​​​Gymkhana makes attempts to improve students’ English

Wikipedia defines Public Speaking as the process or act of performing a presentation (a speech) focused around an individual directly speaking to a live audience in a structured, deliberate manner in order to inform, influence, or entertain them. The skill to communicate effectively is one that is much needed in an Engineer’s quiver. If one contemplates an IITian’s undergraduate life, communicating effectively in English seems to be one of the key skills required to land them their dream jobs (through their ‘acts’ in group discussions and personal interviews). Having identified the need of the students of IIT Kharagpur to become more adept with the language, Atal Ashutosh Agarwal, the Vice President of Technology Students’ Gymkhana​,​​ ​had proposed ELP in his Election’s Statement of Purpose​.​ ​ELP ​was started this semester.


So​,​ what is ELP? ELP (English Learning Programme) is a programme that aims to develop the​ (English)​ communication and writing skills of the participants. Atal said, “Our students, though technically skilled, sometimes neglect the importance of communication skills. But in a world where proper communication and presentation matters, the lack of these in our students ends up tarnishing their image ,as well as that of the institute. So I decided to start ELP for students, which was a part of my SOP.”


To conduct these classes, The British Council ​had been initially approached. However, due to an un-affordable fee quotation of around 11-15 lakhs for the course, the idea was dropped. Thereafter, Communiqué IIT Kharagpur, the official soft skills society of the campus, took up the responsibility to conduct these classes in association with GLAD, a startup founded by Reshma Patra, an alumnus of IIT KGP, who willingly agreed to conduct the classes, for a nominal fee to cover the travel and accommodation facilities required. GLAD provides “personalized professional orientation programmes” for engineering students in India so that they can discover what they are passionate about, pursue their engineering dreams with confidence, and become empowered to make informed decisions about their career choices.


ELP was started with a test to gauge the English skills of those who were willing to participate. Atal explained, ”We decided to concentrate only on those students who needed proper training in speaking and writing skills, as judged by a test and an extempore session.” The classes started the next week. Classes were held on Saturdays and Sundays in batches of 30 students for UG and PG first year students. Special classes were held for those who had studied in Hindi medium schools.


We talked to a student who attended ELP classes and this is what he had to say: “We were given a list of words to learn by heart to improve our vocabulary. Elementary grammar was taught which included tense, subject verb agreement and other basic things. Apart from that, there were activities involving Public speaking and there was an activity in which we had to give a presentation on a movie. There were GD and PI sessions as well and, as expected, most students were interested in it.


“It was a great experience. I come from a vernacular medium background and ELP has made a great difference in my English communication skills. I am much more confident now and can speak effectively in public. Anyone who is regular at ELP would surely notice drastic improvements in his communication skills. The Instructor is an alumnus of IIT KGP and she understands the students very well.”


Although the first year undergraduates have an introductory HS course, it follows a literary approach to English learning, which is of little practical use to those who lack the basic skills. Atal said, “The current course is not adequate to improve the communication skills of the students.” Though lab classes help, they are too few to help those who really need them the most.


Smruti Ranjan Swain, Governor of Communiqué said, “Majority of students in IIT are from English medium background and are good at communication, so students who are not that good are overshadowed. Moreover the class size is very large so teacher cannot pay attention to every student. A student gets chance to speak three to four times a semester, which is not adequate. A batch in ELP consists of thirty students, which is quite small and teacher can pay more attention to students.”


On the societies which claim to improve English speaking skills, Smruti said,”As far as I know, these societies take in students who already have good English speaking skills and try to hone their skills further. However in ELP we start with the basics and gradually teach more advanced skills.” While spoken English courses concentrate only on voice modulation, gestures, facial expressions and pace of the speech, ELP is unique since it additionally concentrates on improving the understanding of how the language works, like:

a. How to structure a sentence in English
b. When and how to use appropriate Verbs, Prepositions, Article, and Tenses
c. How to insert appropriate Adjectives to express the intensity of a message
d. How to punctuate phrases, to be able to take pause(s)
e. How to change Active voice to Passive voice and vice-versa
f. When to use Direct speech and Indirect speech in a paragraph
Thus it focuses on improving the basics of English speaking before moving on to the more advanced nuances of public speaking.


On the turnout in ELP, Smruti said, “We had an assessment test in the first phase for freshers, which more than 700 students attempted. Out of these, we recommended around 400 for ELP. On Barai Sir’s recommendation, PG students were also invited to the programme . A total of 300 students are now enrolled in the programme, where we have four slots for first years and one slot for PG students.”
The feedbacks of ELP have been positive so far, both Smruti and Atal asserted. However, there have been requests for more GD and PI classes by Communique, something which was a bone of contention and as of now, GLAD is no longer involved with ELP. Currently there are plans to make this initiative bigger. Atal informed, “An overhaul of the current curriculum is also being planned in collaboration with British Council to bring in a more comprehensive and communication oriented HSS course in the first year.” There are plans to hold more sessions on public speaking.


“In the coming years, we also plan to expand this initiative through Gymkhana funding so that we can bring in organisations like the British Council to train the students proficiently,” Smruti summed up.

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