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.
Claire has recently returned from Zrenjanin, a city around 50 miles from Belgrade, where she was running a five-day regional workshop on ‘Teaching with Technology’ for 18 military English teachers from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The workshop was organised by the British Council (Serbia) as part of PELT (Programme for English Language Training for military personnel). We have been closely involved with the PELT project for the last three years working on course and materials design, language testing and the development of online courses using Moodle.
The main aims of Claire’s course were to present, discuss and evaluate a number of tools, apps, websites and accompanying activities for language teaching and learning, and to consider how to integrate them into their current English language programmes in a principled way. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of using technology to enhance language learning and Claire is looking forward to hearing how, over the next few months, the participants have applied the techniques she showed them.
The development of language policy is an area that we have had increasing interest in and experience of over the last few years. Following on from our support to the government of South Sudan, Alistair and I have been providing advice to officials from the UK Cabinet Office on the development of a Code of Practice on English language standards of fluency and intelligibility for public sector workers, which is part of a UK government commitment to pass legislation to ensure that every public sector worker operating in a customer-facing role must speak fluent English. This is being carried out in an Immigration Bill, which is currently before Parliament. The Bill has had one general debate in the House of Commons (the Second Reading). The draft Code of Practice is intended to support public authorities to comply with this new legal duty, without creating a significant burden or more red tape.
I am also working on the wording of a text outlining the fundamentals of policy as part of the development of an English language strategy for uniformed services in Colombia. The aim is to build up the capacity of the Colombian Armed Forces to participate effectively in national and international missions where English is the medium of communication. This is work that builds on my previous trips to Bogotá; I will be heading out at the end of November to help present the final policy document to a meeting of all stakeholders.
Many congratulations to Claire who is now a member of the Editorial Panel of the English Language Teaching Journal (ELTJ). The panel is made up of eighteen people drawn from a variety of ELT contexts around the world, but all with a familiarity of writing for publication, and with ELTJ. The group carries out anonymous peer reviewing for the Journal and over the course of a year members will typically have some 20 articles to review. Membership is initially for two years.
Alistair and I are delighted that the English Language Policy Framework we developed for South Sudan was approved at a workshop for senior Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) officials on Monday. The policy was accepted unanimously by four MoEST Directors General and over 15 MoEST Directors. The Framework was explained and presented by the Education Minister’s Advisor, Nelson Odur, and was caught on camera and broadcast on the South Sudan Television network in the evening.
It has taken a great deal of effort by a team of people over the last six months to reach this stage. We are particularly indebted to David Masua of Windle Trust International and Tizie Maphalala of UNICEF who supported and guided us throughout, and also to our team of field researchers. We are looking forward to working further with both Windle and UNICEF as the policy starts to be implemented. In the picture above, you can see teachers training at an after school session in Rumbeck in Lakes State.
As part of an on-going investment in the English language skills of the Namibian Defence Forces (NDF), the NDF, British Council and the British Peace Support Team (South Africa) organised a third annual language training event for 40 military personnel at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, from the 20-31 August. Rob, and old PEP-hand Nick Fletcher, flew to Windhoek to deliver the two weeks of training on English for Peacekeeping, with a special focus on radio communication and report writing.
During the course the participants revised the main grammar points in English and military vocabulary and practised key skills. The course included participant presentations about vehicle checkpoints using models constructed from Rob’s cuisenaire rods and his youngest son’s toy soldiers and vehicles. At the end of the course the participants were tested grammar, military vocabulary, report writing and on their radio English by using walkie-talkies to simulate operational conditions.
Sometimes it is good to get a different perspective and to experience life as a trainee and not just as a trainer. This has been the case for Claire, who is feeling professionally re-energised having just completed Weeks 1 and 2 of the Language Testing at Lancaster (LTL) course. During these two weeks input was provided on the principles of language testing; the testing of reading, writing, listening, speaking and language in use; statistics; and setting standards. The course gave Claire the opportunity to refresh her theoretical knowledge of language testing, and to gain hands on experience of developing test items. In addition to the exceptional tutors, led by Dr Rita Green, who has been Course Director of the LTL since 2001, the course participants contributed greatly to the whole experience not only in the classroom, but after class too. So thanks to all those involved and see you in 2016 for Weeks 3 and 4! Until then Claire is looking forward to working with her colleagues at McIlwraith Education, who have a wealth of testing expertise, on language testing projects.
Alistair and I have recently returned from the third of three visits to Juba where we were completing the text of an English Language Policy Framework for use in Primary schools in South Sudan. This initiative was led by the Intensive English Task Force of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) and directed by the Director General of Quality Promotion, Omot Olok, and Acting Director General of Alternative Education Systems (AES), Nelson Odur. UNICEF, through Tizie Maphalala, Education Manager, and her colleague Paulino Kamba, provided us with valuable feedback. We are particularly indebted to David Masua of Windle Trust International (WTI) who provided guidance throughout.
English is the official language of South Sudan, as well as the Medium of Instruction (MOI) from Primary Four. So, the long-term goal of the English Language Policy is to improve the teaching and learning of English in South Sudan’s primary schools. The framework sets out specific standards in terms of levels of proficiency to be attained by teachers and students in the primary (and secondary) education system. These are defined in terms of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), an internationally recognised and validated set of standards. They focus on English language teachers’ English proficiency within a broader context of English as a MOI, but with a lesser focus on classroom methodology or how a teacher might improve their knowledge of the language itself.
Government documents set the direction for the Policy. The 2012 South Sudan General Education Act states that ‘English shall be the language of instruction in schools’ with the qualification that ‘in early childhood development and Primary 1 through 3 the medium of instruction will be the indigenous language of the area.’ Primary 4 and Primary 5 are transition years in which both Mother Tongue and English are used. By the end of Primary 5 it is assumed that all subjects will be taught in English.
The aim of the English Language Policy is to be as inclusive as possible, particularly taking into account the needs and views of teachers, learners and parents who will be the main beneficiaries of its successful implementation. With this in mind, we have also designed a pilot scheme to test and prove the Policy’s viability before introducing the system at national level.
Ideally a robust English language assessment approach will have to be developed, in tandem with the English Policy, to ensure standards are embedded in the system.
Last week there was a two-day PELT (Programme for English Language Training for military personnel) Regional Best Practice Conference in Belgrade, facilitated by Rob and Claire for the British Council. The conference was an opportunity to highlight PELT’s numerous successes in raising the level of interoperability of the Serbian Armed Forces and Montenegrin Armed Forces for international peacekeeping missions through the provision of English language teaching and testing. Moreover, it provided a platform for military English language professionals from Serbia and Montenegro, as well as those from the region namely, Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, to discuss their English language programmes, to share experience, and to propose future directions to improve programme effectiveness and impact.
The Conference, which was attended by a number of senior military personnel, key policy makers and decision makers, opened with speeches from the Serbian State Secretary of Defence, Mr Zoran Djordjevic, the Norwegian Defence Attaché and PELT Co-Chair, CDR S.G. Tore Andersson, and the Head of Personnel Department at the Ministry of Defence Serbia and PELT Co-Chair, Brig. Gen Dragosav Lackovic. All stressed the need for an English language capability in the military, and thanked PELT for its support in working towards ensuring this through the development of sustainable English language teaching and testing systems.
The Conference concluded with presentations from representatives from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia in which they outlined their draft project plans for the next three years, with an emphasis on greater regional collaboration and sustainability. The points raised in these presentations will be summarised by the team at McIlwraith Education and presented to the PELT board for their consideration on the future direction that the programme takes.
On Thursday Claire attended the 2015 ELTons Awards Ceremony at BMA House, London. The ELTons are international awards that recognise and celebrate innovation in ELT, which are run by the British Council and sponsored by Cambridge English Language Assessment. They reward educational resources that help English language learners and teachers to achieve their goals, and are ELT’s version of the Oscars.
The event, which was hosted by the Angela Rippon OBE, was extremely well-attended with the guest list reading like the Who’s Who of ELT. The nominees for the six categories (Excellence on Course Innovation, Innovation in Learner Resources, Innovation in Teacher Resources, Digital Innovation, Local Innovation and The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing) were exceptional this year.
The final award of the evening was the British Council Lifetime Achievement Award, which is designed to recognise members of the ELT community who have made a major contribution to the field of language learning and teaching. This year’s worthy winner was Henry Widdowson, who is a leading authority in applied linguistics and in communicative language teaching.