Young girls are learning to speak English in a small village called Saidanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Though the tailored course is relevant and contextual only for girls, it hasn’t stopped boys from joining in the classes. Nishita Banerjee explores further.
Fourteen-year-old Sufiyan Bano cycles from a village called Akbarpur in Barabanki district to a neighbouring village, Saidanpur, every day to reach a digital literacy centre, where she has been learning English for the last two months.
“I want to speak in English on TV,” she tells everyone. Sufiyan wants to become a video jockey.
Speaking in English in Saidanpur is both an aspiration and an accomplishment in a region where, traditionally, a mix of Awadhi and Urdu has been spoken. With the penetration of satellite television, followed by mobile phones, and now the Internet, people fancy the use of English in everyday language. It’s interesting to observe the changes in language in Saidanpur village when you notice that ‘Ismail Nai ki Dukan’ has a new board that reads ‘Ismail Barber Shop’, or when people say ‘wait’ and ‘problem’ instead of ‘intezaar’ and ‘musibat’ in their regular conversations.
Even though English is a compulsory subject at all government schools, students in the area can barely even read a sentence in English. The learning gap can be observed further when the children can use some English words in everyday life, but find it difficult to read or write the same.
Often, English in textbooks is not contextual or relevant to the rural scenario, creating a wider learning gap, and distancing students from the required 21st-century skill.
Two months ago, Sufiyan and 24 other girls in Saidanpur were given an opportunity to learn English through an especially-tailored curriculum called English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE). It was also an opportunity for girls to interact with their peers in English and form an ‘EDGE Club’ for activities in the midst of lacking opportunities in rural spaces. This club is a reason for girls to take a time-out from their daily chores and come together to interact in broken English, read storybooks from the library, and play scrabble or football.
The 25 girls steadily improved their spoken English. Watching them, many young boys from the village felt inspired and encouraged to become part of the club. However, the EDGE coursework has a structure that is relevant and contextual only for girls. The curriculum interacts with problem-solving issues, situation-based activities, and daily exercises using the computer.
The language of the curriculum draws on interactions between girls, in first-, second-, and third-person.
Despite the emplacement, 16-year-old Sunil and some of his friends were eager to learn English with the girls. They often sat through the EDGE class and overheard conversations at the club. A few boys even decided to come regularly for the classes. Learning English through a girl’s perspective, challenges, and interactions was no deterrent.
So, often, when translating sentences from Hindi to English, the boys are learning to translate the feminine gender to English. They couldn’t care less. Their excitement at having spoken a complete sentence in English is a reflection of that.
One can see living in rural areas as a juxtaposition of traditional and 21st century ways of living. This eagerness to learn English also portrays a lack of opportunities or newness. The EDGE course runs in DEF’s Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) in 23 rural locations across 13 districts.
[EDGE is a curriculum developed by the British Council to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically and marginalised communities of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal where access to education and after-school learning is limited. The EDGE programme focuses on enhancing participants’ English proficiency, digital skills, and awareness of social issues.]
(The author is a Gandhi fellow, and an alumna of Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. At DEF, she works with handloom weavers and craftsmen to introduce digital interventions in their vocations in an effort to revive traditional art & craft and improve their livelihood.)
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