English is one of the widely spoken languages by the majority of people across the world. The universal significance of this language not only opens the door for better opportunities but also keeps you connected with several community groups in society. As India is a diversified nation with different cultures, speaking various languages, English alleviates that communication gap, especially at workplaces.
According to the Statista survey report 2019, approximately 88 percent of the respondents from urban and 3 percent from rural speak English. From rewriting history to bringing a change in the economy, this language has the power to turn the tables. For writers, it became a voice for the voiceless, for working employees, it’s a golden ticket to climb up the corporate ladder, and while for a majority of us, it’s a medium of exchange to connect and meet new people across the world.
Well, knowing the significance of English and what it can do in this dominating world thickened with layers, Aarti Madhusudan, founder of Governance Counts, and also an alumnus of TISS, Mumbai, and NIMHANS, Bangalore came up with an initiative called ‘Let’s Teach English’ to help underprivileged children speak good English.
How Let’s Teach English Initiative Started?
Since there were no exams due to the pandemic, Kalpana, the headmistress of the Government school in Kotturpuram, also a friend of Aarti, thought that regular conversations in English would help the students keep in touch with the language. So with that in mind, Kalpana approached Aarti, as she volunteered at the school before too, hoping that if she could help with volunteer outreach to teach English to Class X students.
Then, Aarti had put up a Facebook post in the last week of June 2020 which read: ‘English Theriyuma?’ or Do you know English? - a request for 50 English-speaking volunteers who could speak English to a first-generation English speaker for an hour a week. In a couple of weeks, Aarti’s inbox was filled with overwhelming responses from every corner of the country saying that they were ready to volunteer and more than 600 people had signed up. After like 10 days, a simple Facebook post snowballed into a volunteer movement garnering 1000+ volunteers ready to teach. “The overwhelming response was instrumental in transforming a tiny initiative into a larger movement”, reminisces Aarti.
Neha Kotecha, a senior Software Engineer at Salesforce based in Seattle, USA, reached Aarti at the same time expressing her interest to help out with the initiative. Neha and Aarti put together a simple curriculum to get the program going. Neha organized the volunteers into highly engaged and energetic Whatsapp groups and created a positive cycle running. “We have more than 100 whats app groups today where all the fun happens, says Neha.
Two months later, Apoorva Bhandari, Cognitive Neuroscientist at Brown University, Boston, USA, whom Aarti knew during her previous volunteering days, also joined LTE (Let’s Teach English). All of them wear multiple hats - “there are no defined roles and boundaries that each of us should stick to. In particular, some of the roles at LTE are volunteer management and engagement, scaling, social media handling, volunteer outreach, data management, volunteer assignments, etc”, says Neha.
Speaking of the curriculum for Let’s Teach English, it is separately designed by another team, who is again a group of volunteers who put forward every week to bring novel changes based on the feedback they get from other volunteers who started using the curriculum to help the students. “The goal of the initiative is mainly to help students feel English is less of a foreign language. By the end of 2020, we had a volunteer army of more than 2000 extraordinary people of all ages and backgrounds from around the world teaching students across dozens of schools and organizations”, states Neha with a smile.
The Whole Teaching Process: How It Works
Let’s Teach English is a 100% volunteer-based initiative. Each student is paired one-to-one with a volunteer who commits to providing 15 hours of tutoring for 15 weeks. Every week, the volunteer calls the student and takes a 1-hour session over the phone, where they chat, play some games, and do some exercises in English.
The entire program happens on normal phone calls. Through this process, the volunteer helps the student improve their spoken English and gain confidence. “These conversations are guided by a simple, easy-to-use, flexible curriculum that we (aka more volunteers) have developed. Each group consists of 25 volunteers who connect on Whatsapp to share experiences and tips to help each other, aided by a volunteer coordinator (We call them rockstars)”, avers Neha and Apoorva.
Let’s Teach English has had 3500+ volunteers of different age groups, young and old, college students and working professionals, retired grandparents, mothers and fathers, even high-school teenagers - anyone who is comfortable with spoken English and has the desire to contribute and make a difference to someone's life. The volunteers are from several parts of the world (India, USA, Canada, UK, Dubai, Singapore). “We have about 45 volunteer coordinators managing and engaging on WhatsApp groups”, they further added.
So far, they have had 3000+ kids of the age group 9 to 15, learning English from Let’s Teach English. We asked how they approach children, Apoorva, one of their team members swiftly replied: “We approach government schools and NGOs who work with schools or directly with the children.” This work is driven by Aarti Madhusudan who has extensive contacts in the not-for-profit sector. He further said, “Schools and NGOs have also heard about the initiative through word-of-mouth and approached us directly.”
Some of the organizations participating in the Let’s Teach English initiative to support them are the Govt school of Kottapuram Chennai, Sevalaya, AngelExpress, Bodhi Tree, CHILD, Teach For India, Masti Ki pathshala, Rotaract club of Viswahita Reliant India, Smile Foundation, Arunodaya, Triplicane school Vidya Niketan, Rotary club of Jubilee hills Hyderabad, Bala Mandir, Gramurja, Alomorah, Azad India Foundation, Kishanganj, Aspire for Her, SNEHA, Spark A Change Foundation, Jeevan Samvardhan/Mathru Chaya Gurukul, GSVM, RoundTable Hyderabad, NavGurukul, SOS Children's Village, and other government schools.
Altogether A Successful Initiative
Certainly, this whole initiative looks like a game-changer for many kids, but the team has faced certain stumbling blocks while they cruise through their journey, and they have shared a few with us like a volunteer drops out after a couple of weeks of volunteering, children not having interest to take the lessons on call because organizations signs these kids on their behalf unknown about their consent, students don’t have access to their mobiles like 24/7, etc.
Despite all the issues they had, the team said, “we brainstorm as a group, jot down the ideas, implement them, fail fast, and move on. Each idea we try to implement and based on the outcome either make it a part of our process or move on to the next idea.”
However, the success of this initiative has brought some happy smiles to many faces. Neha has shared a few with us: “Indu, who’s one of the volunteers from Chennai, works as a tutor for Let’s Teach English, her daughter Meenaxi who’s currently staying at Atlanta GA USA once said that, "Neha, I wanted you to know that even though the point of this program is to help the kids, it is also helping my mom so much. She is so much happier and has a sense of purpose which she lost during COVID."
A volunteer coordinator named Mahalakshmi from Delhi once shared that, “I’m fortunate to have good students, good volunteers to work with, and an amazing set of VCs who are ever ready to help. LTE has taught me how to be patient. I have learned to see the goodness around me and appreciate every little progress I see in me and the people I work with.”
Another volunteer named Candy shares his experience of a call with a 7th-grade student named Harinath, where he says, “The student was a very motivated kid. His whole family was around him observing and listening to the class as well. It was more of a family learning. The family's encouragement made the kid even more happier and enthusiastic to learn. We did a detailed introduction, his family, his friends, and his surroundings. And I did about myself. The entire one-hour class was filled with fun learning and togetherness. Even his parents were excited to be a part of it as well, as they were applauding his correct answers."
Down the line, they have plans to scale this initiative to reach 1000+ schools/organizations while keeping this initiative non-funding and 100% volunteer-driven. For more details about the initiative, please visit the website here.
All the images are sourced with permission from the Let's Teach English team.