Combating Poverty in Tribal India Through the English Language

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SEATTLE, Washington — English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Because of this, being able to communicate in English gives one an edge in finding employment and living more globally. For many tribal kids in India, however, learning to communicate in English is more difficult. Helping tribal children learn English can help to alleviate poverty in tribal India.

Poverty in Tribal India

Along India’s tribal belt, securing jobs and a sustainable lifestyle is very difficult due to isolation and lack of education. As a result, promoting good education for kids from a young age is imperative in alleviating the cycle of poverty that tribal kids are born into. Though the general public in India has a literacy rate of 29.34%, tribal people in India only have a literacy rate of 6%. Welfare in tribal communities and education have a tight link; those who are educated are able to apply for jobs and make enough of an income to support their family. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that an increase in education results in greater success rates of employment and higher earnings.

However, obtaining an education in tribal India is not easy. Most tribal people are only fluent in their tribal language. Furthermore, they have never been exposed to outside languages and cultures. Consequently, it’s hard for tribal kids to assimilate into state schools, making it difficult to receive standardized education. Since public schools only teach in the common language of the state, this leaves a wide gap in communication and reinforces the stereotype that tribal Indian students are slow or uncultured. Tribal kids in India could more easily integrate into society and earn a dependable income through the teaching of a language that is more common in the state, such as English.

The Importance of Learning English

Learning English opens up many job opportunities in the future because it is a global language. It is spoken by 1.35 billion people around the globe and is the language of business. For someone growing up well-versed in their local language, succeeding in the foreign industry requires basic knowledge of English. An ability to read and write English allows for far easier communication and provides connections to Western corporations. Without a common language connecting the workforce to outside communities, local companies lose social networking abilities relied on for business. Employers also look for interviewees with strong communication skills. Even if an applicant possesses the technical skills necessary for the job, being unable to answer a question or write in English could be a serious impediment that leads to job rejection.

The Role of NGOs

A local NGO called N+One conducts a match-making service for those in need of learning English. This program works to combat the low priority given to educating kids in India’s tribal belt. The NGO scouts for students and pairs them with one of its many volunteers from around the globe. The program is free and allows kids to learn how to read, write and speak English. A student named Jiya expressed in a report, “I want to learn more English so that I can go to the USA for further studies and get a job.” Learning English represents more than a societal need to these kids; it is a portal to a brighter future.

The “Read-a-Story Program,” as it’s called by students, provides reading materials to both volunteers and students at the necessary reading level. As the volunteer and the student complete books, the student moves up a reading level. This program covers many levels: basic pronunciation and recognizing small words up to reading paragraphs and understanding their meanings. Amod Joshi, an organizer for the Read-a-Story Program, stressed the need to regularly check on the progress of the students in an interview with The Borgen Project. As such, students’ improvements in the language is analyzed at regular intervals throughout the program.

Joshi also discussed the program’s methods of improving the education of students. “There’s no magic about any of these things. You have to provide the child the necessary one-on-one attention when they need it the most.” Beyond the technical aspect of recruiting global volunteers, Joshi agreed that learning English is important to end the poverty in tribal India. From a small idea, Joshi and other program organizers were able to make the idea more of a reality. N+One has already influenced the futures of hundreds of tribal children.

Continuing Education

Receiving a good foundation in education is essential to succeed later on in life. Regardless of one’s career choice, the skills learned in school are important devices in communication and personal development. For many tribal children, learning English is a way to impact their future and help put an end poverty in tribal India. Reflecting on the success of his program, Joshi concluded, “I think [English] is an option multiplier in life for the child. I think they will have many more options in life if they learn English.”

Esha Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

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