Equipping Indian learners for the global workforce



– By Ratnesh Jha
The Open Doors Report 2021 released by the Institute of International Education reflects that more than 1.6 million Indian students were studying in the US in the academic year 2020-2021, which accounts for nearly a fifth of all international students in the US. In the month of September 2022, US Mission in India released a report, stating that the US state has issued a record-breaking 82,000 student visas to Indians to date, the highest ever for the corresponding period in any year and more compared to any other country in the world.
Further, the number of Indian students studying in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada, have grown significantly in the last couple of years. It is estimated that roughly 1.8 million students will opt for higher education abroad by 2024. India’s young demographic is eager to explore offshore education and subsequently seek avenues to join the global workforce.
Indian Government envisages that by 2047, India would contribute to 25% of the global workforce. To help create capacity, while the new National Education Policy (NEP) is acting as a source of guidance, the Indian government is attempting an ambitious target to improve Gross Enrolment in Higher Education to 50% by 2035 from the present GER of 28% approx.
Notably, as a nation, we are all set to harness the power of our demographic dividend, from being a ‘populous country to a ‘productive nation’ contributing significantly to the global GDP in the next few decades.
Building English language proficiency
It is however critical to look at some of the key drivers that will help young learners become a part of the global workforce. Building English language proficiency is a prerequisite for those either looking to study abroad or seeking an overseas job. Our educational institutions must find ways to accelerate the language acquisition process for students, to attain grade-specific learning outcomes. It’s a reality that our graduates, and post-graduates, with qualifications in English, struggle to score well in English language proficiency tests or leave a great impression on employers with their sub-par language skills.
This is the single biggest hurdle for our young population seeking global avenues. And the solution lies in re-imagining our approach to teaching-learning English.
Use of technology in building language proficiency
There is democratisation of technology, with the availability of internet and bandwidth at a very affordable price. Our smartphone-led internet penetration has been leveraged to drive reach and access in education. Today’s language learners have access to technologies, that not only help to correct speech, pronunciation, and accent but also enable the availability of content, anywhere and anytime, while creating personalised learning experiences.
Technology has also enabled language proficiency enhancement at an individualized pace, providing an option for learners to learn, assess, and grade themselves. AI-driven platforms negate the need for a human interface to a large degree, enabling the learner to become self-reliant to a great extent. Audio & video aids, simulations, and features such as speech recording can help language learners practice and finesse their English skills.
Technology has helped democratise language learning, wherein working professionals, homemakers, part-timers, and others are able to learn English without necessarily being always in a classroom. Needless to add, those in non-metros and sub-urban towns today have access to quality resources, contrary to the limited access to knowledge and information in earlier times.
Multilingual approach to learning English
India is a diverse and rich nation with several different languages that exemplify the country’s inclusive character. Our learning institutions, especially in tier 2 and 3 towns have a local language as the primary medium of instruction. Often, this leads to learners not attaining proficiency in English until very late in their lives.
Educators and education solution providers are now developing multilingual pedagogies and resources, leveraging learners’ home language in the teaching of English. This not only helps in a better understanding and smooth transfer of concepts and skills, from the learners’ home language to English but also makes learning more liberal and inclusive. Given that a large majority of learners in India are bilingual – a multilingual approach to learning and teaching English is both pragmatic and impactful. Today, learners have the option of learning English through resources available in their mother tongues, such as Punjabi, Tamil, or Marathi, just as examples.
Finally, India is at the cusp of making a global impact on its young population, which is smarter and has access to much better learning resources than earlier. With the right technological and pedagogical interventions, India is well poised to create a generation of learners who are eager to take India to the world and become global leaders in their domains!
– Writer is a CEO, Burlington Group – India & South Asia.