. Earlier we didn’t have exact information on what career path they chose. We could only note the aspirations for a limited number of students. Now, we can scale up with the bot.

We had decided to adopt whatsapp as a medium because we didn’t want students to download another app on their phone.

A: How did you all go about exploring whatsapp as a solution? How did you get started and prepared for it as an organisation?

S: We had decided to adopt whatsapp as a medium because we didn’t want students to download another app on their phone. This was the initiation for WhatsApp bot. In the beginning it was mostly trial and error. None of us had the specific skill set to build a bot. We just had a few elementary flows that we wanted to set up. We didn’t fret about the details at the time such as what to measure, or using all the available features like labeling etc… We wanted to get the basic logic right. We had Glific documents to get started and continue learning about using the chatbot. 

For allocating the budgets and resources, we tried to figure out how many messages we want to send, or how much the students would be interacting with the bot, and how many push messages would we require to send for the engagement. That’s how we came up with the first cut of the cost estimate.

In terms of allocating the people, we just started off and then we gauged how much effort would be required. And then adjusted based on individual skill set and what’s required for the bot, the content and to train the team.

V: Covid prompted us to really explore this route. We tried IVR, WhatsApp through groups etc… since school groups were already on WA. During the covid year, we had been thinking about scale for the program we’ve been running for 6-7 years. We wanted to bring in automation within our programs to reach a larger scale.

A: Were there any challenges in the entire process and while getting started with the bot? 

P: The process was not exactly easy. Figuring out the scope and scale of what we wanted to do with the bot took time. Deciding the right element of the program for a good user experience. We had run a part of the program last year with school WhatsApp groups and this year we are running it through the Bot. We are pretty much still in the process of testing our hypothesis. 

S: Getting started with Glific was a fairly guided process, so it was not complex to use the platform. Then after that building the entire content and figuring out the best way to build the entire flow effectively, took us time. We kept trying and testing.

V: Although I see that if we had used Glific standalone, and not integrated with our running programs, the process would have been even easier. Integrating Glific as a part of the program that already existed, made it a bit challenging. However, everyone in the team was excited about a chatbot solution. The conviction was high.

Everyone in the team was excited about using chatbot. The conviction was high.

A: How did your prior experience of using WhatsApp help you with the chabot? 

P: Last year was surely a learning experience. We found out that many students already have WhatsApp installed on their phones. We ran our program with multiple forms of inputs. We had our facilitators conduct sessions virtually on zoom and hangout. We’ve had facilitators individually call students as well as get added to the school’s whatsapp group. We learnt that the engagement on the bot was greater than the online classes. Even the students who weren’t available during classes participated by submitting forms and quizzed on WhatsApp. This got us in favour of using WhatsApp chatbot.  

S: Students knew that if they wanted information they needed to be in the WA group. We’re also learning now that the students need to be taught how to use the chatbot. We need to get them more comfortable with using it.

P: It also helped us understand the optimum formats of the content.

A: What does the future of the program look like? What are your next steps with glific?

V: We’ve learned a lot from the bot, such as, how many students are accessing it and finding it valuable. That heavily determines how we reach the students and leverage the bot in future. If the students are able to learn through this bot, in addition to what they’re getting, we can expand it further. We would like to take it to more cities, locations, states, for students to get meaningful information via the bot.

The Antarang team has so far reached out to about 12,000 students on the chatbot. It’s great to partner with them in solving the new challenges that come with reaching the scale and continuously improving the program.

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