Patna: As the radio crackles to life, hundreds of thousands of students in Class 1 and 2 across Bihar - one of the most underdeveloped states of India - prick up their ears. They are set for another invaluable lesson in spoken English.
The "English for Fun" radio programme started by the Bihar government is a hit among primary school students in the state who feel it is taking them that much closer to modern India.
Rajesh Anand, a six-year-old from Janipur village in Phulwarisharief block, never misses the programme, which is broadcast three times a week during school hours.
"I did not know anything more than the basic alphabet and elementary words like bat, cat and rat. But now I have improved my English after listening to the radio programme," Rajesh, who studies in Class 1, said when this IANS correspondent visited his village close to the Bihar capital.
"Now I can say 'welcome', 'thank you' and even write small sentences," said Rajesh. It's an achievement for a boy who belongs to a landless farmer's family and speaks the Maghi dialect at home.
The programme covers nearly six million primary school students in 37 districts in the state and is broadcast through radio sets in government schools.
"English for Fun" was launched by the Bihar government in December last year at a cost of Rs.40 million in collaboration with a Bangalore-based NGO, Education Development Centre, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
It teaches spoken English and grammar through 50 songs and simple lessons aired by All India Radio in a 50-minute capsule.
"It is easy and interesting. We enjoy it and all of us eagerly wait for the radio class," said Priya Kumari, a Class 2 student from a primary school in Janipur.
Rajesh Bhushan, director of the Bihar Education Project (BEP) that is implementing the programme, said: "It was launched to provide students an opportunity to learn the language, brush up their grammar and at the same time make the process of learning fun."
BEP has provided radio sets to 70,000 schools at a cost of Rs.1,000 per set and is also paying the broadcast fee to All India Radio, Bhushan said. He said USAID has funded the technology tools for teaching and training programmes.
BEP has also published a primer with the help of the Bihar chapter of Unicef that lays down guidelines to teach English to Class 1 and 2 students in primary schools across the state.
Primary schools in the villages of economically backward Bihar cater to children from families with poor literacy. According to figures released in October 2007, the literacy rate in the state stood at 47 percent.
Official sources said 53 episodes of the interactive radio instruction programme have already been broadcast and 122 would be aired four days a week from April 15.