English Language Enrichment Course for Primary School Teachers in Telangana

Even though the objective of the course was to help teachers in developing their English language proficiency, we found that teachers also understood and appreciated the method of teaching and learning English that was used in the course.

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Abstract

Azim Premji University collaborated with the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), Telangana, to design and transact an English Language Enrichment Course (ELEC) for primary school teachers in the state. The course material (text and audio-visual) was selected for various levels of English readiness. It reached over 51,000 teachers through 3644 mentors using a blended mode of face-to-face and online sessions. A technologically robust online platform was developed for this purpose. The course completion rate was over 90 percent.

A brief background

The SCERT, Telangana, was keen to provide English language support to all the teachers of the state. Its collaboration with Azim Premji University to develop an English Language Enrichment Course (ELEC) began in 2019. Meanwhile, in March 2022, Telangana decided to transition the medium of all public education from Telugu and Urdu to English. Consequently, ELEC Level 11 became one of the most important components in the capacity development of teachers in facilitating the transition to English medium. In this note, we describe the course design, its transaction principles, key strategies for scaling up and enabling factors that facilitated its implementation for primary school teachers.

Challenges

It was clear from the beginning that the course would have to be scaled up to reach all the 51,000 primary teachers in the state. This was both exciting and challenging. The challenges were at several levels:

  1. Developing a single meaningful and effective course that would cater to all teachers at various levels of English readiness.
  2. Developing a resource pool of mentors at the state level so that the course would reach all the teachers of the state through a non-typical cascade route.
  3. Sustaining language acquaintance for a longer period because language learning needs time, but teachers cannot be taken out of school to attend the course beyond 10 days a year.

We tried to address the above issues in the course design, its transaction, and the scaling-up strategies.

Course design

ELEC Level 1 is a 9‑week, blended-mode course. The first and last weeks of the course are face-to-face interactions of 30 hours each. The seven weeks in between (weeks 2 – 8) are for four (90-minute) online interactive sessions per week and the completion of online tasks. In all, the duration of the course is 98 hours.

The course is organised around themes’ which are drawn from the day-to-day life experiences of teachers. While some themes are generic, such as Friendship’, Relationships’, and Food’, other themes are specific to the work of teachers such as Examinations’, Language’, and Teaching’. There are around 18 themes. Each theme constitutes comprehensible and compelling input’ (Krashen, 2003: 4 – 6) in the form of short newspaper articles, YouTube videos, stories, and simple articles from magazines. This ensures engagement, sustaining interest for a longer period and meaningful contexts for the teachers.

A need analysis was done with 103 teachers to understand the requirements of teachers regarding the English language. During this analysis, themes that the teachers found interesting were documented and considered while deciding the content.

The basic structure of the course is simple and recurrent. A theme and stories, articles, and videos around it are chosen. Based on these materials, open-ended questions are developed which give opportunities to participants to speak their minds without the fear of being wrong’.

This structure was replicated for all the themes. As a result, participants imbibed the structure of the course along with the rationale behind the structure. Further, the face-to-face component and the online content had the same structure, which aided participants’ ease on the online platform – they were aware of the expectations.

Course framework and material development

The selection of themes and content was done together with teachers and teacher educators of Telangana. Collaborative decision-making was an important part of the course creation. There are varying ideas on how to approach English language teaching and learning. Moreover, there are several courses available, both in online and face-to-face formats. In this scenario, arriving at a common framework for developing the course and then implementing it was challenging but useful. It was not a straightforward process of creating a framework and then developing a course based on it. The initial brainstorming on the framework was crucial, but the framework also evolved gradually as each aspect of the course design was discussed.

A key learning from this project was to involve more and more stakeholders in the process. In this case, it built high ownership among the mentors.

Pedagogic strategies

Care was taken to select content that was engaging for adult participants. The material selected was from all levels of language ability (from children’s literature to material for adults), and it was multimodal – it had text and videos in many genres. Similarly, the transaction of this content needed to be absorbing and creative. A range of diverse tasks were developed for each theme. These ranged from individual tasks to group work – presentations, songs, art, theatre, voice upload and narrative – the range of tasks subsumed under the broad category of Communicative Language Teaching.2

All the tasks given were open-ended. There was no specific right or wrong response to any question. All errors’ were seen as a natural part of language learning. So, the focus was not on correction but on listening, speaking, reading, and some writing – treating language as a social phenomenon. As a result, peer interactions were mutually respectful: allowing mixed-language interactions while encouraging the use of English; giving participants time to think and frame their expression; and supporting them when needed.

Mentoring

During the two weeks of the programme, teachers needed to be able to understand the content and associated tasks; they needed to be able to reach someone with their doubts; and have meaningful opportunities to interact beyond the intense face-to-face interactions. Hence, mentoring was central to the scaling-up process. Time and effort were invested in the selection of mentors and in preparing them for providing real-time support to the teachers.

Each of the 33 districts in Telangana provided some of its most enthusiastic teachers as mentors. Some of them became coordinators, who not only supported new mentors but also managed several batches of participants. The suitability of mentors was decided by two factors: first, ease with the English language, and second, commitment in terms of time and effort.

The first step in this process was the selection of suitable mentors. The next step was to help them understand ELEC, and then own the course (by offering them the freedom to plan the online component/​discussions), and hand-hold and support them whenever they asked for it.

Mentors and mentees stayed in touch through phone and WhatsApp messages. A principle of continuity of communication evolved. The participants felt supported because they could reach their mentors, coordinators, and faculty regularly and easily.

Some teachers who joined as participants, after the completion of the course, expressed their willingness to take on the role of mentors. They were excited about their learning experience as participants and wanted to take it to the others in their peer group. Eventually, ELEC developed 3644 mentors.

A key learning underlined a familiar maxim: the more one invests in people development’, the better the results. People involved are the key to the success of any programme.

SCERT support

From its very inception, ELEC benefitted from proactive support from the state. A dedicated and academically-oriented coordinator from SCERT was an asset to the course. Coordination among the members of SCERT, state officials, district education officers, block coordinators, mentors, and the participating teachers was key to the success of this programme.

Regular visits by faculty and functionaries

Another important feature of ELEC, connecting with all the stakeholders included observations by the University faculty when the courses were being transacted at various locations. This helped in connecting with block-level mentors, getting an understanding of how the course was being transacted, and providing feedback on what more needed to be done to support the mentors. For the participating teachers too, these visits were a sign of the seriousness of the purpose.

Robust technological Design

An online platform was designed at the University for the submission of tasks, their evaluation, and follow-up. Some features of the platform were:

  • The online platform was simple to use. The tasks performed on the online platform were the same as those in the face-to-face mode. For instance, a video or text followed by a few open-ended questions.
  • There were a few friendship with technology’ sessions that were conducted to support participants in using the online mode.
  • On the online platform, groups were created for each mentor with a limited group of 10 to 15 mentees. So, the mentor could focus on the responses of their mentees and respond to them to ensure lively discussion on the platform. Follow-up also became easy.
  • The platform captured the completion report of each of the participants. It also captured the attendance in online sessions. This data was available participant-wise, mentor-wise, and district-wise. There was a regular follow-up using this data.
  • Each of the administrative officers at the district level was familiarised with the process of viewing the data with a common username and password so that they could update themselves at the end of every day/​every week.
  • The platform had a user-friendly interface, 24×7 support, and a mobile app – all designed for low bandwidth utilisation.
  • There were WhatsApp groups with all the mentors at the district and state levels. Any concerns that the mentors could not resolve reached the district level and later, the state-level groups.

This elaborate architecture ensured that mentors and mentees could coordinate and transact ELEC even amidst the uncertainties of digital access across various geographies. An unexpected positive was that mentors and participants reported a substantial increase in their digital skills! The usability of the platform and the blended mode contributed greatly to the course completion rate of 90 percent.

ELEC, thus, offers several learnings in designing and implementing a scalable language support model.

Response of participants

There were many stakeholders in the design and implementation of this course. Each group of stakeholders responded according to their roles and responsibilities. Since our primary stakeholders were teachers and mentors, we share how they responded to the course.

  • Even though the objective of the course was to help teachers in developing their English language proficiency, we found that teachers also understood and appreciated the method of teaching and learning English that was used in the course. In fact, they implemented the pedagogy in their classrooms and shared several videos with us on how young children were also picking up English.
  • The participating teachers and several mentors created short videos based on the course. YouTube has many such videos.
  • The mentors went the extra mile to connect with each of their participants, especially the ones who were struggling and helped them shed their inhibitions in speaking in English. The mentors were very active on the WhatsApp platform, making their mentees upload short audios on a variety of topics – this was beyond the course requirements.

References

Krashen, S D & Terrell, T D (1998). The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Prentice Hall, Europe.

Krashen, Stephen. (2003). Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use: The Taipei Lectures. Heinemann.

Renandya, W A, Jacobs, G M, Krashen, S, & Hui Min, C O (2019). The Power of Reading: Case Histories of Second and Foreign Language Readers. Language and Language Teaching, 8(1), 10 – 14. Retrieved from https://​pub​li​ca​tions​.azim​premji​u​ni​ver​si​ty​.edu​.in/​1881/.

Richards, J C & Rodgers, T S (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press.

Authors

Nisha Butoliya, School of Education, Azim Premji University
Arun Naik, School of Continuing Education and University Resource Centre, Azim Premji University
A Giridhar Rao, School of Education, Azim Premji University
 

  1. The course was labelled ‘Level 1’ because there are no prerequisites for this course in terms of English language proficiency beyond basic familiarity with oral English.↩︎

  2. Excerpt from the Course Document: The course draws upon pedagogy that is usually grouped together as communicative language teaching (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, pp. 153-243). These involve:
     ↩︎

    Collaborative language learning: learning a language is a social process. It involves interactions with people and using language in meaningful situations.

    Using comprehensible (intelligible to speakers) and compelling (interesting and challenging) input: according to the Inpu Hypothesis, language acquisition occurs through meaning-making (Krashen & Terrell, 1998, pp. 18-21).

    Self-selected, voluntary reading: both to provide the kind of inputs mentioned, as well as rediscover the pleasure of reading (Renandya et al., 2019).


    Dialogue and lowering the Affective filter: to build confidence, and ensure participation (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, pp. 178-183.) It is crucial that participants use language in fear-free and anxiety-free situations.