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Microsoft India has co-developed the ‘English Skills for Youth’ program with the British Council. AFP News

Today the big issues facing the global international community are closely connected with developments in science and technology. Already, the development of cyberspace has produced a new domain of security that governments have to face up to.

Looking to the future, the development of ever more advanced forms of artificial intelligence arguably constitutes a profound security risk. That is, whatever benefits AI can bring if it is developed safely.

However, developments in science and technology are also key to our future survival and prosperity as a species. For example, helping us to address issues such as climate change and energy security.

Moreover, as developments in science and technology become increasingly important for both individual nation-states and human civilisation as a whole, Britain and India forged a "landmark" agreement on science, research and innovation back in April this year. The agreement is intended to drive innovation which tackles "some of the biggest issues facing the world." For example, climate change, pandemic preparedness, AI and machine learning.

Furthermore, the government recently announced the creation of a new Tech Envoy to the Indo-Pacific which will prioritise Britain's ties with India. Previously the British government also announced the creation of a Tech Envoy to the United States back in 2020.

However, right now the focus is on Lord Ahmad, Minister of State for the Middle East, South Asia, United Nations, who is visiting India from the 27th to the 31st of May. Lord Ahmad's objective is to further strengthen collaboration between Britain and India in science, research and innovation.

Lord Ahmad's travel list includes Jodhpur, New Delhi and Hyderabad, where he has been scheduled to visit high-tech research facilities and cultural sites. During his visit, he met with senior Indian Ministers and officials, including Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant.

The visit of Lord Ahmad follows the meeting between British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, at the G7 summit in Japan. The two leaders agreed to further progress towards the creation of a free trade agreement between Britain and India. In 2022, the trading relationship between Britain and India was worth £36 billion.

These foreign policy developments reflect the intention of the British government to strengthen the relationship between Britain and India as "a key pillar of the UK's long-term foreign policy." More specifically, the development of collaboration in science and technology builds on the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK relations which was launched back in 2021.

The 'English Skills for Youth' programme

During his visit, Lord Ahmad launched the 'English Skills for Youth' program in New Delhi, which has been developed by the British Council and Microsoft India. The programme is intended to boost the employability and skills of Indian young people.

Founded in 1934 and sponsored by the British Foreign Office, the British Council is a charity and international organisation that pursues "cultural relations and educational opportunities." It works in over 200 countries across the domains of art, culture, education, and the English language.

With a focus on imparting English Language skills, those who undertake the program will also benefit from developing their ability to collaborate, lead, engage in critical thinking and make use of soft skills.

According to Microsoft, during its three-year pilot phase, 60,000 young people are intended to benefit from the programme. In the long term, the objective is to achieve the engagement of 400,000 young people in "Microsoft Philanthropies funded projects."

The program is also motivated by the progressive purpose of bridging the "gender divide." Consequently, 75 per cent of the intake will be "woman learners."

Lord Ahmad is also the British Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. His purpose is to promote gender equality by working with governments, the UN and civil society.

He has explained that the objective of the program is "to equip India's younger generation with the right skills to increase their focused chances of employment and prosperity – of young women and girls in particular."

The objective of bridging the gender divide raises the broader question of the rights of women and girls in India.

According to research by Save the Children India, COVID-19 disproportionately impacted Indian girls compared to boys. School closures and lockdowns amplified "existing gender inequalities," with "access to health, education and play" damaged for girls.

For example, the proportion of girls attending online classes during COVID-19 restrictions was 33 per cent, six per cent lower than the proportion of boys (39%).

India's nationwide lockdown lasted from the 24 of March to the 31st of May 2020, the largest worldwide.

Research also found that 68 per cent of girls "struggled to access health and nutrition services" and that "limited government supplies, lack of money and shop closures" meant that 80 per cent could not get access to sanitary times.