AID India hopes to make English more accessible to the urban and rural poor in Tamil Nadu

A report on project ‘English Next India', funded by the British Council, has found that India is lagging behind China in the number of proficient English speakers. The report's initial findings suggest a number of barriers to the improvement of English proficiency in India, including a huge shortage of English teachers, and poor English holding back higher education.

Initial findings advise that a variety of strategies need to be employed to teach English; that there is no one magic solution. AID India founder and CEO, Balaji Sampath, is indirectly taking up the British Council on its advice. However, the education activist is looking at bringing about a change on a much smaller scale.

Through its flagship initiative, ‘Eureka Child', AID India aims to “provide quality education for every child in Tamil Nadu”, which includes making English more accessible to underprivileged children in urban and rural areas. “There is a big gap in education between the rich kids in English-medium schools and underprivileged kids in Government schools,” says Sampath.

The Annual Status of Education Report states that only 16 per cent of students in Class 5 in Tamil Nadu can read simple English sentences. In response, AID India has devised a programme ‘Ready to Read' that aims to improve English comprehension and reading skills in Tamil-medium schools. Part of this project includes a DVD series, ‘Wow! What's that sound?'

“The DVD series is an integral component of the programme, because it encourages students to speak, listen, read, sing and interact with the onscreen characters in English,” says Kirsten Anderson, Fellow, AID India.

The DVD component is the first bi-lingual Tamil-English, culturally-appropriate material available to primary schools. The 12-part series features a group of students, a travelling magician and a talking tree. “The DVDs utilise the DVD players and television sets the Government has already given schools. We want Tamil-medium kids to have the same access as English-medium kids to multimedia,” says Anderson.

To date, test screenings involving over 500 students have been conducted in 20 schools in eight districts, across the State. Anderson is excited by the reaction. “The response from teachers and students has been amazing. The kids relate well to the characters, and interact with them by shouting out words in English.”

The programme has also been presented at two language conferences and received an encouraging response from other language experts and groups working on children's education.

Pre-production on the next set of five episodes is under way. Recognising that English has become a language of opportunity, Sampath sees it as imperative that Tamil Nadu's underprivileged have access to education in it.

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