Chennai-based Karadi Tales made it possible for celebrities such as Usha Uthup, Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad, Saeed Jaffery and Konkana Sen to sing and narrate stories to children in their homes. The company started developing and selling audio books when it found that the Indian content for children was poor in its thought and execution. “My wife (Shobha) and I had returned to India in 1993-94, after a work stint in the U.S. My son was five-years-old then. When we tried to get him books to develop his reading habits, we realised there weren’t many well-produced books,” explains CP Vishwanath, founder-director, Karadi Tales. Also realising there were no audio books, the company decided to produce and market audio books.
Interestingly, a few years later, an NGO working with children of fisherfolk in Chennai approached the company to demonstrate how its stories and songs had helped the children become familiar with the language. “While I found that there was a vibrant energy as the children enjoyed the music and the stories, I did not see it help expand their vocabulary,” Vishwanath admits frankly. He realised that the comfort level with the language had not improved.
This prompted the company to find a way to make the tales and the music useful for first generation learners of a language and establish Karadi Path Educational Trust (Karadi Path), its educational wing, in 2008.
Addressing a need
“Indians should have been the ones to develop the pedagogy for linguistic learning,” says Vishwanath, pointing to the fact that it is normal for many children to know as many as five languages when they are very young. Many hear more than one language spoken in their environment and absorb the nuances with ease, speaking it like a native speaker, whereas languages learnt in a classroom remain a challenge in real life situations. This is so across the globe – be it Spanish taught in American schools or English in Japan, students may learn to read and write, but never truly converse like a native.
English being the language of choice for educational institutes and corporates alike, a vast majority of India’s population struggles to cope even at the college level, when they are forced to study in English after completing their schooling in a vernacular medium.
Many Indian children hear more than one language spoken in their environment and absorb the nuances with ease, speaking it like the native speaker, whereas languages learnt in a classroom remain a challenge in real life situations
Even at school, first generation students of the English medium have no exposure to how the language is used beyond what is taught to them. As for students who have parents who are fluent in the language, the current system slows them down. Karadi Path’s endeavour is to take English beyond a classroom or a boardroom to where thinking in the language is a naturalised process. It took the company 10 years to evolve, develop and test the methodology where learning the language would be more intuitive and experiential. Importantly, its main aim is to enable English language learning and empower students from across social backgrounds, using innovative processes.
Charting a course
Karadi Path’s learning modules include 150-160 hours of sessions for classes LKG to Std. II. Karadi Path trainers train teachers to handle the material. “The training includes three parts: a well-mapped process connecting the learning tools; the tools themselves such as CDs, books and experiential activities for intuitive learning of the language and implementation through the teacher who is continuously supported by Karadi Path to fine tune the experience as the year progresses,” explains Vishwanath. The teachers do need handholding to tone down their ‘teaching’ instincts to enable experiential learning.
Karadi Path currently works with 260 schools, primarily in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, across the segment right from rural, tribal and corporation schools to international schools. Its product for colleges has also been tested and implemented in two colleges.
Currently, the company is working on is micro tutors in cluster centres. The first one has been implemented in Theni and it follows a B2C model where anyone interested in learning the language can come to a centre where the tools and the tutor are available. The tutors will be rural entrepreneurs who will be trained by Karadi Path trainers in language training.
“What we need are people with the right aptitude and some knowledge of English. The language is learnt only through the tools, but the tutor or teacher facilitates the right experience,” Vishwanath points out. Madurai and Dindigul are next in line.
Studying social impact
“We have not studied the impact directly on the end-user because we believe that everybody has the innate talent to learn. If the learning is not happening, then the process needs reworking,” explains Vishwanath.
Hyderabad-based Nandi Foundation entered into an MOU with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to improve outcomes in the corporation schools in the area of English and Maths. For English intervention, it evaluated programs and external alternatives and selected Karadi Path. The evaluation involved assessing students’ learning after 40 hours of sessions at one school, where it found an improvement of 306 per cent in the target group. The intervention was started in August 2009. The Baseline study was conducted by Naandi in September 2009 and Endline study in March 2009.
Another independent study was conducted by the Directorate of Education – Goa, which had done a pilot study of Karadi Path in 2008 and had recommended a larger study based on the findings. Due to political changes, this was not followed through at that time. This was recently revived and the study involved 20 hours of training in a school and comparing the impact with another set of students who had no training. The result revealed a difference of 30 per cent in the learning skills of the students. Unsurprisingly, Karadi Path’s modules are now set to be taken to over 100 government schools in the academic year 2013-14.
Looking to the future
Karadi Path received seed funding of Rs 8 crore from Mumbai-based social venture fund, Aavishkaar. At present, it is looking into a second round of funding to further operations.
We are sailing against the wind, teaching in a way that is contrary to the traditional system,” Vishwanath points out. Though there are several English training tools present in the market, most follow the traditional system, which has proved ineffective. “Of course, there will be replications, but I think we will remain two steps ahead because we have a head start and constant fine-tuning keeps happening,” he says confidently. The company’s trainers are critical to its module as they enhance delivery and carry forth feedback, which helps fine-tuning.
By next year, Karadi Path is expected to touch more than 600 schools and its team is slated to grow from 44 to 72, in the coming academic year. “We have been growing gradually, but now we expect to grow 2x to 3x in the next three to five years,” adds Vishwanath. The company is confident of the effectiveness of its methodologies and will look to scale up not only in the rest of India but globally where there is a big potential in South-East Asian countries as well as non-English speaking European countries.
In the three academic years since Karadi Path’s presence in the market in right earnest from 2010, it has grown from Rs. 13 lakh in the first year to projecting Rs. 6 crore for the first half of FY 2014. Vishwanath expects to close the year with Rs. 12 crore.
Apart from reaching out to different geographic locations, colleges and the customers directly through its micro-tutor route, it also plans to develop other products such as digital recordings that will challenge the Linguaphones used by the corporate world for training employees in different languages. Some customisation to accommodate different cultural sensibilities will be involved, but Vishwanath is confident of meeting that challenge, largely due to the experience of the team in working with the actual users and implementing their feedback into its learning mechanism.
Founder: CP Vishwanath
Core: English language learning and facilitation
Concept in brief:
Karadi Path’s endeavour is to take English beyond a classroom or a boardroom to where thinking in the language is a naturalised process. It took the company 10 years to evolve, develop and test the methodology where learning the language would be more intuitive and experiential. Importantly, its main aim is to enable English language learning and empower students from across social backgrounds, using innovative processes.
For founder-director, CP Vishwanath, the greatest impact of Karadi Path’s learning methodology is that it improves comprehension of the subject, which results in better understanding of all subjects taught in that language. According to him, the venture is able to currently improve the situation marginally, but in the years to come, the impact will be more visible as the company’s reach increases.
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