Ahmedabad: Yusuf Ansari hopes to own a restaurant some day. The 17-year-old works in a tea shop in Ahmedabad’s walled city area—which is dominated by low-income households—and recently cleared his Senior Secondary Certificate (SSC) exam (Class XII) with 49% marks. Ansari believes there’s one thing that stands between him and his goal: English.
“If I want to own a restaurant, I must learn to speak English,” he says. “ I cannot afford to take English speaking classes as it costs a lot,” adds Ansari.
His predicament is shared by Arvind Patel, an 18-year-old who works as a peon in a private firm. “I run around bringing tea and snacks and cleaning up,” he says. “There is another peon who knows to read and write English. He visits banks and clients and gets four times my salary. I want to learn English,” adds Patel.
The Gujarat government wants them to do so, too. On Saturday, it launched the Society for Creation of Opportunities through Proficiency in English (SCOPE), an initiative to teach English to Gujarati youth in the 15-35 age group.
Language lessons: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched SCOPE, an initiative to teach English to youth in the state
“SCOPE is being set up to build English language proficiency in the youth of Gujarat and provide employment to them,” said Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi during the launch. Investments have been lined up (in the state) and over 25 lakh jobs would be created. “We want Gujarati youth to be equipped to cash in on this boom,” he added.
Apart from encouraging English-language schools to offer a course for Rs1,200, which the government thinks will be affordable to people like Ansari and Patel, the state will also pay for the students to appear for a certification examination. Three schools have been identified to provide courses under SCOPE.
According to data from the 2001 census (the latest available), Gujarat ranks 15th among Indian states in terms of literacy, with a literacy level of 69.98%. The male literacy level in the state is 80.5% and that of female, 58.6%.
However, according to historical data such as the census of 1991 (similar data from the 2001 census is not available as yet), only 4.8% of people who are literate in the state graduates, with over 41.2% having been educated till the high-school level.
No data on proficiency in English is available, but it is likely that this varies between the last two proportions—4.8% and 41.2%.
The state government wants to change the perception that Gujaratis cannot speak or write good English. “We want to change this perception and equip our youth for the language the world understands,” Modi said.
The government will provide SCOPE training at over 1,000 centres across the state. “We want to train over five lakh Gujarati youth to be confident about their English-speaking skill by the time Gujarat celebrates its golden jubilee in 2010,” Modi said at the launch. He spoke in Gujarati.
Students being trained under SCOPE will appear for a certificate examination—the University of Cambridge’s English for Students of Other Languages (Esol).
“Gujarat is the first state in India to make such an attempt in English language learning,” said Archit Bhatt of Tripada Multicourse Pvt. Ltd, one of the three institutes that has been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching English under this programme.
Harpreet Singh of Academy for Computer Training (Guj.) Pvt. Ltd (ACT), another training institute in English and communications, said that the school would usually charge a student Rs5,000 and more for an English language course. Under SCOPE, it will charge only Rs1,200 and taxes for the entire course. “SCOPE plans to launch six levels. The first four would be introduced by the first week of July and the rest six months later,” added Singh.
The schools hope to make up for the discount through volumes. “We have already received over 4,000 enquiries for enrolment in the programme,” said Singh.
The state government will spend Rs200-350 for each student appearing for the Cambridge Esol examination.
Modi is also chalking out a separate plan to train Gujarati farmers in computer literacy.