Chhattisgarh and Texas have something in common. Both have Hispanics whose learning abilities are quite similar, according to a survey conducted by the Chhattisgarh government.
Though historical evidence is scanty, it is believed that people of Spanish descent reached Chhattisgarh 300 years ago as workers, probably with the British. They settled in small hamlets in remote parts of tribal Chhattisgarh and even today follow age-old Mexican traditions, according to a Chhattisgarh government official.
For the first time, a similarity was traced between them and Hispanics in Texas via a radio-learning programme. "It was not intentional but accidental," the official conceded. After the results of a pilot project in Bastar and Kanker districts were finalised it were matched with similar study in Texas in the early 1990s. "The results were strikingly same," he informed. Texas has huge population of Spanish descent.
The idea of a pilot project to gauge the learning ability of Hispanics was formulated in 2005 after the success of 'English for Fun' programmes in the state. "We wanted to know whether radio lessons improve learning ability or not. Those who were of Hispanic origins were chosen as literacy among them is higher then other tribals and they could speak both English and Spanish," said Vijay Kumar Ratre, a local coordinator of the project.
The government prepared 120 radio lessons on food, hygiene and nutrition in English and Spanish with bits and pieces of local culture thrown in. "If the lesson was on how to make better tortillas, we kept in mind the way tortillas are cooked in Bastar or Kanker district of Chhattisgarh," said a regional coordinator of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, which was also part of the project.
The English version was broadcasted for five days a week on All India Radio and in Spanish on a radio station provided for Bastar and Kanker. Of the 175 Hispanics, 51 per cent spoke who both English and Spanish and the rest who spoke only Spanish, listened to the radio lessons.
Similar project in Texas in the early 1990s had comparable findings. "Fifty five-minute radio episodes increased awareness of chronic disease among Hispanics in Texas, and 39 per cent of them acted to improve their health, similar to the trend recorded in Chhattisgarh," said Ratre.
Education through radio has been largely successful in four states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Two levels of 'English is Fun' have already been broadcasted through AIR stations.