Touching lives through English language

Despite the scorching summer sun, Aarti Rani travels for over an hour to reach Aradhya, an NGO in North West Delhi’s Bawana village. Her father, a rickshaw-puller, earns a daily wage of Rs 200 (£2.50) and her mother works as a domestic help in a nearby affluent neighbourhood. Aarti dropped out of school nearly 5 years ago and got a job applying mehendi (a traditional henna tattoo) at weddings to contribute to the family income. She has now joined Aradhya, where she has enrolled on a number of vocational courses as well as the 120-hour ‘English for Employability’ course offered under the Teach India programme of Times of India in partnership with British Council.

19-year-old Aarti says: ‘With better English language, I hope to find a job in a call centre, teach my 7 siblings and improve the living standards of my family. The English course, taught by Chitra Ma’am, is truly unique and enjoyable.’ 

"The course is very interesting as it helps us in improving our English basic skills. It is very helpful in our communication skill. The good thing about this course is that it is very easy to learn and the teacher taught us by the way of group discussions. Overall it will improve our personality."

Sujit Kumar, a 17-year-old commerce student in a Delhi University college, has joined Adharshila, another participating NGO. A family income of Rs 5530 (£79) a month, means that he has to cycle every day through the by-lanes of East Delhi’s Seelampur slum to get to his college and the NGO centre in South Delhi. Although his father wanted him to work in the family’s small spare parts maintenance shop, Sujit persisted in his studies. He says: ‘I want to join a big company and earn a life of dignity.’ But, he gets frustrated when he is unable to confidently participate in class discussions,  mocked by others for his poor English communication and excluded from a peer group comprising of students from - in his words - ‘high society’. Without batting an eyelid, he says that the reason is ‘his lack of English language communication skills that his government school failed to provide. Through this course, I am sure that I will be able to overcome my feeling of isolation.’

Aarti and Sujit represent over 1000 learners who have taken part in NGO projects, which aim to improve the employability of youth (17–25 years) from disadvantaged backgrounds through their English language programmes. The project, currently being run in Delhi and Mumbai, involves direct training to NGO facilitators and volunteers.  Chitra, a teacher with Aradhya, attended the 7-day teacher training course and is now using the new techniques in her NGO classroom. She says, ‘I used to hardly converse in English during my lessons. After the training and on introducing the activities illustrated in the teacher notes, I started enjoying English language teaching and using the language more than ever before. The students are now keen to learn English and actively participate.’ 

A pilot teacher training course was initially delivered in June-July 2010 by the British Council, it has since been delivered to over 1600 volunteer teachers. The course introduces NGO facilitators and volunteers to learner-centred techniques such as elicitation, collaborative learning and communicative approaches. These techniques are new to most of the NGO facilitators and volunteers, many of whom are attending training for the first time in their careers.

In February 2012, Jeremy Brown, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth office for the British government, visited a project delivery site and fielded questions on cricket, travel, Britain and India from a group of eager young people learning conversational English. The session was conducted on the premises of Aaditya, an NGO in Tuglaqabad.

Praising the Times of India's initiative, Brown said that the ability to speak English provided a huge number of opportunities for employment and was also a socially important skill in India. ‘Someone from Delhi who wants a job in Chennai, but cannot speak Tamil will still get the job if he can speak English. The ability to speak English is also an advantage in a multinational with foreign clients. Knowledge of the English language makes a huge difference to the people of India,’ he said.

Sanjiv Kaura, CEO – CSR, BCCL, envisions the project will impact the lives of a stratum of society that have long been left behind in terms of opportunities and progress.

Since the launch of Teach India in July 2010, it has trained approximately 28,000 learners at over 60 NGO centres in Delhi/NCR. Going forward, it is projected that 1 million learners will get the opportunity to improve their English language skills through this initiative. The scope is truly unlimited and English Partnerships, through its engagement with CSR Foundations and NGOs, is committed to ‘reach the unreached’.