Monthly Archives: November 2009

The President’s shoe

I hope Som Mittal will forgive me for sharing this story, told to me by a very senior corporate delegate. I thought it was such a nice conference story that I wanted to blog about it. So, it seems Som lost the sole of his shoe during the panel discussion this morning. He left the stage and bumped into the corporate delegate in the foyer, who promptly offered to swap shoes with him, saying ‘Well, NASSCOM has always done a lot for us’. While Som returned to the panel discussion (with his new shoes) the delegate very kindly sent out Som’s soleless shoe for repair. Som was later able to leave the conference with his sole intact.

What a lovely story!

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Soundbytes that make you think

What a fascinating morning session! Just capturing some of the thought-provoking (and sometimes provocative!) soundbytes:

  1. ‘English is a commodity language’
  2. ‘Whether or not to have English language in the Indian education system is not a cultural debate.’
  3. ‘We are at the risk of losing our cultural moorings in India because of English’
  4. ‘English in Sri Lanka is a link language only for its elite class’
  5. ‘Education system must ensure diversity and stimulte creativity in order to have productivity’
  6. There is a difference between being ‘proficient’ in English and being ‘effective’ in English. In India we need to encourage more of the latter.

Have deliberately not attributed these quotes because my memory is a fragile thing!

Irrespective of who said what, do you agree or disagree with what the panellists in the morning said? Post your comments, have your say, join the debates, throw your punches…

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Whose responsibility is it to produce ‘ready to eat’ graduates?

David Graddol interviewed key figures in the corporate sector around the challenges they find in recruiting employees.  The corporate sector wants candidates who are immediately employable as there is the danger that they may invest in people who then move on to join other companies.  The skills they are looking for are more than just communication skills, although these are of course of extreme importance, but also inlcude other skills such as teamwork.  It was argued that school often kills initiative and confidence, and certainly does not produce the kind of candidate that the corporate sector wants.

What do you think?  Whose responsibility is it to produce the kind of candidates who are ready to enter the corporate sector?  Is it the resonsibility of the education system or the responsibility of the corporate sector?

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Nandan to Martin, India to UK

For the inaugural programme of the Policy Dialogue at the British Council office in New Delhi, we had set up a lounging space for the speakers to meet and chat before they went on stage. This was the VC suite in our library. When Nandan Nilekani arrived last evening he was welcomed by Ruth Gee and Chris Gibson. As we were ushering him through our lively library, there was a minor stampede among our young members rushing to Nandan, asking for his autograph and requesting him to pose with them for a snapshot on their mobile cameras. Nandan obliged one and all.

It brought home the point what an iconic figure Nandan is for millions of young Indians across the length and breadth of the country. So it’s not just the cricket and Bollywood film stars that capture young India’s imagination.

Inside the lounge, Martin Davidson, our Chief Executive, met Nandan and said how grateful he was to him for giving British Council his time. What Nandan said to Martin deserves to be framed in gold and put up somewhere. He said, ”I am here to pay back my debt to the British Council. As a child, I was very privileged to be a member of the British Council library in Bangalore.” Cannot think of a better compliment than that on the occasion of our 75th anniversary!!

It also got me thinking about the chance meeting that some of our young library members had with Nandan. Some of them will probably go onto become similar successes and icons in their own right, in their own time. Will they then remember this fortuitous encounter? If they do, I think British Council will have justified the raison de etre of our existence several times over.

Cultural relations, perhaps, at the end of the day, boils down to encounters such as these. One can only create a space and context where such chance meetings can take place and destinies altered. 




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The Role of English in India

In this stimulating and thought-provoking debate, it was generally agreed by the panel that the role of English in the future of India’s social and economic development is both necessary and desirable.

There is a need for an ongoing shift of English as an elitist language, towards a more universal access for all. In this way, the people themselves can choose to pursue English.

However, there were certain caveats to this:  

one danger of pushing through the English language agenda is that of lack of infrastructure in place. A lack of teachers coupled with unregulated quality of teaching practice will not bring about the desired results of incresed numbers of proficent speakers of English.

Furthermore, if increased amounts of time are given to English studies in class, and these classes are ‘ineffective’, then the learner will not only suffer from a lack of English, but this will be at the expense of other important subjects.

Very salient points. So what are the solutions?

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Should we label languages 1st, 2nd and 3rd?

Som Mittal, president of NASSCOM,  speaks at the Third Polcy Dialogue as part of the first panel discussion – English Next India: Policy implications for English teaching and learning.

Som believes using the labels 1st, 2nd and 3rd language is wrong and wonders why we can’t just use the term ’languages ‘ like we  do with other subjects, such as sciences. Should equal importance be given to L1, L2 and L3? What do you think?

The panel discussion is getting lively. Watch it live or recorded online!

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Nilekani and Graddol set the tone for English Policy Dialogue

At 6.30 pm IST, English for Progress: Third Policy Dialogue was inaugurated by Nandan Nilekani, Chair of the Unique Idenitiy Authority of India and one of the pioneers of the IT revolution in India. David Graddol presented the findings of his report English Next India.

Ruth Gee, Regional Director of the British Council in India and Sri Lanka and Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council, spoke of the importance of the Council work in the area of English language and highlighted the work of Project English in India and Sri Lanka.

In his inaugural address Nandan Nilekani said that English played a key role not only in the field of commerce  and industry but was also a key factor in cementing the diversity of India. English, he stressed was the language of opportunity and the challenge in front of the government and education agencies of all hues was to make the language more accessible and break down the class barriers surrounding the language in India at the moment.

David Graddol’s fascinating presentation raised a number of critical questions about issues we sometimes take for granted about English in the region. One such riddle was around the direct link between English and jobs in India. David took a fresh look at the easy corelation by pointing out that the link was only true of the organised services sector of the labour market, whihc was a very small fraction of the total job market. So if by a miracle, a majority of Indians had good English skills overnight, there simply wouldn’t be enough jobs to go around.

David stressed on the growing importance of English language competence as a skill at par with numeracy and ICT in the international education scene rather than a language with a baggage.

One of his most striking findings were how China is fast catching up or might even have surpassed India as far as the total number of English speakers were concerned. Part of the reason was the large scale project China embraced in 2001 to make English compulsory at the primary school level. But teacher proficiency, David said, was the key to achieving quality in English language education everywhere.

All in all, a very exciting launch of the Third Policy Dialogue. Speaking to other speakers and delgates from India and Sri Lanka, one can sense a lot of urgency among the various key education agencies to provide good English language skills.

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Most popular food item

H ello from a cool and sunny New Delhi.

I’ve just been sampling the buffet breakfast here at the conference venue, the Hyatt hotel, with my colleagues. The verdict on the hotel food so far has been very positive. There’s lots of variety and it all seems very fresh.

The smoked salmon was easily the most popular item on my table, though being vegetarian,  I did not partake. Everyone also enjoyed the salad and bakery selections. Ice cream was also on offer for breakfast, including a ‘roasted muesli flavour’.

Please send in your comments on the hotel food and what is tickling your taste buds.

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Who supports the teachers?

Among the many fascinating statistic’s in David Graddol’s address last night,one comment resonated with me, and with many others if my conversations at the reception that followed were typical.  Any programme is only as good as the teachers on the ground.   Teachers sometimes attend training at the start of a new initiative but are then left alone to get on with it.

In Sri Lanka, there is a network of 30 Regional English Support Centres (RESCs) with well trained and committed staff who act as mentors to teachers at the local level.  The more I interact with the RESC staff the more impressed Iam. 

Is there such a netwrork in other places that provides continuing in-service support to teachers and is it well supporgted from the centre?

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