HYDERABAD: English is a tricky language. Remember the time in school when most of us spelt ‘received’ incorrectly? But not sixth graders in government Girls’ High School in Rezimental Bazaar in Secunderabad.
“They got it right in the first time,” said their teacher, Asha Kumari, as close to 25 children listen to a voice reading out content from their English textbooks. The children sit in their digitised computer lab, all staring at the big screen and reading out the text.
The digitised classroom was introduced by American India Foundation, English Helper, a global company that offers technology-enabled solutions to develop English language. It has created a software that aides in learning the language. “It is a non-intrusive programme that is designed to be executed with the help of the existing school teacher, uses the existing computer lab in schools that works with the school curriculum. We provide teacher training and also the curriculum,” shared Kalpana Rajagopal, assistant vice president, English Helper.
Operating across schools in the country, the software uses local languages to teach English to children. In Hyderabad and Rangareddy, 4,688 students in 25 schools are benefitting from the programme.
Asha stops the children at regular intervals to check for meanings of words they may not understand. She selects the word ‘receive’ and clicks on the picture dictionary option. Two stick figures appear on the screen where one is receiving a package from another. “That is how they understand. The big screen is impactful. It leaves an indelible information on their minds and they retain it for long,” pointed Asha.
It works well for these children who do not study English up to class 5. “They are introduced to text in English in sixth grade. Besides this, these students live in utter poverty. Whatever they learn is in these 40 minutes inside the classroom. They are not exposed to the language at all and hence this works well,” explained Asha.
However, a number of challenges have to be dealt with. The headmistress shared that most of these school children come from Hamali Basti and have only one parent.
“They work as daily-wage workers, roadside vendors and domestic help. Most parents take to alcohol. There is no way they can think about school,” she said.
Asha, who has 12 years of experience in teaching English to high school students, makes use of local contexts to make the children get acquainted to the language. “Initially, they didn’t know the words ‘the’ or ‘is’. I downloaded two letter and three letter words from the internet and they started to get a hang of it. I also asked them observe things on their way to home,” said Asha, adding that these programmes help to hold back students from shifting to private schools.
The children too are aware of the demand for the language. “My uncle told me that if I am able to express myself in English, I will be able to get a better job. I also love sitting in this class,” shared a sixth grader.