A mentoring programme conducted over phone helps government school students with spoken English

Twelve-year-old Subhartra and 10-year-old Kossi were unwittingly raising their voices to a high pitch, as they were talking into a phone, repeating the popular tongue twister “She sells seashells on the sea shore”. It was a phone call, and on the other end, their performance was being assessed, with a gentle smile.

“I introduce tongue twisters whenever the girls are tired of the regular lessons,” says Uthaya B, a volunteer with the Express Phone Mentoring programme.

“At first, the girls were focussing on getting the pronunciation right, and then they sought to improving speed in the delivery of the tongue twister,” says Uthaya.

The session resumes with the girls learning five new English words, listening to a moral story and undertaking an activity.

Talent Quest for India, a Chennai-based non-profit, started Express Phone Mentoring programme to bridge the digital divide in schooling created by the pandemic. Today, the initiative has spread to schools in various districts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with the help of 900 college students as volunteers.

The core team designed a programme where a student from a government school is attached to a student volunteer as buddy. The one-on-one mentoring requires every volunteer to devote 30 minutes to one hour a day for 30 days, and their mentee are children from classes V to X.

Humble beginnings

The initiative began with 15 students from Kovilpadagai village in Avadi in April 2020.

“As we had already worked with the community, it was easy to build a connection with their parents and teachers and get them to motivate the children to enrol in this free programme. As it was being done during the first lockdown, parents were happy that their children were being engaged in this manner,” says G Ramasubramaniam, founder and chief listening officer, Talent Quest for India.

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The enrolled student would bring their friends and that is how this network grew to the strength of 900 mentors from various districts.

The virtual volunteering has helped the mentor and the mentee in many ways. “For the mentee, it helped close the loneliness gap caused by the pandemic, as it led to many restrictions on movement,” says Uthaya.

The rapport between the two has led to greater academic engagement. “I have students calling me to clarify doubts in their subjects or to discuss other concerns at home,” says Uthaya, a native of Ramnagar district who has done her masters in mathematics.

The database of student volunteers has grown in the last one-and-a-half years.

“If we were able to expand our programme, it is because of the connect we have with youngsters. In the pre-COVID days, most of the meetings would happen in a family member’s house, and that made us a well-knit group,” says Ramasubramaniam. Connecting via WhatsApp enabled better coordination.

A learning journey

After 30 days, they move to phase two of the module which is conducted thrice a week. “We had two goals by launching Express Phone Mentoring programme: Overcoming the fear of speaking in English and making sure the learning process continues,” says Ramasubramaniam.

Were there any challenge in getting volunteers? Ramasubramaniam says volunteers are encouraged to sign up based on their commitments and academic schedule. “We have people taking a break but it is mutually discussed among the coordinator, mentee and mentor. We let them chose between short and long-term volunteering,” he says.

In Karnataka, they were able to extend the phone mentoring programme as they already had “Chhote scientist” and “Kanaa” projects running.

As an extension of the phone mentoring programme, college students from rural areas are mentored by working professionals to hone their spoken language skills.

TQI is next looking for colleges that can adopt schools near them to handhold them on a continuous basis.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 10:50:58 AM |

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