Lacking adequate medical staff and hospitals in rural areas, 85.6 per cent Indians incur personal medical expenditure, plunging nearly 60 million into poverty. One-third of the world’s illiterates live in India. They have found dedicated champions, but individual efforts alone are not enough.
Small towns and semi-rural areas in India are witnessing a private coaching boom, as institutes claim expertise in preparing youth to become MBAs and civil servants by speaking fluent English.
Many of them are led by poorly skilled local entrepreneurs but Ravi Kumar Yadav, co-founder of ‘Englishbolega’ in Alwar, Rajasthan, claims to be different. He started the enterprise in 2016 after learning that 94 per cent Indians cannot speak English.
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The learning modules he has developed for a three-month training and practice course has benefitted many villagers in the district to speak English, though not perfectly, in just a few months. Today, Englishbolega has over 111 franchisees in Rajasthan, which is being scaled up by one new franchisee every two days.
His first two attempts had failed: Base Inventor in November 2016 that offered free education to villagers and a paid service to create a corpus for Englishbolega.com.
Finally, he adopted an offline franchisee model which surpassed expectations—in three months, his company got 100 partner academies. Englishbolega trainers first educate the students before giving them certification.
The company’s main outreach is aimed at rural students who do not know English, so that they can compete with youth in the cities for seats in colleges and jobs.
Sreedhar, principal of the private Ramnagar High School in Telangana, was worried about the comprehension ability of his students. His teachers were not up to the mark in English and Social Science.
Sreedhar sought help from school leadership organisation ISLI, which has devised a two-year learning and implementation programme for senior staff of low-income schools.
Its Programme Manager devised a workshop for Sreedhar for ‘creating lesson objectives’, which divided English into different skills. Each skill had to be taught separately in a specific manner.
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The teaching strategy to build reading comprehension in children had three steps: 1. Giving independent reading time, 2. Reading a passage together and conducting peer discussions, 3. The teacher explains meanings and asks questions.
This process helped Sreedhar and his staff assess the comprehension levels of the students. Soon, their number increased. Next, he trained teachers on the use of the method.
The schoolchildren were encouraged to read and participate more, and were rewarded points. Now teaching in the school has gone from rote learning and syllabus completion to enabling students to understand what they read and acquire independent writing skills.
The school is now improving the reading fluency, writing skills, expression and voice modulation of both students and teachers.
Dr Omkar Hota, who practices in Naxal-infested forests in tribal Odisha, bears a unique burden. Last October, a new mother would have bled to death had he not borne her and her infant on his shoulders across pathless mountainous terrain to a health centre several kilometres away.
The 33-year-old doctor has conducted over 250 deliveries in the poorly equipped health centre in Chitrakonda and helped transport over 70 such mothers on string cots, motorbikes and make-shift stretchers because there are no ambulances.
“I know it is dangerous to carry pregnant women on a bike but is it not more dangerous to leave a malnourished woman behind in a village where there is no proper medical care? I walk that extra mile,” he explains.
Called ‘Daktar Bhagaban’ (Doctor God), Hota is a superstition fighter in the tribal heartland where sickness is attributed to the wrath of forest spirits.
His door-to-door anti-malaria campaign achieved over 90 per cent immunisation coverage. Allukota village, where 25 villagers used to be infected every month, is now mosquito-free.
The PHC gets over 80 patients daily against zero until a couple of years ago.