PRELIM 2: boosting the confidence of international English teachers and UK ELT centres
The scheme which supports worldwide English teacher development through partnerships with UK language schools is underway once again.
An interview with the British Council's Roy Cross and Liz McLaren
Roy Cross, who had the original idea for PRELIM (Partnered Remote Learning Improvement Project) is really excited to see how it works out this time. With £500,000 funding for the scheme, the number of participating English Teacher Associations (ETAs) has doubled to 40, mostly in Official Development Assistance countries. They are partnered with 35 accredited UK language centres, most of which are English UK members.
Supporting language development and confidence in English language teachers worldwide
While the prime motivation is to support language development and confidence in English language teachers around the world – and the report on the 2020 scheme showed this was successful - Roy Cross and colleague Liz McLaren have seen many other benefits.
"What excites me most is the excitement I've noticed among the UK teachers and managers and the country associations. Some of the ETA teachers said they had never spoken English to a real person in a real context before and it had given them confidence. One said they had spoken it to their primary school class but to have real communication in English was a really exciting thing to happen. It has just been such a positive shot in the arm. It was a people-to-people thing, it wasn't just a piece of work, it was exciting and fulfilling," said Roy Cross, British Council's Principal Consultant, Partnerships.
Rich relationships beyond the classroom
He added: "The thing I took from the closing ceremony of PRELIM 1 was that it was people talking to people. It wasn't privileged people in a teacher capacity talking to less privileged students, it was people in the UK saying to Cubans 'I've learned a lot about you and your country and it's been really interesting.' There was a richness to the relationship which went beyond the normal classroom."
Liz McLaren, Accreditation UK's manager, thought PRELIM had boosted the confidence of smaller schools as well as providing a lifeline during the worst of the pandemic. "It's been nice to see the range of centres taking part including some which are newly-accredited or very small. Some are getting really good at this kind of thing and making the most of opportunities. It seems to have given centres a lot more confidence.
"It was also such a useful thing for them during Covid. A couple of schools I talked to said it was great to have something to focus on while everything was in disarray and gave the few staff who were still working something to do. It wasn't about the money, it was more of a psychological boost."
Supporting accredited ELT centres in the pandemic
Supporting accredited ELT centres during Covid had been part of the scheme's intention, said Roy. "There were times when it looked quite bleak - it still looks quite bleak. I think it kept one or two schools going psychologically, and my assumption is that the £10k for some offset quite a lot of their ongoing staff costs."
For the smaller centres, he also thought there was more of an emotional impact from working with a new country which made it new and transformational. "I just wanted to give people the chance to engage with bits of the world they hadn't before in an ODA context, not just another bunch of Italian teenagers," he said. He also believes it might have boosted the confidence of centres in bidding for international projects in future.
Some centres had to adapt to the scheme's very flexible requirements. "We refused to do anything much but specify the course delivery dates. People repeatedly asked questions but we said it's up to you and your partner association. That led to a huge and rich and largely successful variety of options ranging from a large course which almost turned into a MOOC and a small tiny course which was more of a Rolls Royce experience with lots in between."
He added: 'I think we get a lot of impact for the UK and the British Council by making a grant to people and saying, 'here's the guidelines, stick to those, we trust you to do something good. There's been excellent support from NILE, our managing consultants.'
Improving classroom confidence
The starting point was improving teachers' language and in particular their confidence which was likely to turn them into more confident classroom teachers. PRELIM was a learning process, he said: centres learn about new parts of the world, new markets and in many places about delivery platforms and methods. "WhatsApp was perhaps the biggest revelation to many UK partners: this was the way many country associations communicated with teachers." The UK schools were also learning to work with different ETAs, all of which operate in different ways and which might need more persuasion – or challenge - to make the scheme work as well as possible.
Some centres have kept in touch with their ETA from PRELIM 1 but partnerships have not been repeated for the second scheme to ensure varied approaches and give the opportunity to learn about different countries.
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