The majority of affordable private schools in India are English medium schools. With the exception of Hindi and regional dialect language classes, APS teach all subjects in English. When parents hope to judge the value they are receiving from their child’s school, spoken English skills are one of the first things that they look for. Though parents often cannot speak English themselves, they ask their children to read English billboards and to repeat phrases they have learned in school to determine how much they are learning.
The best explanation for the desire for spoken English skills is the nature of the Indian job market. English is valuable for anyone who wants to work for a major corporation, become an engineer, enter into medicine, or even gain employment in the hospitality industry. The parents, students, and school owners of the APS community all know that English education is a vital part of reaching this goal.
However, APS teachers are largely untrained and often lack strong spoken English skills. Their primary vocabulary is from their own school years and textbooks, which they learned through rote. Even when only English is technically allowed during school hours, school staff and students often speak in their native language inside and outside the classroom. This translates into student English skills that are far below expectations.
Education technology could play an important role in the APS sector’s desire to meet the need for proper spoken English training. There is mounting academic literature supporting the idea that ICT is the best way to spearhead English education, not only in developed nations, but all over the world. A recent UNESCO report argued:
“Literacy instruction traditionally emphasizes the acquisition of specific skills and information, but downplays the importance of analytic use of language. Recent developments in educational psychology suggest that literacy is best taught within a context that stimulates problem solving and analysis along with reading, writing and ICT literacy competencies. ICT can offer such learning opportunities (Alfassi, 2000). While learning with ICT, students are likely to become thoughtful, literate users of language.”
The potential of ICT for English education is beginning to be recognized outside of academic circles and in the business world. Airtel, one of the largest mobile service providers in India, has partnered with Brittanica and LearnNext to provide encyclopedia and educational games on computers. Another company, Applied Mobile Labs, has launched English On Mobile, a product that uses mobile phones to provide spoken English classes.
With India being the second largest smart phone market in the world, it is likely that there will be many more companies tapping the vast potential of ICT for teaching English.