EnglishHelper – Providing Uninterrupted Learning During School Closure
“No child should be left behind! Our deployment of AI technology for English in thousands of government schools across India has created a tech-enabled learning model that signals a transformative opportunity for large-scale change across the country. Our technology is provided as a classroom solution (ReadToMe School Edition) supported by the same technology as a phone app (ReadToMe Student Edition) for self-study at home. It is true that not all government school students will have access to Android devices, and that gap needs to be closed with public, private and philanthropic sources of funding. The aim is to provide each student, anywhere in the country, the ability to access ReadToMe Student Edition.” – Sanjay Gupta, CEO, EnglishHelper
Technology that Is Integrated with School Curriculum
Nationwide school shutdowns over the past several months have created new challenges for students and teachers. To help students learn while at home, EnglishHelper’s ReadToMe® software, which has been traditionally used in school classrooms (ReadToMe School Edition), is now also available to students on Google Play Store as ReadToMe Student Edition. This app is accessible to students across India through an Android smartphone or tablet. ReadToMe Student Edition is an AI-enabled multi-sensory reading and comprehension app that is trained to read textbooks in the English language. The app supports reading and comprehension for K-12 learners and is designed to facilitate self-learning for students.
The journey began in 2013 with 100 government schools using ReadToMe® to read English textbooks under the RightToRead project – EnglishHelper’s flagship program, now having a footprint in 27 states and 4 union territories across the country. The new app, developed in 2020, widens the access, since students can use this powerful software to learn on their own at home. The technology is expected to reach 20 million students by 2021. Presently, ReadToMe Student Edition is trained to read NCERT textbooks in English including subjects like history, geography and even mathematics. The scope of the app is constantly being enhanced with the coverage of textbooks prescribed by various states. The program is also used for CBSE and state boards, too.
Sowmyashree B. is the English teacher at Government Higher Primary School, Veerbhadranagar, Bengaluru. She has been using ReadToMe School Edition in her classes with textbooks being read by the software, and integrated for use as per the regular school time table.
Sowmyashree says that students learn better with ReadToMe® – it helps them get their pronunciations and spellings right, and allows students to understand unfamiliar words and their meanings easily, through the use of the picture dictionary and the vernacular dictionary tools in the software. She says that the familiar accent of the reading voice is really helpful, and being able to adjust the reading speed of the text helps every student learn at her comfort level.
Sowmyashree adds that while the pandemic and school closure left teachers and students in a state of panic, the ReadToMe Student Edition app came as a big relief in overcoming the disruption in school learning. The app is designed to assist students with self-learning while schools are closed, and students do not have access to their teachers. Sowmyashree is upbeat about the app and encourages her students to practise their lessons daily. She says that when schools reopen, students will be able to enjoy learning with ReadToMe®, both in the classroom and at home, thus closing any gaps in their learning.
Voice of Students
From Bengaluru in southern India, to faraway hilly Himachal Pradesh in the north, ReadToMe® is much loved! “I have just one goal – a job in the government sector so I can support my family”, says Komal, who is a 16-year-old, grade 10 student of a government school in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh. Komal adds, “my father used to work as a driver, but lost his job during the lockdown, and now my mother, a tailor, is the only breadwinner. I will be able to end the financial troubles of my parents when I grow up and get a job.” Komal is admirably resolute at such a young age. “I want to speak English like my relatives do, especially like my cousins from Delhi”, says this young girl with dreams in her eyes. Like many in India, English is aspirational for Komal. “Exams for good government jobs require English language skills. Also, people pay more attention to you when you speak fluent English. It is important that people listen to you when you are a government official.”
With little or no academic help from her parents, Komal is one of the millions of students who are solely dependent on their school for all their learning needs. When her school closed due to COVID-19, Komal started using ReadToMe® Student Edition on her father’s mobile phone. She is already familiar with ReadToMe®, which was regularly used in her school before the school closure. Komal has now been reading her English lessons on the app for at least an hour daily and reports that she has improved her English language skills through this regular usage. She says, “I can study anytime and anywhere with the app at my own pace.” Komal believes she is one step closer to achieving her dream, now that she uses ReadToMe Student Edition.
Technology Enables Scale
These are just a couple of stories from the countless heart-warming tales of students and teachers who have benefitted from ReadToMe®, primarily through the RightToRead program that reaches over 8 million students across the country. When the lockdown was announced, the program was being implemented in 25,000 schools and is expected to achieve a footprint of 100,000 schools once schools reopen. The newly developed app has the potential to reach over 200 million students, especially from the lower-income segments across the country to help them continue their curriculum-aligned English classes while schools are closed, and to consolidate their learning at home even when schools reopen.
A Multi-stakeholder Public-Private Initiative
From just 100 schools a few years ago, the program has grown exponentially! This has been made possible by the engagement of multiple stakeholders from the private sector and the government. The trick is to keep the model simple. The key approaches and areas of focus are the following:
EnglishHelper has stayed obsessively focused on working with government schools.
EnglishHelper has partnered with agencies that are well established in the sector and trusted by the public education system.
RightToRead projects go through a rigorous assessment process. The assessment reports have been made available for all (they demonstrate a significant gain in students’ English reading fluency and comprehension).
The principle of affordability has always tempered commercial goals.
This Public-Private initiative is becoming a model of replication in states across the country. In the state of Maharashtra, millions of government school students are studying with the help of this reading and comprehension technology.
RightToRead is a ‘without borders’ initiative that has expanded its footprint beyond India, moving to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. After a successful pilot, the program is currently being implemented in all 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka.
EnglishHelper has partnered with organisations across the public and private sector to make their vision a reality. They continue to form new partnerships to ensure that one day, every student will have access to quality English education.For more information on EnglishHelper and their work, please write at firstname.lastname@example.org visit the websitehttps://www.englishhelper.com/
Madhu Ranjan (Freelance Education Consultant)
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