English Vinglish in Chennai government schools: How are students responding?

English education in schools

english class ongoing
English classes have generated a lot of interest among the students in Chennai's government schools. Pic courtesy: CLAD

Learning outcomes in government schools have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. There has also been a record number of enrollments in government schools in the city due to the economic impact of COVID-19. To improve the prospects of students in government schools in Chennai, fluency in English has also been made a key focus, with English classes being piloted across government schools.

A tailor-made programme for government school students to gain proficiency in the English language has also been launched by Citizens for Law and Democracy (CLAD). We currently operate in three schools in Chennai, reaching out to nearly 280 students.

We use English language classes strictly as a tool for upward mobility, as it has been the medium of communication across sectors such as manufacturing, medicine and the law.

Children in GCC schools
There has been an increase in enrollment in schools run by the Greater Chennai Corporation in recent years. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan

Need for English classes in government schools in Chennai

Since 1990, when India adopted an economic liberalisation policy and the global economy grew dependent on technology-based solutions, the economic emphasis has turned to the expansion of the service sector. 

This has substantially impacted youths’ possibilities for upward mobility. English also had a crucial part to play in this restored access to economic mobility. 

Our field research and secondary sources revealed that children and youth without an English education did not receive the same opportunities or enjoy the same prospects as those who did. As a result, we chose to concentrate our efforts to reduce this gap, given that one of CLAD’s founding members encountered a comparable difficulty in public schools. We undertook this study to prove our theory that, although they were delivering quality education, government schools lacked English education.

This is why we decided to choose government state-run and GCC-run schools for CLAD to intervene.

The environment in which children are raised also plays a significant effect in language acquisition, we discovered. Every child obtains their mother tongue from their environment, for instance from their mother, father, relatives, friends, TV etc.

Even before learning the alphabet, a child begins to speak. They say amma and appa prior to demonstrating letter knowledge. In conclusion, the language environment teaches the child to speak the mother tongue, which the child keeps for life.

Despite the best interest and aspiration of the parents to offer quality education and English skills, government schools do not provide the necessary environment to learn English. To ensure that the children receive 45 minutes of conversational English practice in which each child has the opportunity to speak loudly, we constructed a simulated setting. Creating an atmosphere for hearing, speaking and conversing simultaneously in the native tongue and English.


Read more: Chennai’s special schools face challenges beyond COVID


Experience with English classes in government schools

Since the launch of the programme, we’ve found that the schools and students are extremely receptive and actively support the idea. Since they also desired a model that simply adds great value to the children’s day-to-day use, since the usual English subject instruction in schools merely aims to create English as a future subject. 

Therefore, they viewed our vocabulary drill as a less burdensome and more efficient way to assist the children. In addition, the vocabulary drill improves both the mother tongue and English diction simultaneously. The principals and students are more responsive and enthusiastic about it. The thought process of children develops in both languages.   

The absence of a writing component enables the children to completely enjoy the sessions, which consist entirely of listening and reading. The children find the English classes held in government schools enjoyable.

A child in Class III shared with us that he taught his parents some English words/sentences together with the Tamil meaning that he has learnt from our vocabulary drill practice. He expressed his delight that his parents also spoke. This really encouraged us, because it demonstrated the simplicity of our model.  

Teachers have been telling us that students’ anxiety over English has greatly diminished owing to vocabulary drill practice, as every child gets to the stage and read out the words and phrases, the consistency in practice every day, makes them less hesitant to step up and speak. 

Importantly, those pupils who never speak or are engaged in the classroom have begun to come forward and lead the class through vocabulary drill exercises. The proportion of this advancement is great with the girl students, who take up the lead in the practice, which we personally consider as a success for the model.

Overall, the response has been overwhelming. Students are satisfied with the learning methodology as it was more activity-based and participative in nature. We received a very positive response from the parent community. We are striving hard to include audio-visual mediums so as to increase the level of enthusiasm among the children. 


Read more: When parents are involved: What we saw in a Chennai government school


A call to action

While entering higher education, every student from a government school should feel comfortable and familiar with the English language. The gap between private school and public school students should be greatly narrowed.

The idea is to Include our approach in the government education system and make it freely accessible to all government schools.  We can assist the Greater Chennai Corporation in establishing it as a self-sustaining model by equipping the current government teachers to successfully administer it.

As a young NGO, the project is still self-funded. Government assistance is necessary for expansion. We are in the process of pitching this to the government in an effort to become a knowledge partner, while simultaneously raising funding to pay the operational costs of expanding to many other schools in Chennai and surrounding areas. We are now conducting field research in order to curate the books we are preparing for the schools to be relevant to the environment. 

CLAD is delighted to invite interested citizens to participate in this endeavour. The expansion of the number of schools necessitates the involvement of volunteers.

In addition, we are now more focused on Chennai corporation schools, but we plan to expand our work in rural and socially and economically disadvantaged areas.

Local private corporations can assist us in our endeavour by contributing their technology, application development, infrastructure and human resources.

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About Ra Shhiva 1 Article
Ra Shhiva works for social justice, individual democracy and to ensure that everyone has access to their constitutionally-guaranteed rights and opportunities. He has earned a Master of Laws from Georgetown University in Washington and a Master in International affairs from Sciences Po in Paris. He can be reached on Cladindia1@gmail.com

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