Learn more about BBC Janala
BBC Janala ('window' in Bangla) is a unique service unlocking access to English language learning for millions of people in Bangladesh.
It is available on multiple platforms including mobile phones, web, television and print alongside outreach work.
It is part of English in Action (EiA), a major initiative designed to raise the language skills of 25 million people in Bangladesh by 2017 and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
The goal is to contribute to the economic growth of Bangladesh by encouraging English language as a tool to improve people’s livelihoods.
One user of the service who has recognised how learning English can transform her income is Mishti, who lives in Charghat in western Bangladesh.
As well as looking after her husband and sons in her village, she works for an insurance company and travels to the company’s head office each month. "I need English," she says, "because if I want to do well in my career, knowing how to speak English is critical."
Since its launch in 2009, BBC Janala has transformed the mobile phone into a low-cost educational device, offering hundreds of three-minute audio lessons and SMS quizzes through people’s handsets.
It is the largest, multiplatform innovation to improve basic English language skills anywhere in the developing world.
With over 95 million mobile phones in Bangladesh, access to a handset is available to over two thirds of the adult population, including poorer communities, and is increasing rapidly.
By dialling 3000 from a mobile handset, almost anyone can learn English with lessons ranging from 'Essential English' to 'Pronunciation' to 'English for Work'.
BBC Media Action has secured the agreement and in-kind investment of all six mobile operators in Bangladesh to offer these calls at a greatly reduced tariff of 50 Paisa (0.004 GBP) per minute.
The project prioritises 15 to 45 year olds – whose demand is greatest – and particularly those in that age bracket who live on less than £2 a day.
Lessons and quizzes can also be accessed through the website www.bbcjanala.com which features interactive, online learning as well as educational downloads.
Television programmes also complement the web and mobile courses. In 2009-10, a weekly youth show called BBC Buzz was presented in Bangla and English. The weekly drama Bishaash (Believe) also ran for 24 episodes and was followed by interactive game show BBC Janala Mojay Mojay Shekha (Learning With Fun), which returned for a second series in 2012.
The TV programmes have proved very popular. Bishaash alone reached an audience of 20 million, including Mishti: “I have watched almost all the episodes of BBC Bishaash and Janala Mojay Mojay Shekha,” she says. “I watch it with my son and in our spare time we practice English together.”
BBC Janala lessons are also available in print four times per week in Prothom Alo, the leading Bangla daily newspaper, and are available throughout the country in two books and four audio CDs. Almost 200,000 CDs have been distributed so far.
The latest phase of the project is Amar Engreji Course (My English Course), which consists of TV, web, mobile, print and outreach content, enabling adult learners to access the same learning content using the platform most convenient to them. A second course is in development to provide further progression for learners, who can track their progress as they go through the course using innovatively designed learning tools.
With books, CDs and a newly redesigned website, the latest phase has also seen three week-long training workshops with media practitioners and English language learning professionals which aimed to strengthen the English-learning media sector in Bangladesh.
A new TV series focusing on absolute beginners is scheduled to be broadcast in March 2013 and a network of 1000 peer-led English learning clubs across Bangladesh is also being set up in partnership with local NGOs.
"BBC Janala certainly made a difference in my life," Mishti says. "Now I won’t be scared when I speak to foreigners and my bosses."
More on this project:
If I want to do well in my career, knowing how to speak English is critical