“My brother and I quarrel sometimes. One time, he wanted to listen to Telugu songs and I wanted to listen to Hindi songs on our new FM radio. We both grabbed and pulled the radio and it broke. We ran to the terrace to hide. We were frightened that our father would scold us so we went to sleep without eating. My brother left early morning. I heard my mother telling father what had happened. His only response was, ‘It’s OK. We can buy a new one.’ I jumped out of bed happy.”
Saroja told me this story about when describing her life in English. She is an 11th grade student in an Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Educational Residential Institutions Society (APSWREIS) School which serves talented and meritorious poor children belonging to scheduled castes, so they can benefit from quality education. The program, APSWREIS which has many dalit children, was established by the Social Welfare Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh is supported by the World Bank for infrastructure improvement through the Andhra Pradesh District Poverty Initiatives Project and Rural Poverty Reduction Project.
Telugu is the native language of most of the girls in APSWREIS schools, including Saroja. A baseline survey showed that Saroja, like many others, could hardly string a few words of English together. Today she speaks boldly, thanks to 200 hours of training in English, soft-skills, and computers offered by APSWREIS in association with the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM) that works with underprivileged youth. As Parmesh Shah, Project Leader from the World Bank who oversees the project says, “English is not just a language, it is a life skill.”
The United Nations commemorated the International Year of Youth from August 11, 2010 to August 11, 2011. To promote youth participation towards progress and development, the Rural Livelihoods team at the World Bank has put youth at the forefront of poverty reduction and maximizing rural growth.
In most Indian schools based on my experience, teachers do not encourage students to ask questions. The classroom experience tends to be a boring monologue and with students cramming for examinations. What’s different about EGMM? The curriculum, developed by experts, is woven around 15 interactive CDs, with games, plays, and active student participation. When we asked what is different in this course, the students responded in unison – “It is fun. We watch TV. We play games and learn new words. We can sing English songs.” The pilot was introduced in two schools in Andhra Pradesh, and the initial impact has been promising.
More students were accepted into good institutions for higher studies and their confidence levels improved, as did their aspirations. This program was initially scaled up to 20 schools, and is in the process of being scaled up to 200 more schools next year, touching 25,000 young lives.
Principles of the schools are vying to introduce the “ProgramEGMM” as they call it. However, the biggest challenge has been changing the mindsets of some government teachers. In training sessions, some inevitably say, “This is not possible. It cannot be done.” However, when they are taken to a nearby school and see the program in progress, they leave convinced of the program’s efficacy.
Sowjanya from the pilot school received her EGMM Cambridge ESOL certificate from the Tribal Minister. In a choked voice at the certificate giving ceremony she said, “I never dreamt one day I would get an opportunity to learn English. It gives me confidence to do anything just like those urban boys and girls I see on the TV.”
While August 11 marks the end of the UN’s International Year of Youth, continuing to focus on rural poor youth, as an integral part of development, will help to reinforce sustainable livelihoods and to ensure the achievement of the MDGs as is seen in Saroja’s life-changing education.