Monthly Archives: July 2017

My FameLab India journey

Written by Rini Sharon, FameLab India Runner Up

“This is the pre-boarding call for passengers booked on flight AI901 to Chennai. Please proceed to gate number 3”, went the airport announcement as I sat there taking a stroll down the amnesia lane.

It all started as I set out on a beautiful trip to God’s own country, curious as I’ve always been, with a million dollar question in mind – “What does it mean to be a science communicator?” Surrounded by friends from various scientific backgrounds flooded with the passion to tell the world about their world of science, loaded with back to back sessions on the hows and whys of science communication, engaged in never-ending technical debates and made to feel at home by our fellow hosts, my over-enthusiastic mind nearly forgot that I was there to attend a competition. A competition that changed the way I viewed science, a competition that gave birth to the Science communicator in me- FAMELAB.

The South India Regional FameLab experienced a hard and healthy competition between researchers from diverse domains. None of the participants failed to charm us with their expertise and their exhibition of scientific skills. After many 3-minute bursts of breathtaking awesomeness, 3 of us were lucky enough to be chosen to represent South India in the Nationals. We stood there, one hand holding our trophies and the other holding our famelab buddies whose faces lit with a proud smile. Anxious and excited, nervous yet delighted we eagerly awaited our next course of expedition- Pune…

Fresh faces, new trainers, unfamiliar hosts and increased competition met us at Pune. What seemed like a sober sabbatical in the scenic campus of IISER Pune, turned out to contain two days of rigorous schooling, guidance and practice to equip us all for the FAMELAB India Nationals. The training which was conducted by the too-handsome-to-be-true Mr. Carl Byrne, included various fun yet wisdom imparting sessions like interview techniques, storytelling, taboo games and physical exercises ;-) . The merry-making came to a halt as the national finals neared. Anyone who decided to walk across the 2nd floor corridor of IISER Guesthouse would be stuck with the infectious competitive spirit of the participants and would witness cacophonous practices, heavy nail-biting and people with notepads pacing up and down the corridor. With the media coverage, live streaming, stage practices and online voting, the Famelab national finals much resembled a reality show. A little dance , some poetry, a lot of drama, some magic, everything from bursting balloons to going bald was witnessed on stage- all for one thing – communicating science! The fierce competition was finally lulled as they announced the 3 blessed scientists from India who would get the opportunity to experience the Cheltenham Science Festival in person.

Being a person who has never stepped out of India, I was extremely excited, elated and thrilled at the thought of being a part of an international science festival. Although the preparation for the trip was a painful process, with the leave request being rejected and the VISA being refused, there was enormous amount of support and help from the British Council South India that made this trip possible for me. Looking back now, it might just seem like another laughable experience, but no words could express my gratitude to British Council South India. As I got my VISA the penultimate day of departure, I sighed a breath of relief and set out on my journey to Cheltenham.

Cheltenham – amazing weather, amazing town, amazing people, not-so-amazing food! :-P The first few days sped past as we engaged with science communicators from 31 different countries, got acquainted with their language and culture, exchanged souvenirs and rendezvoused with many field experts who presented their insights about multifarious issues in the scientific terrain. It blows my mind away as to how people from across the nations worldwide could get along so easily just because they share a common passion – science. A lot of science was doing the rounds but everyone lay keenly in wait for the International finals!

The day arrives, and Mayur Bonkile, the Indian representative for FameLab had gone through umpteen practice sessions with myself and Sumeet. We sat ourselves down in the dim lit auditorium taking selfies with our newly made friends, chit chatting and betting about which country would win until we were silenced by the legendary FameLab tune which marked the grand commencement of FameLab International Finale 2017. Without exception, the finalists held the audience spellbound by their enchanting and magnetic performances and gave the judges a hard time deciding who would own the FameLab champion title. The South African contestant won a special place in everyone’s heart as she wiggled and hummed spreading her contagious humor among the audience and won both the audience vote and the FameLab International Champion 2017 title.

Farewells bid, bags packed, skills learnt, memories made. Above all, a life made richer by new found friends…

Lost in thought, I was awakened by the familiar voice, “This is the final boarding call for passengers booked on flight AI901 to Chennai. Please proceed to gate number 3 immediately”!

I make my way back home pondering about my million dollar question – “What does it mean to be a science communicator?”

I know the answer because I am one now.

Thanks to FameLab – the name that spells science in a never-more-fun fashion.

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Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India

India has a long tradition of educational research dating back to the pre-independence period which has included the foundation and development of national and state agencies including the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). However, as David Graddol (2010: 98), for example, has pointed out, the results of this research have not always reached the wider world and India may have been under-represented in the international academic community. British Council India places considerable emphasis on encouraging and supporting educational research and a key strand of that work, for a number of years, was the English Language Teaching Partnerships (ELTReP) Award programme.

The ELTRePs programme ran from 2012 to 2016, with the aim of facilitating high quality, innovative research to benefit the learning and teaching of English in India and to improve the access of ELT policy makers and professionals from India, the United Kingdom and the global ELT community to that research. Researchers on this programme have been supported in undertaking explorations in a wide range of contexts. All writers are practitioners in the field of English language teaching and learning in India, whether teachers, lecturers, educational department personnel or in other roles that involve day-to-day contact with the teaching and learning of English.

Our new publication series Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India brings together thirty three papers which are describe the research undertaken, and present findings and recommendations which we hope will be of benefit to a wider audience. The papers are presented in a series of eleven issues, each containing three papers and each addressing one of the professional practices detailed in the British Council framework for continuing professional development. Topics include a focus on understanding learners, managing resources and the use of information technology, assessing learners, taking responsibility for continuing professional development and using inclusive and multilingual approaches. Each paper reflects the creativity, detailed awareness of context and practical suggestions of the wide range of writers, from different backgrounds and working in different situations. They present results which in each case are innovative and thought-provoking. The papers deal in different ways with the teaching and learning of English in India today and offer suggestions on how to meet these challenges.

Twenty-two of the papers have been edited by Professor Brian Tomlinson, Honorary Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool, TESOL Professor, Anaheim University. A further eleven papers were edited by Andy Keedwell, Senior Academic Manager, British Council India. Both editors worked in collaboration with the writers themselves.

Issue 1 looks at the professional practice of understanding learners and in particular the needs of students, especially for future employability. Barasha Borah makes suggestions on how a more communicative, task-based approach can be used to develop students’ speaking skills for students in secondary schools. Seemita Mohanty looks at ways in which the motivation and self-confidence of young people can be increased. Sutapa Chakravarty investigates how a range of multiple intelligences can be addressed inside and outside the primary school.

We hope you enjoy Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India Issue 1 and find it helpful for the context you work in.

Issue 2 will be released in August 2017.

Graddol, D. (2010) English next India: the future of English in India. London: British Council.

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English and Employability Skills for Higher Education Students in Andhra Pradesh

Up-skilling Higher Education (HE) students in English and employability skills in the state of Andhra Pradesh constitutes the core objective of Andhra Pradesh Higher Education English Communication Skills Project. The project aims to create an environment so that HE students have access to equitable education, increased economic and career prospects and more importantly takes forward Honourable Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s vision “to transform Andhra Pradesh state into a knowledge hub by providing quality education and giving opportunities for students to develop employability skills among the Universities and Colleges in the state.”

In India, English holds a unique role as both a link language and a skill valued by employers across sectors and helps gain better education and employment. This has been stated by research, policy documents and as well as industry bodies:

Growing need for 21st century skills in India-English is considered a 21st century skill, ‘mastery of which leads to better job prospects in the future’. (ASER Report 2010)

National Knowledge Commission in its 2007 recommendations stated ‘English language is a critical determinant of access to, and opportunities for a better life’.

British Council conducted a comprehensive needs analysis to understand the context teachers and students operate in and the training needs expressed by the state. The needs analysis involved 988 stakeholders (teachers, learners, staff council members across colleges and universities in the state of Andra Pradesh). Some of the primary data sources included learner and teacher focus groups, online surveys, discussion with staff council and Aptis assessment (computer-based English proficiency test). In addition, meetings with key stakeholders and policy makers, university curricula, text books, govt. education policy documents informed the key findings and the proposed solution.

The key objectives of the project include:

  1. Learners will improve their workplace English language, employability and soft skills and thereby have increased opportunities for further education or employment.
  2. English teachers will increase their English proficiency and be able to employ teaching methodologies which facilitate more communicative language learning outcomes.
  3. Develop a sustainable cadre of Master Trainers, who will have the English language skills, classroom pedagogy, training skills and mentoring competencies needed to support on-going training and professional development of English teachers in colleges on a sustainable basis.
  4. Employers will have access to a better skilled workforce of young talent

The project model is aimed at creating a cadre of Master Trainers who will train teachers and support them on an on-going basis in addition to building institutional capacity. The teachers will be equipped to deliver an English and employability 100-hour face to face English course with the focus on speaking and writing using learner-centred methods to students in their institutions. Furthermore, students will have access to a 50-hour online course that develops their English and employability skills in addition to grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening and in the process makes them more adept at using digitally-enabled training solutions.

So far 114 Master Trainers have successfully completed 12 days of training on English language teaching and training skills and are currently delivering training to teachers across Andhra Pradesh. Watch this space for more details on Master Trainer’s experience of teacher training and the learner programme.

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