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Rethink business models for India, experts counsel

Rethinking business models with a focus on smaller margins but bigger scale is essential for businesses keen to work in India and help cater to the burgeoning demand for English and skills training. And adapting to India’s “missing middle” and catering to the top and bottom end of the market is another reality to which businesses need to adapt.

Calls for a new A0, or "pre-A1" level of English were made again

These were two recommendations made by experts and stakeholders in the sector, joining a British Council-organised English Partnerships Forum last week on English Skills for Employability.

India needs partners to help meet its need to upskill 500 million people by 2022

English training being delivered not alone but as part of a skills-based package is also essential, as India needs partners to help meet its need to upskill 500 million people by 2022.

Various English language training organisations spoke of their commitment to working in India, which will be the biggest contributor to the world’s workforce in the future.

Paul Lewis, Director of International Strategy at City & Guilds, explained his company is committed to teaching and assessing English “in the vernacular” to ensure it is as useful as possible.

It runs a joint-venture testing arm in India, Manipal City & Guilds, which has tested 85,000 learners in the last few years. It combines English with IT and life skills, aware that IT and soft skills are as valuable as English alone.

Others agreed with Lewis that for Indians with little academic background, there is a need to understand that even the accepted level of A1 competency on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) scale might be too high for those with some working or contextual knowledge of English.

Calls for a new A0, or “pre-A1” level of English were made again – this has already been raised during ongoing discussions of the English Skills for Employability (EsFE) Think Tank, a joint British Council and India’s National Skills Development Agency venture.

Osama Manzar from Digital Empowerment Foundation, India

Osama Manzar from Digital Empowerment Foundation, India

Manipal City & Guilds, for example, already runs a Pre-A1 English foundation course which comprises 40 hours of speaking and 20 hours of listening, reading and writing skills to ensure test takers can be eligible for work as security guards, doormen or in retail.

EsFE reports that one employer pays INR1,000 (US$16) more a month to those candidates who have some English upon joining their firm.

Further research is due in April this year from EsFE around how to improve access to entry-level jobs in various sectors such as health and construction and how language testing and learning might feed into vocational access routes.

“English skills have to be embedded, so let’s work together”

The role that technology might play in helping to upskill India was raised, with CEO of MOOC platform FutureLearn, Simon Nelson, and Osama Manzar of Digital Empowerment Foundation in India both on hand to lead roundtables. Peer-to-peer learning and other delivery mechanisms were also discussed.

Elizabeth Erling, author of a report into The Role of English in Skills Development in South Asia, explained to delegates that her research indicates hours of English studied could contribute to an uplift in wages by up to 30%. English alone isn’t necessarily the causative factor, as it is difficult to separate from socio-economic status, she said, but is as relevant as whether one is urban or rural in wage achievement.

Minister of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, closed the forum by advising delegates it is a myth that knowing English is a status symbol. But, he said, combined knowledge and English skills is a recipe for success. “English skills have to be embedded,” he said, “so let’s work together.”

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