This article has been published in partnership with Marico.
In several parts of India, especially rural areas, many school students have a common fear — reading a passage from their English textbooks aloud or even holding a conversation in English. It often rouses a feeling of uneasiness which stems from apprehension about a second language and the lack of relatability.
A teacher based in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district, Jagdish Chaurasia, recognises this fear. He has witnessed it numerous times in his classes where students, too overwhelmed by the rules of the language, would be hesitant to pronounce even short words.
“Words that ended with ‘tion’, ‘sion’ or ‘oo’ often confused the students into silence. As teachers, we tried to do our best to help them overcome that fear, but as non-native English speakers, even we had our limitations. We realised that while the rules of grammar applied to the language remains the same, what is needed is a change in the process of instruction,” says Chaurasia who teaches 20 students from Class 1 to 5.
His point highlights the pressing question around the state of English education in India — in a world where English literacy is increasingly crucial, what is then, the solution?
And, Bhopal-based middle school teacher Vishruta Singh has an answer.
“The fear is mostly because students don’t understand or relate to the words and phrases in the English language. Often they are taught a set of rules to be followed without any explanation of the ‘why’. But, there are alternative ways of familiarising them with English by making it relatable to their native language. Once teachers can break that ice and establish a channel of communication, English is no more a foreign concept,” says Singh, who teaches 83 students, from Class 6 to 8.
A Solution for Change
A teacher of Science and English with over 20 years of teaching experience, Singh believes that this cycle of change begins with the reformation of how English language is taught.
“A teacher is a facilitator who helps students grasp and understand the information in the best possible way. But, information is ever-evolving. So, we teachers also need to keep updating ourselves. Back in the days, when we learnt English, it was done quite differently. There used to be a lot of rote-learning involved which often failed to bear results in the long-run during practical use of the language. And so, those methods cannot be replicated in today’s world where spoken-English has become so crucial. Education, especially in the English language, needs to be more practical and useful,” adds the government school teacher.
Echoes of this realisation inspired Marico’s Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala’s education initiative and the Government of Madhya Pradesh to sign an MoU to introduce a robust Teacher Empowerment Programme.
Singh and many more teachers like her have immensely benefited from the programme that aims to make the English language more accessible than ever before.
The tech-led innovative initiative by Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala in partnership with an NGO, LeapForWord (LFW), is making it possible for the teachers to understand English language education in a newer light. The training not just entails learning the techniques and clearing the basics but also focuses on doing so in an engaging and fun manner. For instance, by comparing common phrases in Hindi and translating them into English, the teachers have found it to be far more effective and relatable for the students, compared to simply memorizing them. One of many techniques of demystifying the language also involves working on pronunciations. For instance, the technique to learn that words ending with ‘tion’ and ‘sion’ often sound as ‘shun’, barring exceptions.
Nihar shanti Pathshala Funwala is enabling this through ubiquitous technology platforms like WhatsApp and Youtube, making it more accessible to a wider network of teachers. The objective here is to democratise innovative and interactive content and teaching approaches to bridge the gap of English education in government schools.
“Creating a robust curriculum and devising the best teaching methods is only the first step. It is followed by the crucial- outreach to as many teachers as possible and implementation on a larger scale. And with Marico’s Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala’s support we have been able to do that across government schools in Madhya Pradesh,” says Ayush Jain, Project Lead – Hindi States, LFW.
Employing this model, Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala has empowered over one lakh teachers in just two months, who in turn will benefit millions of students studying in government schools.
Spreading English literacy in rural India
“We had a dedicated team to establish outreach in remote parts of India, but over time, the physical transit became quite tedious. It was then when we began to shift our focus online to create a bridge of social impact through technology. We began to work on several aspects like improving learning outcomes, identifying impactful solutions, efficiently using existing technologies to make the content more accessible, etc. in rural areas and connecting them to our program with just a click,” says Udayraj Prabhu, Executive Vice President, Business Process Transformation & IT at Marico Limited.
That is when the Teacher Empowerment Programme by Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh government came into being.
“Since India is becoming a global hub it is a prerequisite for people to know and speak in English, in order to sustain and serve the job demands. Several studies also claim that English literacy ensures better opportunities and an almost 30% increase in annual income. With time it has become a crucial skill for higher education and employment and yet it continues to be inaccessible for many students in rural and remote parts of the country. Our objective through the Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala initiative is to fill that gap effectively,” says Prabhu.
Through the seamless use of technology, Nihar Shanti Pathshala Funwala has been providing quality education through IVR based training modules, digital classrooms and app-based learning solutions among other efforts in the past.
“Through technology and unique teaching methodology we provide the tools to the teachers, but it is they who then make the best use of it. And, we have been quite pleasantly surprised to see several instances where teachers went out of their way to create innovative and fun videos and content for their students, especially to help them cope amidst the pandemic,” concludes Prabhu.