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Tech-savvy way to learn English

London’s ‘Reading Scheme’ boon for kids in remote areas of Uttarakhand
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

Dehradun, March 8
MP3 recorders for teaching English? Yes, instead of downloading popular numbers like ‘Jai Ho’ they are now being used to teach English to the teachers and children from the marginalised community in the primary schools located in remote parts of the hill state of Uttarakhand.

The MP3s are being utilised to record London’s popular English ‘Reading Scheme’ book’s material so that the students and teachers can listen to the correct words and their pronunciation. ‘Reading Scheme’ is phonetically based and uses material from the best literature from the East and the West, including stories from the Mahabharata, Upanishads, some Greek mythology, some parables of Jesus, and also some traditional nursery rhymes.

The teachers and students are told about common erroneous usages of English in India like ‘thrice’ instead of ‘three times’; ‘cot’ instead of ‘bed’; ‘gas’ instead of ‘petrol’; ‘having doubts’ when you ‘have questions or problems’ and many more! ‘The’ and ‘a’ are often misplaced. The mission — ‘Teaching English’ — is being carried out voluntarily by a group of teachers from Ireland and England. Rutger Kortenhorst, Vice-Principal of John Scottus School in Dublin, Ireland, started this programme in 2005 in 20 schools run by the Dehradun-based NGO, Rural Litigation Empowerment Kendra (RLEK).

The Kortenhorst team first made use of a ‘Reading Scheme’ which is employed by their sister school in London called the ‘St. James Reading Scheme’. It consists of 23 booklets, which help to teach reading.

As these books are expensive to print in Europe and transport to India, the copyright has been waived by the London publishers to print this course in India. The foreign teachers’ group raised about £6000 for this and 1,000 booklets of each of the 23 sections have been printed in Dehradun for a fraction of the cost. After finding this approach a little dry, the group supplemented it with other teaching methods like singing songs, learning poetry, performing little plays, dancing, playing games, visiting places of interest and having a grand finale on the last day of the course.

Last year, they started with a new initiative — recording the ‘Reading Scheme’ on 15 MP3s so that the Indian teachers can listen to the pronunciation during the other 50 weeks of the year when these teachers are not there. This provided each school with one MP3 to begin with. It became difficult to run the MP3s because of electricity problems, so last year, they brought 50 MP3s which could be charged manually (by hand). Thus no external component/electricity was required to charge its batteries.

Avdhash Kaushal, RLEK’s chairman, says, “The English language has moved on and we want the children to speak international English and not some local offshoot.”

Rutger and his team use some Sanskrit prayers to make teachers feel at home. The team of foreign teachers turned, for example, to the stories of ‘Prahlada’ and ‘Valmiki’ as well as ‘The selection of Arjuna as the best archer’ into little play-lets, which the teachers performed on the last day. Some teachers also recited the first 10 human rights. They sung some English songs and recited some sonnets and danced their own traditional dances.

At the initiative of James Fox, the young teacher who stayed back last year to continue teaching the teachers as well as students, donors have provided three RLEK schools with carpets and mats for the children to sit on and electrical wiring fitted to provide light in all the classrooms. One donor has given a TV set and an animation DVD for the school in Mohand which has started attracting a lot of visitors after hearing about the English-speaking standard of the students who belong to the nomadic Muslim tribe of ‘Van Gujjars’ and are the first generation to go to school,” points out Kaushal. “I saw some poorly dressed little children, with their toes sticking out of the end of their shoes, shivering in the morning assembly,” says Fox commenting “but their enthusiasm was the highlight of my trip.”

“Their little faces smiled up at me from the concrete floor they sat on. Their little hands shooting up in the air to answer questions I asked, on numbers or colours in English,” Fox recollects with delight, “and I am sure the big bag of sweets I had in my hand helped a little!”

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