EPlus clubs were launched in Andhra Pradesh in 2008 to help students overcome difficulties in speaking English fluently. Five years later, their activities have expanded to other States.

pare 30 minutes a day. Do what we tell you to do. Exactly a month later, you can speak in English with as much confidence as a convent-educated student studying in any top college in Hyderabad. Are you game for this?”

We hurled the challenge and waited for the response. But pin-drop silence greeted us. More than 300 students who crammed themselves into the hall sat there obediently as if petrified by the presence of a senior lecturer.

For more than an hour, we explained to them how poor command over communication and soft skills was a major problem faced by students, especially those studying in towns and district headquarters. How every employer would expect an applicant to have good command over the English language. How the applicant would be judged on his ability to interact, demonstrate and learn effectively.

We were not discouraged by the stony silence from the students. We knew we got them hooked on as they listened in rapt attention, trying to assimilate the import of what we have been saying. It was only a matter of time, they would mob us seeking a solution to a common problem — inability to speak fluently in English. But we had to wait.

The moment we called off the meeting and moved out of the hall, a torrent of questions began engulfing us. Speaking in Telugu, the students wanted to know how they could overcome the problem. “We do understand when you speak in English, but we are not able to reply in English,” a youngster said.

“Spare 30 minutes a day. Do what we tell you to do and you can overcome this problem in a month. Are you ready?” we repeated while going back to the hall. Then we had another round of discussion with many of the students expressing their problems in English, although with many mistakes.

That was how the first preparatory meeting for the launch of Eplus Clubs took place some 50 months ago at SRR Government Degree and PG College in Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh.

Fun-based learning

We spent time explaining how the Eplus clubs initiative was aimed at enabling learning through enjoyment and cultivating essential skills such as English communication, learning ability, logical thinking, collecting and retaining information. “Opportunities are available but we fail to take advantage of them. You can have fun while learning and this makes the Eplus Clubs an effective solution,” we summed up.

Thus began the Eplus Clubs initiative in November 2008, launched by N. Ram, the then Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. Simultaneously, Eplus Clubs were launched in Anantapur, Guntur, Nagarjunasagar, Vijayawada and Srikakulam.

Some four years and three months later, what began as an experiment in eight colleges in select districts of Andhra Pradesh, was to be replicated in many colleges across Karnataka.

The encouraging results went viral as college after college began starting Eplus Clubs and soon the private engineering colleges joined the effort as word spread about the efficacy of these programmes in acquiring language skills.

What was not known to many was the frenetic activity that continued in the backend — unknown to the participating colleges. A group of highly-motivated youngsters led by Sreedhar Muppidi and Nilesh Jahagirdar of SkillSpark spent considerable time in preparing the schedules, which the students are expected to practise in a 30-minute timeframe everyday in the college.

These schedules are published in Education Plus The Hindu every week. Typically six schedules are published every week and each club is expected to practise one schedule every day for 30 minutes.

The Eplus initiative required students to get together in groups and participate in fun activities. There was no intervention from the teacher, who was required to don the role of a moderator just to ensure an informal interaction among the students.

The Eplus club activity is designed to enable the students to actively use English and become confident with the language. For the majority of students, especially those in rural or semi-urban areas, learning English can be quite difficult. The most significant difficulty is the lack of opportunity to practise — they rarely get a space where they can speak English.

The Eplus Club addresses this problem through the concept of group activities. Students are required to speak in a group, team up and play games and come up with collective plans of action. This provides opportunities for speaking and expressing opinions freely without inhibitions. In addition to gaining confidence, students also learn to co-exist, speak out in public and function as a team.

In the long run, such activities ensure that a student learns to talk about and explain culture-specific concepts and practices in English. Similarly, word games and play acting encourage group participation, innovative thinking and alternative ways of presenting ideas.

Activities

The E-Plus activities should ideally be conducted in small groups of 10-15 students so that the setting can become informal. The activities require about 30 minutes and are conducted six days a week. Every student should get his/her turn to speak and participate in the activities.

Activities for Eplus clubs are devised in such a way that students get to participate spontaneously without fear or awkwardness. The activities require them to use English, rather than actively focus on learning English. It is important for the clubs to have a limited number of students so that time limits can be adhered to

The club moderator has an important role to play, but he is not expected to teach. He has to supervise the activities, keep the discussions informal to ensure that students have a space to speak freely without the fear of being assessed or corrected, encourage students without interrupting to point out their mistakes, time management and provide feedback.

The Schedules: -

The schedule features a range of activities which combine learning and fun. There are theme-based activities such as travelling, hobbies, our country, and so on. The activities are all encompassing to ensure the students participate in a variety of games, discussions, debates, play-acting, writing, among other things. Writing and individual activities are important elements of the programme which encourage feature writing tasks ranging from short paragraphs to creative pieces. Occasionally during vacations, students are given activities which they can practise on their own at home.

Schedules are provided to help the students to learn how to process information as they are required to carry out research by talking to people, reading and observing over a period of time. Most importantly, the schedules are never rigid. They could be changed to suit the convenience of the students.