English literacy in K12 is at levels much lower than desired. After school, those in search of jobs or seeking to advance their career, desperately desire to acquire spoken English ability. This is easier said than done.

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Each year over 12 million Indian youth enter the workforce. It would have been good news if they were in Japan – a country with an ageing population and not enough young people to take on the jobs that need to be filled. In India, this massive inflow of working age people is fast becoming a huge problem. The agricultural sector is already overburdened with the challenge of too many depending on too little. In manufacturing, growth is not yielding expected levels of employment opportunity – automation is quickly eliminating jobs hitherto performed by humans. While the service sector provides a slim sliver of a silver lining, it appears most young people in India will need to find ways to self-employ themselves!

The challenge does not end there. There is the problem of the quality of education the young are receiving in school. Over the years, many good things have happened with K12 education – you can find a school walking distance from every village. There has been a significant uplift in primary school attendance. Unfortunately, the good story stops there – abysmal levels of functional literacy adversely impacts the numbers of young people headed for higher education; those who do persevere struggle lacking the basics they never obtained in school.

This is a crisis needing urgent, large-scale intervention. The good news is that solutions are available in the form of technology. The story that follows helps to illustrate.

Like all else, English literacy in K12 is at levels much lower than desired. After school, those in search of jobs or seeking to advance their career, desperately desire to acquire spoken English ability. This is easier said than done. English is complex – for those who do not experience the language in their everyday environment English phonics, which are often arbitrary, is a mountain almost impossible to climb. Formal training avenues are unavailable, too expensive or just not good.

This is a terrific case to evaluate the possibility of technology enabled solutions. A plethora of English Apps are now available on the cloud. A smart phone, an internet connection and a quick download later (often for free); a person can dive into learning to speak English. However, very often, this does not solve the problem. There are many reasons – self-learning has sharp drop off rates; it is difficult to stay motivated enough to stick the disciplined course required. In addition, while self-learning can help with building skill, speaking English requires confidence. It is still difficult to acquire self-belief in enough measure by just practising with a machine.

Programs like EnglishBolo™ seem to have cracked the proverbial code. They have recognised the power and role of the teacher in learning a language. EnglishBolo™ offers learners access to online teachers to supplement the self-learning undertaken.

It is amazing how innovation feeds off success. Once, the EnglishBolo™ team realised their program was making an impact, they focused on the next set of items that would make a difference to learners. Short modules of fifteen minutes only serve the new generation who will not keep their phone blocked from friends and messages for too long. Total flexibility for booking teacher classes is a welcome convenience. Finally, a price that barely pinches makes the program accessible to all.

That is not the end of the story. EnglishBolo™ teachers come from all walks of life – home makers looking for a few hours of employment, senior citizens who want to stay busy or give back, teachers supplementing income after school hours, professionals seeking to develop new skills. Just anybody who can speak English reasonably, write an email on a PC and demonstrates an empathetic attitude can become an EnglishBolo™ teacher. This makes it possible to create a massive teacher network that can support the needs of the huge number of youth aspiring to speak English.

A true story of feeding two sides with one byte.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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