Claire and I thoroughly enjoyed the many excellent presentations at the IATEFL conference in Birmingham last week. It was a good opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues and to wander around the centre of the city…
Last week I was in Montenegro evaluating the work of the PELT project, which has been running for three years and is due to finish this time next year. I talked to officials at the MOD and visited the Masline Barracks in the capital, Podgorica. I also made separate trips to the main MOD training centre in Danilovgrad and the Mountain Company in Kolašin. The aim was to see the progress of the teaching and learning of English in the Montenegrin Armed Forces (MAF) and to make recommendations as to what needs to be done before the project closes.
I had very constructive talks with teachers in the system as well as IT specialists, learners and unit commanders. In all the meetings I attended, there was agreement that there has been marked progress in the overall provision of English language teaching and learning for the MAF as compared to 2013 when an initial needs analysis was conducted. My thanks go to Jasmina Alkovic of the British Council who co-ordinated the visit and, especially, all of the teachers and also Lt. Col. Petar Ducic and Capt. Sanja Pejovic of the MOD. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days.
We have been delivering training courses for Peacekeeping English Projects (PEPs) in a number of places recently. Last week Claire was back in Zrenjanin, Serbia, running a five-day regional workshop called ‘Teaching with Technology Part Two’ for 18 military English teachers from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This course built on what was covered during Part One in October and the main aim was for the participants to develop activities using a range of websites, tools and apps that could be integrated into their courses. The participants excelled by creating a far greater number of activities than anticipated, which can now be trialled with their learners.
Rob was in Macedonia after his three weeks working on the PEP project in Namibia. The Macedonian MOD has invested in a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This was set up to enhance delivery of courses, including English language instruction. The British Council organised a three day ‘Introduction to Moodle’ training course for English teachers in Skopje. Rob and Mirjana Ivancev, a consultant from Serbia, led the training of ten teachers and testers. Two teachers from Montenegro also attended and reported back to their MOD on the potential for Moodle. The topics covered included the pedagogy of online learning and practical hands-on experience of the platform in preparation for future course development. The teachers are planning to upload supplementary materials onto Moodle as a first step to gain experience before developing longer courses. In addition, the Macedonian Testing Team are considering uploading information about STANAG 6001 examinations and practice test materials.
Alistair has just returned from China. He was at the UN China Peacekeeping Police Training Centre (CPPTC) providing support and training for Superintendents from across the country who are looking to apply for higher-level, senior positions in the UN Police (UNPOL). Many of the participants had already had significant police peacekeeping experience with some having been on three missions abroad. Alistair was working with Maureen Brown, a former assistant chief constable of Central Scotland and former adviser to the EU and DFID.
Finally, I will be in Podgorica, Montenegro, next week to evaluate the PEP project there. I’m looking forward to it.
Namibia sees it as essential that their military can contribute to peace support operations in Africa and throughout the world; to help achieve this the Namibian Defence Forces and the British Peace Support Team based in South Africa agreed a further course in the training of Namibian Defence Force personnel for peacekeeping and interoperability, to build on the work done last July in Windhoek. This course, the fourth English language training event for Namibian Defence Force personnel, was held from the 8th to 26th February 2016 at the University of Namibia Khomasdal campus. The three-week intensive course was delivered by Rob and Nick Fletcher.
The course was designed to improve the English communication skills of NDF soldiers for peacekeeping purposes and concentrated on communication skills such as giving briefings, radio communication skills [through realistic practice with walkie talkies], and report writing. The twenty-nine participants did a lot of briefings on humanitarian assistance operations and problem-based scenarios, and role-played running checkpoints and vehicle searches (outside in the car park) to develop the practical skills which might save their lives in future operations.
We are involved with a number of publications at the moment. The research that Alistair and I conducted into Basic and Secondary education in Egypt has just been uploaded by the British Council. We looked at education from the point of view of ministries, teachers, students, parents and employers in relation to the education goals of the Ministry of Education and the National Curriculum Framework for English as a Foreign Language: Grades 1-12. I will be travelling to London to present the findings at an event on Monday 7th March to help UK stakeholders to learn more about the context for English teaching and learning in Egypt and the current issues, and to strengthen and explore potential partnerships and opportunities for collaboration. It is similar to a presentation that Alistair made a year ago following research he conducted in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
I am also putting the final touches to editing a collection of research papers by Nigerian academics, which is due to be published in the next few weeks.
Claire is delighted to learn that one of the chapters she wrote for the British Council publication Blended Learning in ELT: Course Design and Implementation, has been used by Pete Sharma Associates to inform the final unit of their new course on blended learning for language teachers. All at McIlwraith Education wish Pete and his associates the very best with the launch of what promises to be an interesting course. For a free PDF copy of the British Council publication click here and and for more information on Pete’s course go here.
Last week Claire paid a return visit to Skopje, Macedonia, to deliver her Teaching with Technology course to the Head of the Languages Department in the Macedonian Armed Forces and her team of English language teachers. Also attending were two English instructors from the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, reflecting the drive towards greater regional cooperation. The course introduced the participants, whom Claire and the rest of the team has worked closely with on a couple of previous occasions, to a range of websites, tools and mobile apps that could be used in class or for self-study, in both low and high tech teaching contexts. The participants also learned how to use a number of tools and apps, to design materials using them, and had the opportunity to participate as learners in activities that they could incorporate in their syllabus. It was a pleasure to work once again with such a dedicated and enthusiastic team and Claire is looking forward to hearing how they blend technology into their language courses.
The Montenegrin Armed Forces and the British Council Montenegro identified a need for a short intensive course in Radio English for pre-deployment training and brought together nine teachers from Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia to create such a course. The teachers, facilitated by Rob, wrote and immediately trialled the course with a group of 14 soldiers, at the Danilovgrad base near Podgorica, over an intensive week of work. The result is a 20 hour course focused on revising and practising Radio English. The course has a very straightforward methodology and could be taught by soldiers in places where teachers are not available. The course will available to be used in all three countries and will provide an essential component of pre-mission readiness training.
We are starting the process of winding down for Christmas and the New Year and getting ready for 2016. I have just sent off the first draft of a set of research papers I have edited to the British Council. These papers are the product of two British Council-managed Hornby Schools that took place in January 2014 and January 2015 on British Council premises in Abuja. The first was led by Dr Eddie Williams, former Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University. The second was led by me. Hornby Schools are run with the support of the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust, UK. The Trust was established in 1961 by A. S. Hornby, popularly known for the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. The schools are recognised as one of the most prestigious activities in the field of ELT. Each year these schools have enabled teachers to develop their expertise and upgrade their English teaching skills.
Participants on the first school were invited to attend the second event. The majority came from Nigeria, but others were from Rwanda and Ethiopia. Most were senior teacher trainers and inspectors at State or National levels. There were also researchers and education specialists from donor-funded projects such as UNICEF and the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), which is funded through the UK Department of International Development (DFID).
The schools had similar aims: to help course members share and discuss different approaches used by teachers to deal with expectations of an ‘official’ use of English as a language of instruction in situations where teachers may be working with textbooks in an unfamiliar language, have low levels of English, poor literacy rates and a default bilingual delivery including the use of pidgins.
The participants were asked to conduct small-scale research projects to look at aspects of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) in their localities and states in relation to national language-in-education policy. They approached their task from a variety of perspectives and this is reflected in the collection, which will be published online in the New Year.
In January Claire will deliver a week long course on Teaching with Technology to the English language teachers who work in the Macedonian Armed Forces Foreign Language Training Centre. This work, along with that which Alistair undertook in December on STANAG testing, forms part of the ‘Working towards Sustainability and Interoperability’ project. Two of the project’s deliverables are to provide targeted training for the English language teachers in the Armed Forces and for the STANAG testing team. The main aim of Claire’s course is to present, discuss, and evaluate a number of online tools and mobile apps that can be used for language teaching and learning and to consider firstly whether to and secondly how to integrate them in a principled fashion into the current courses.
Rob will be in Montenegro in January. He’ll be working with teacher and trainers from Montenegro, Macedonia and (possibly) Bosnia and Herzegovina to create a short course on Radio English, which the participants will then team-teach to some students during the week. Rob will also give developmental feedback during that teaching process. The outcomes will be a short course and teachers trained in the process of developing short courses and some peer review on teaching.
We are also very pleased that NATO Allied Command Transformation has approached the Serbian Armed Forces for permission to use the Introduction to Online Learning Moodle course Rob developed for the Serbs in 2014 as part of the PELT Project. The School would like to use the course in the development of its residential two week e-Learning Design, Develop, Deploy course.
Alistair has also been busy. He is finishing off a desk-based needs analysis as part of our work with the UN China Police Peacekeeping Training Centre (CPPTC) in Langfang, just outside Beijing. This has involved research into existing reports and documents and an analysis of responses to questionnaires he developed for returnees from UN missions (particularly Police Peacekeepers deployed to Liberia and South Sudan) and teachers in the CPPTC itself. The aim has been to develop a better understanding of the English language needs of mission personnel and, as a result, develop a more relevant syllabus, course content and materials for them prior to deployment. All of these results will feed into the design of Syllabus and Materials Design courses that Rob and I will deliver in the first half of next year.
Last week I was in Colombia helping shape an English language policy for the Ministry of Defence and Police. This involved working with a policy framework that had been developed by the British Council. The framework has a number of components including management structures, teacher development, testing and assessment and the creation of an information system. The aim is to set in motion the ‘The Minerva Plan’, which is the Colombian Army’s strategic plan that seeks to revolutionise military education so as to ‘bring the army up to international standards’. The Plan is aligned with Colombian Armed Forces objectives as developed by the Strategic Committee for Transformation (CETI) and Innovation and the Strategic Committee for the Design of the Army of the Future (CEDEF). The ambition is that by 2022 some 80% of military personnel will have sufficient English to be trained abroad and perhaps take part in multinational peacekeeping missions abroad. I presented different views on language policies at the annual Expodefensa event in Bogotá and also advised members of the MOD’s language policy management team on how they might implement their policy more effectively.
During this same week, Alistair was in Skopje, Macedonia, helping the MOD’s English language testing team develop their approaches to testing in line with NATO’s standard: STANAG 6001.