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  • Sumeeta Gawande

English & Technology: Keys to the Doors of Opportunity

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Near the turn of the century, Dr. Ram Gawande planted a seed that would take decades to sprout. He had asked a young instructor of English as a Second Language at Ohio University if he would like to help GSG College develop its ESL program. In 2020, almost two-decades later, that instructor-now-Professor would bring enhancements for teaching not only the language of English but also the new language of technology, thanks to an endowment established by SESA and the Gawande family at Ohio University.

Seeking to Open Doors to Better Opportunities

In rural Umarkhed, students seek an education that will open doors to opportunities their parents never had, to jobs their families never dreamed were within reach, and to financial security that will lift themselves and their communities out of the lingering threat of poverty and hunger.

In the 1990s, Drs. Ram and Sushi Gawande envisioned that the doors of opportunity might open wider for students who spoke English proficiently. On a long shot, they invited the Ohio Program of Intensive English at Ohio University to help develop the English language program at GSG College in Umarkhed, India. Ohio University was interested, but did not have the resources.

More than 121 languages are spoken daily In India, according to the 2011 Census. The native speakers of India’s many languages have great pride in their local languages. In Umarkhed, Marathi is the most common language, and there are many great Marathi texts of poetry, philosophy, and literature. Drs. Ram and Sushi Gawande reflected that, with so many languages in India and the world, learning the widely-spoken English language, in addition to Marathi, could give students more career options.

Learning English at GSG College

With support from the Gawande family, SESA and others, GSG College developed its English language program and, over the years, thousands of students

Professor Bompilwar

enhanced their English-speaking skills through the program. One of those students, Kalyani Bompilwar, developed such a love of the language that she pursued higher degrees in English, ultimately becoming a professor at GSG College and Head of the Department of English. Many visitors from the USA to GSG College have come to know Professor Bompilwar as a rapid and graceful Marathi-English translator of live conversations and speeches.

Professor Bompilwar was asked what were students’ biggest challenges to learning English. She observed that many GSG College students lack confidence in their ability to speak English. Students do not have many opportunities to speak English, and often they do not perceive a practical need to speak English except just to pass a required exam. Therefore, many students find it difficult and tedious to complete the coursework for their English-language classes and even more challenging to practice speaking.

Professor Bompilwar expressed her view that there are various ways that students could overcome those challenges such as by helping students build their confidence speaking English, creating more opportunities for students to hear and speak English, incorporating more English-speaking into their classroom experience, providing additional training to faculty in more effective ways to teach English, and enhancing opportunities for students with a strong interest in learning English.

The Stars Align

In 2018, Dr. Briju Thankachan introduced SESA Director, Sumeeta Gawande, to Professor Greg Kessler an Ohio University Professor with extensive experience teaching English

as a Second Language (ESL) and setting up ESL programs. Ms. Gawande asked if Professor Kessler might be interested in visiting GSG College and giving some guidance to GSG’s English-language program. Professor Kessler said yes and, to Ms. Gawande’s surprise, shared that he was one of the people who had met with Dr. Ram Gawande decades earlier. He had been interested then, remained interested now, and in January 2020, the stars aligned to make his visit possible, just weeks before the pandemic would grip the world.

The Language of Technology

Over the years since Professor Kessler first met Dr. Gawande, Professor Kessler witnessed the language of technology becoming as important as the language of English to opening opportunities, connecting people, and preparing students for the future. He himself had progressed from teaching ESL to researching the relationship between language and technology to ultimately becoming Professor of Instructional Technology at Ohio University.

Professor Greg Kessler Visits GSG College

Professor Kessler was the 2020 grant recipient of an endowment established by SESA and the Gawande family at Ohio University. Since 2012, the Ram and Sushila Gawande India Endowment has provided grants for OU professors and students to visit and collaborate with GSG College.

When Professor Kessler visited GSG College in January 2020, he attended several classes in English Literature and Soft Skills, giving him the ability to assess how English was currently being integrated into educational instruction. He met with GSG College faculty to discuss opportunities to expand both ESL and instructional technology. Professor Kessler also conducted a workshop for students and faculty on ethics in publication, and he was a special invitee on Republic Day for the Flag Hoisting, an annual celebration of Independence. The faculty at GSG College were excited to gain skills for enhancing and implementing technology that would boost not only their ESL program but education overall.

Professor Kessler found that many of the GSG College students were eager to use English and to meet with him. “It was exciting to witness their enthusiasm,” Professor Kessler said after his visit. “I think I must have been in hundreds of photos with different students.”

Professor Kessler has expressed an interest in continuing to work with SESA and GSG College, such as by exploring a possible collaboration between GSG faculty and Professor Kessler’s graduate students to create content and help with online learning.

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Professor Kessler’s visit turned out to be particularly timely. In the face of a worldwide pandemic, technology has increasingly taken center stage as a vital component of education far beyond teaching ESL. As a matter of urgency, the pandemic has provided for the opportunity to experiment with online teaching. Many questions surround what the future of education will look like moving forward.

While no one can predict the future, it can be safely said that learning the common languages of English and technology will create limitless opportunities, and through the work of SESA and educators like Professor Kessler, GSG College students are gaining the keys to open those doors of opportunity.

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