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EnglishHelper’s RightToRead programme hopes to reach 20 million Government students by 2020

It is time for English period for students of Class VII in Chennai Middle School, MGR Nagar. Instead of pulling out their textbooks from their bags and waiting for the teacher to walk in, the students sit facing a projector screen. Their textbook plays out on the screen and they sit glued to it, as a recorded voice reads out the spelling of the word ‘surrounded’ slowly, pausing after every letter. The boys and girls, dressed in maroon and cream-coloured uniforms, repeat after the voice in gusto. They will probably never forget the word’s spelling.

EnglishHelper, an education company, has made this possible. Its RightToRead initiative, launched in 2013, reads out English textbooks with the help of ReadToMe, powered by Artificial Intelligence. Says Sanjay Gupta, the company’s global CEO, “We learn languages in a multi-sensory way. Even before we learn to speak, we listen to sounds, relate it to everyday objects; we then move on to exposure to the written aspect — our software has been designed taking this multi-sensory aspect into account.”

Breaking the barrier
  • Sanjay hopes that by 2020, 20 million students in 100,000 schools use their RightToRead programme.
  • The software can be used offline and across multiple devices and systems, such as the PC, Linux, and Android.
  • Two years after the launch in 2013, the programme reached 5,000 schools in eight states, covering one million students.
  • In Maharashtra, RightToRead is being implemented in 65,000 schools, while the numbers stand
  • at 300 in Tamil Nadu.

Sanjay, who is based in Gurugram and has worked for large corporations in India and around the globe, decided to take the plunge into education in 2010. “I met Venkat Srinivasan, a Boston-based entrepreneur and cognitive scientist of Indian origin in 2009, who was working on an interesting technology for learning English,” he recalls. Venkat is the founder of EnglishHelper and when the two of them met again two years later, Sanjay decided to join the team full-time. “Our pilot programme, which launched in 2013, covered six states in India,” he explains. The programme has grown multi-fold today, reaching more than 3.5 million students across 15,000 schools, according to data shared by the company. Given this data-driven mission, for 2017-18, the team did impact analyses — with 20 schools in South Delhi Municipal Corporation, 10 schools in Uttar Pradesh and 11 schools in Telangana — across various grades.

EnglishHelper has a simple goal: to make the teaching and learning of English easier in Government schools. To do so, Sanjay says that all the school requires is “one computer and a projector”. He adds that the institution can have a dedicated room which students can take turns to make use of during their English class.

The company partners with various agencies to take its mission forward. These include the United States Agency for International Development. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, RightToRead was launched in partnership with American India Foundation. In certain districts such as Thoothukudi, Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and The Nilgiris, the programme is being sponsored by the local administration.

EnglishHelper’s RightToRead programme hopes to reach 20 million Government students by 2020

The back-end

So, how does it work? Once the school partners with EnglishHelper, it can send its prescribed English textbooks to be worked on by their software. Once this is done, the teacher can teach lessons by projecting the book onto a screen, and the ReadToMe software will read out every word, the speed of which can be altered according to students’ needs. The control lies with teachers. “They can highlight words, change the pace of the recorded voice, translate words into Tamil, and so on,” Sanjay explains.

And all this happens during the class’ English period. “Students can learn the language more easily and syllabus is covered as well,” he points out. He adds that teachers have been supportive: “Teachers are all for technology-enabled solutions,” he says, adding that the initiative has been able to do away with fear for the language among certain students.

Back at the Chennai Middle School, the class is almost over and the teacher asks a child to spell the new word they learnt. “S-u-r-r-o-u-n-d-e-d,” says a girl in two long braids, to applause from her classmates. She gets back to her seat, a smile forming on her lips.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 6:15:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/englishhelper-edt-tech-india-working-across-government-schools/article29879935.ece

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