Bridging the language gap

The use of blended learning and technology could help build a robust population of English speakers

Published - October 28, 2020 02:51 pm IST



English has become imperative for anyone wanting to enter the knowledge-driven global job economy. Not only can better communication skills provide better job opportunities, it can also help existing employees grow and climb the corporate ladder.

A simple online search reveals just one online job portal lists almost 250,000 jobs available that require English skills. Sectors such as technology, education, KPO, hospitality, advertising, and others want to hire employees who can articulate well in English, making English proficiency a critical 21st century skill. A recent report by Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and consulting firm, Sattva, found that English proficiency was a non-negotiable for 73% of job roles; 20% job roles categorised English as a ‘good to have’; while only 7% roles did not need fluency in English.

Learning gap

While privileged urban dwellers might argue that English is widely spoken in the country, the numbers tell a completely different story. The last census in India revealed that only 3% of rural citizens and 12% of urban citizens have the ability to speak in English.

The good news is that Indian families are realising the gamut of opportunities that spoken English skills present. This is evident in the trend of more students in urban cities moving to English-medium private schools. This essentially means there is a willingness among the underprivileged to pay to get access to English learning. Today, almost 40% students enrol in affordable private schools, and this is expected to increase to 60% by 2022.

However, while such affordable private schools provide educational prospects for children the standard of English education is not at par with premium private schools. Students at low-cost private schools are typically 2-3 levels behind appropriate grade competencies in English, leading to unequal access and missed opportunities.

Technology can be a catalyst

Can technology be a key enabler in providing access to quality English education? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. With traditional learning facing challenges such as dearth of good teachers, lack of infrastructure, and fragmentation, technology can help level the playing field. In addition to providing access, online tools can make learning more engaging, efficient and effective.

There are quite a few technology-enabled solutions available in the market but they fail to deliver the desired impact at scale. This is because most offer a one-size-fits-all product without focussing on individual needs. Some focus only on self-learning and lack conversational practice, which is fundamental to English learning. Additionally, not being linked to employment outcomes hinder their effectiveness.

Blended learning

The results of the Sattva study on “Evaluating effectiveness of technology in improving spoken English” showed that blended learning can overcome the hurdles most traditional schools and online learning platforms face. Blended learning refers to a combination of tech-led self-learning combined with a high quality instructor led training. It brings the benefits of both online learning materials, as well as an interactive classroom.

The current pandemic has reshaped the job economy. With employees across the world working remotely, businesses will soon widen their reach and tap into the global talent pool. Good communication skills in the workplace will become even more crucial. This means a qualified individual sitting in a small city will get the unprecedented opportunity to work for a foreign company.

The writer is Founder and CEO at enguru

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