How a group of volunteers help Chennai students speak better English

A new tomorrow Volunteers hope that the child becomes familiar with the language   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/Istock

It all began with a Facebook post that asked, ‘English Theriyuma?’ (Do you know English?). Chennai-based Aarti Madhusudan, who volunteers with non-profits, put it up last week, asking for volunteers to speak for an hour in English once a week with a child.

Before she knew it, it snowballed into a movement.

“This was for Class X students of a Government school in Kotturpuram,” says Aarti. “The headmistress is a friend and I’d done some volunteering for them earlier. She said that since there were no exams this year, it would do them good to stay in touch and be familiar with English.”

Initially, she wanted 19 women and 32 men to volunteer, but now, has had 540 people, and counting.

Aarti explains that the idea is to speak with a student in English for one hour once a week, for 15 weeks. “Neha Kotecha, a volunteer from the US, and I came up with a curriculum for this conversation based on common sense,” she explains.

They have a list of questions, such as ‘What did you have for lunch today?’ that the volunteer will ask the child. “We hope that the child gradually becomes comfortable to ask doubts and loses the fear he/she may have for English.”

The advantage of facilitating this over phone, she feels, is that “anonymity leads to lack of inhibition”.

K Maheshwari Kalpana, the headmistress of the Corporation-managed Chennai High School, whose students form the crux of this initiative, feels that they have “responded beautifully”. “I have seen how the ability to speak in English boosts their confidence and gives them the strength to ask questions,” she says.

The school she heads, has long been focussing on community development and hosts parenting workshops.

During lockdown, Kalpana says that teachers are encouraged to call their wards over the phone to enquire about them. “Simple things such as asking them if they have had lunch, matters a lot for they will feel that their teachers are there for them,” she adds.

The going, however, is not always smooth. Aarti says that for a child, access to a mobile phone is not easy. “Their parents might be working and there could be just one phone at home,” she points out. So, calls are scheduled in the evenings, and volunteers are informed to not expect the child to answer the phone immediately.

What started as an exercise to help Class X students become comfortable with English, has now grown to include students covered by several NGOs. “Ultimately, this will be an eye-opener for the volunteers; they will realise how much all of us are taking for granted in life,” feels Aarti.

P Ashwath, a volunteer who interacted with a Class VII student, cannot stop talking about how enthusiastic the child was. “I started off by asking him to introduce himself. He told me all about the kind of books he reads, described his day…all I had to do was correct his grammar wherever needed,” he says.

“After the call, he sent me a WhatsApp message,” says Ashwath. It read ‘Hi anna,’ and had a photo attachment of an art work he had done.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 2:57:31 AM |

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