Unsung heroes of international teaching project praised
Interview with Jon Burton, chief executive of IATEFL
PRELIM 2 (Partnered Remote Language Improvement Project), the British Council-funded scheme pairing accredited ELT centres with English Teacher Associations all over the world has now wound up for the year and report writing is under way.
But participants are still reflecting on how the British Council-funded scheme partnered 35 accredited language centres with 40 English Teacher Associations around the world to build teacher confidence in classrooms of all types.
PRELIM 1 and 2 have been shortlisted for The PIEoneer public/ private partnership of the year award: it is based on high-level collaborations between the British Council, English UK, IATEFL and NILE and on individual partnerships between language centres and participating nations. But one crucial element is often overlooked.
Role of the English Teacher Associations cannot be understated
Jon Burton, chief executive of PRELIM partner organisation IATEFL, says the role of the English Teacher Associations (ETAs) in the success of each partnership cannot be understated. "Everyone always focuses on the teachers but we specifically liaise with the in-country teaching organisations, which are often left out.
"All credit to the schools in the UK for creating great courses, and all credit to the course participants for working full time and showing commitment to develop themselves and therefore to benefit their students by finding the time and commitment. But I think for me the unsung heroes are the volunteers in the teaching associations for helping to facilitate this project. They are absolutely incredible.
"They are all volunteers working in their own time as they gather information and identify teachers to take part and we are incredibly grateful to them for their key role in facilitating the whole thing. The main thing is finding the right kind of teachers and enough teachers and keeping them engaged. That's not because the courses aren't interesting, but because teachers have to find time to join classes when many work evenings or travel long distances to regional schools, and connectivity is always a challenge in some countries."
"Anecdotally we seem to be improving on that this year, with engagement stronger in terms of take up and continuity of participants generally."
IATEFL ran webinars with participating English teaching centres during both projects to get feedback, and created a platform for them to communicate with each other. This year, that had to be on Padlet (a free online tool) as it was tricky to find a platform which worked with the different constraints in each country.
Technology was an issue quite a few raised, he said: negotiations between UK centres and their ETA at an early stage of each project covered this as some platforms might be non-existent or banned in certain countries. WhatsApp had been very popular in many places, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, not only for communication but for teaching development. "One thing mentioned by quite a few teaching associations was that teachers have appreciated not only the language improvement content but also seeing new platforms and ways of virtually presenting courses which they have really enjoyed and found valuable and I hope transferrable for some of them as well." Teachers' associations had been able to apply to a connectivity fund for better or stronger internet connectivity to run the courses.
Jon noted good feedback about the way the UK teachers had worked with their in-country counterparts. "I think it is important to teachers in other countries that it didn't feel like the UK schools know everything. They are all professionals, all qualified teachers and working as equals and sharing knowledge has worked really well so all credit for the UK schools for that. The feedback I got was that schools in the UK found the experience as valuable and learned as much in a sense as the course participants in-country did. The feeling was that it was colleague-to-colleague across the profession rather than learners and teachers so that's been a real success."
Excellent preparation between both sides
Another real strength of both PRELIM projects, said Jon, had been the excellent preparation between the provider and the ETAs to establish the teachers' needs. "They have created courses specifically to meet those needs, and it's really been targeted in every location, as far as I'm aware." He added: "It's so difficult to plan lesson times when there are a hundred or 50 or 20 teachers, all on different timetables in different schools and you are trying to find commonality when everyone is available."
"I'm very aware of not wanting to make generalisations about the challenges in different countries – Thailand and Italy both participated this year, both had challenges and both had courses focused on the needs of those teachers. That's the beauty of it – that it's not one-size-fits all."
He concluded: "We wondered whether we could get double the number of teaching associations taking part in PRELIM 2 but we did and quite a lot of them re-applied which says a lot. There was a lot of enthusiasm.
"If you want value for money in supporting the teaching of English around the world this is a pretty good way of doing it and a pretty cost-effective way of doing it. It's a very positive project."
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