Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 10:34 UK

English radio lessons a hit in India

By Amarnath Tewary
Patna, Bihar

Students listening to a radio broadcasting the English programme at a school in Patna, Bihar
Teachers say the programme is a hit with students (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

There is pin drop silence in a crammed classroom at a government primary school in the northern Indian state of Bihar.

The students are looking inquisitively at a radio set perched on a plastic chair in the middle of the classroom in the capital, Patna.

They are all waiting for a new English lesson to begin - on the radio.

The lesson is called 'English is Fun' and teaches the basics of the language to primary school students.

"It is very easy to learn English on radio. Every day we wait for this class. Even if the teacher is not in the class we learn and enjoy the programme," a student, Sakshi Kumari, said.

Interestingly, backward and dirt-poor Bihar appears to be a trend setter here - a recent federal government report found that school students in the state are now faring better in English and mathematics than anywhere else in the country.

This in a state where only 47% of people are literate as against the national average of nearly 65%.

So, for half an hour, four days a week, millions of primary students in Bihar today learn English through this radio lesson.

Ever since the programme began in November last year it has become an instant hit with the students.

The Bihar Education Project launched this English teaching radio programme in collaboration with a US-based organisation, the Education Development Center, and the US Agency for International Development (USAid) to boost primary education in the country.

'Big hit'

The year-long interactive radio lessons are being broadcast by the four regional state-run All India Radio stations. The lessons cover seven million students attending 65,000 primary schools in all the 38 districts of the state.

Students listening to a radio broadcasting the English programme at a school in Patna, Bihar
Studies reveal students in Bihar are faring well in English

"After 25 episodes of the programme, we found that it is a big hit among the students," director of the programme Rajesh Bhushan said.

The state government has given 1,000 rupees ($25) to every primary school to purchase a radio set for the 122-episode English learning programme.

Starting with songs called 'Good morning' and 'Goodbye', the programme teaches the alphabet and words.

There are interactive lessons in which students also pick up useful tips about traffic rules, health and hygiene.

Teachers find the lessons useful.

"The programme provides poor students of government schools an opportunity to learn the English language, brush up their grammar all while having fun," said English teacher Archana Kumari.

Encouraged by the response, the state government has decided to set up community radio stations at some schools for broadcasting lessons.

The government has identified 11 schools in Patna and neighbouring Nalanda district where the these radio stations will be set up.

Getting children educated continues to be a daunting challenge for authorities in Bihar.

The state government recently hired over 300,000 teachers but over a million children still remain out of school in the state.

Back at the primary school in Patna, students say they would like the "radio class" to continue.

"Now listening to the radio we can already say things like good morning, good evening, hello and other things like that. We enjoy learning English through this radio class," says Mohammud Abid.

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