Category Archives: English for empowerment

Empowering girls to change their world

Reducing gender disparities in economic life, in leadership and decision making, in education and in health improves the lives of men and boys as well as women and girls. Evidence shows that more gender-inclusive societies experience reduced levels of conflict, [1] increased competitiveness and economic growth [2] and more representative governance. [3] As recent research has shown, including the Global Education Monitoring report, girls and women in South Asian countries have less access to education than boys and men, including opportunities to develop the digital skills increasingly required for employment and communication. This gender-based digital divide can lead to future skills imbalance and unequal life chances for women. [4]

EDGE learners using the LearnEnglish for Schools self-access resource

EDGE learners using the LearnEnglish for Schools self-access resource

Building gender equality

Access to English and digital skills development
In an effort to contribute to bridging the gender digital divide, the British Council is implementing the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) programme in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Delivered in partnership with local development organisations, EDGE uses non-formal, community-based, peer-led clubs to provide opportunities for girls to improve their English and digital skills and raise awareness of relevant social issues. The overarching goal is that adolescent girls from marginalised communities can make more informed and independent life choices, in order to contribute more fully to their family, society and the economy.

In addition, EDGE aims to improve the leadership skills of a smaller group of Peer Group Leaders (PGLs) drawn from the same communities as the club participants. The importance of developing young leaders to promote gender equality through non-formal education has been emphasised in the gender review of the 2016 Global Education Monitoring report by UNESCO which states that ‘non-formal education can offer young people opportunities to develop the leadership skills to promote gender equality in their peer groups and communities and throughout their lives’ (pg.41).

To date, 759 PGLs have been trained across the three countries, running sessions in 356 clubs and reaching 9018 participating adolescent girls. Advocacy work among community leaders and parents is also a feature of the programme, to build trust and understanding of the project objectives and awareness of ways these groups can actively promote more equitable opportunities for girls and women.

Promoting gender equality within school systems
The Pudumai Palli Project in Chennai (P3DISC), funded by the MacArthur Foundation aims to improve the livelihood prospects of students, particularly girls, in socio-economically marginalised urban communities by enhancing their 21st century skills, including English, ICT, enterprise and leadership skills. P3DISC is delivered in partnership with the Corporation of Chennai and is embedded into the secondary school system, with 70 participating schools. After school clubs offer opportunities for girls to develop their skills as club leaders, working with boys and girls on focused projects and activities.

A series of training modules around gender issues have also been developed for the school’s Head Teachers and teachers, highlighting common ways in which gender biases can be perpetuated in the school environment and strategies for how these can be addressed.

At the British Council, we see issues of equality and diversity as a crucial part of our work in cultural relations. For further information on the British Council’s approach to promoting gender quality:

For more information on the EDGE project:
For more information on the P3DISC project:

[1] Hudson, V et al. (2012) Sex and World Peace. Colombia University Press
[3] World Bank (2012) Gender and Development
[4], 2015

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English language skills could boost employability and earning potential

There’s a scene in the Yash Chopra film ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ where Shah Rukh Khan offers to teach Katrina Kaif how to play the guitar in exchange for English lessons.  From selling fish in a South London market to becoming a waiter, and finally a bomb disposal expert in the Indian army, Khan’s ascending career trajectory is matched by ever increasing English language skills.

India. 2013.  In Bollywood and in real life, proficiency in English is perhaps the key factor in improving employment prospects. In a nation of over a billion people, the employment market is a crowded space and English language competency is seen as increasingly non-negotiable. Irrespective of the number of degrees and postgraduate degrees you might have, technical qualifications, industry experience and so forth, not being able to communicate effectively in English is perhaps the greatest barrier to career growth.

The India I visited for the first time almost 15 years ago is a very different place to the India of today. Landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport I remember the arrival terminal’s one small chai stall, Devanagari signboards and a road into the city centre punctuated with cows. Even though the time lapse we are talking about is relatively recent history, the importance of English has risen exponentially since then.

My most-recent visit to Delhi airport last month provided some food for thought. Not just with international visitors to Delhi’s airport – but seemingly also among India’s burgeoning flying classes – English is the preferred language of communication. This impact of widening English use consequently finds itself filtering through all sectors of society.  From the executive at the airline check-in desk to the barista serving your chai latte at Starbucks, being able to make yourself understood and being able to understand others in English are an essential competency of the job.

Some might say it was the growth of the call centre industry and the rise of business process outsourcing to India that helped initiate this demand in learning English for professional reasons. Whether it’s the relocation of many BPOs from India to new territories such as the Philippines, or a growing rejection of working late nights and constant targets, the call centre industry no longer seems to be the driving factor behind English language acquisition for employment purposes.

In fact, the most popular courses in our suite of Executive options are those that typically attract mid-level professionals wishing to fine-tune their written or spoken English and who already possess competent English language skills. Our once popular Call Centre Skills course has, in fact, in the last ten years, been superseded by this type of product.

Our regular English courses attract learners from beginner to advanced level, with our Spoken English and General English courses perennially popular. In dialogue with students joining a language course at the British Council ‘I need to improve my English to get a good job’ and ‘I won’t get a promotion unless my English gets better’, are routinely articulated to our placement testing team.

Since starting work with the British Council in 2006 I have been witness to numerous success stories of former students. From the pre-intermediate level learner from Old Delhi who is now undertaking a teacher training CELTA course at International House in Seville, to the Creative Writing student whose first novel recently launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

It would be hard to put an exact figure on the number of students I have trained on IELTS exam preparation courses over the years, but it must be in the thousands. Many of those students are now thriving in their professional lives in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many more locations, working in fields from medicine and dentistry, IT, education, the media, law, and business.

I think here Shah Rukh Khan’s character in ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ going from tentatively pronouncing ‘salmon’ (a new word learnt while studying English in the bath) to achieving professional success in the UK and India, is an achievement story I have seen repeatedly mirrored  with our past and present students in the British Council.  A happy ending is not just in the movies.

Post by: Steven Baker, Senior Teacher, British Council, New Delhi

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