Namibian Defence Forces Training

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.

Namibia Teaching Rods

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.

In the photograph below you can see the Deputy Director of the Namibian MoD, Mr Edward Hauanga shaking hands with the British High Commissioner, Ms Marianne Young. Rob and Nick are on the wings.

On the Other Side of the Fence

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.

Lancaster Group

Back from Juba

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.

At the PELT Serbia Conference

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.


Claire at the ELTons

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.

Rob Back to Estonia

Rob is retracing his steps of last week and he is in Tartu, Estonia again. This time he is addressing Finnish and Estonian university language teachers on text analysis and corpus linguistics at their 27th annual Communication Skills Workshop. Rob presented twice before at the CSW when he was responsible for the Peacekeeping English Project Justice and Home Affairs Project in Estonia from 2001-2006. On Saturday he will be training again at the Language and Examination Centre at the University of Tallinn.

Alistair in Juba

Alistair will be travelling to Juba on Saturday in preparation for a presentation on Monday of the data we have gathered as the first stage of a UNICEF-sponsored initiative in collaboration with Windle Trust International (WTI) to develop a national English language policy framework and implementation guide for primary school teachers in South Sudan. English is the official language of South Sudan, as well as the Medium of Instruction (MOI) from Primary Four. However, with many teachers having acquired their education in Arabic, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoEST) has prioritised raising teachers’ English language and pedagogical skills. This has been started primarily through the Intensive English Language Course (IELC) strand of the Alternative Education System (AES), but it is widely accepted that there is a need to equip teachers, head teachers and inspectors with the competencies and skills for the curriculum to be effectively delivered in English. This needs to be done within a clear national framework. The aim of such a framework would be to develop English proficiency levels of teachers, and their corresponding pedagogical skills, as well as national certification standards.


This framework needs to be based on evidence. So, we conducted a baseline survey in 25 primary schools across five states in South Sudan with the support and co-ordination of MoEST officials, head teachers, County Education Directors, inspectors, teachers and pupils. The purpose of the baseline study was to identify the following:

  • Levels of language proficiency of teachers (measured against the Common European Framework of Reference for languages [CEFR])
  • The teaching methods in use
  • The extent and use of English in classrooms
  • Attitudes towards the English language, more specifically, the introduction of English as MOI in primary schools throughout South Sudan.


The survey was carried out by five field researchers in the form of language reviews, questionnaires, meetings, interviews and classroom observations. Feedback from MoEST and other stakeholders such as DFID, USAID and the British Council will be a crucial and necessary component in the subsequent phases of the development of the framework, related standards and a policy implementation plan with associated teacher assessment and certification criteria.

The Minister of Education will be there to listen and advise us on how to proceed.

The Why Linguistics Conference

Rob is in Tartu, Estonia at the moment and will be presenting at The Why Linguistics Conference at Tartu University on Thursday. He will be talking about building and analysing a corpus of intelligence texts; looking at construction and ethical questions and the reasons why such corpus linguistics work is important. On Friday he moves on to Tallinn where he will be training at the Language and Examinations Centre at Tallinn University.

Claire’s Busy Month

Claire has had a busy month with trips to Kazakhstan and Montenegro.  In Astana she spent two weeks working for Cambridge International Examinations on the Kazakhstan State School Train the Trainer programme. Cambridge has been working on education reform projects in Kazakhstan since 2011 and this work has included developing curricula, which are due to be introduced from September 2016 in state schools. In preparation for this Kazakhstani trainers were provided with a four week course to familiarise them with the structure, progression, content and aims of the updated subject programmes and course plans using training materials developed by Cambridge.  Claire helped to deliver this training to a group of twenty-six English language subject specialists, who will in turn cascade the training to state school teachers.

In Podgorica Claire was working once again with the military English teachers and teachers from the Institute of Foreign Languages. During the workshop on Course Design they developed study paths for the British Council product Learn English Pathways Intermediate 1 & 2 ( that incorporated a blended aspect using Skype and/or Viber and email.  The Intermediate 1 course will be trialled over the next 10 weeks with a group of sixteen military personnel.

It’s also excellent to see that Claire has had another good review of ‘Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation’, the book she edited with Brian Tomlinson in the latest issue of the TESOL Quarterly journal

Claire's Busy Month


Rob Leads PEP Seminar in Serbia

Rob is just back from Ruma, a small town just outside Belgrade, where he was leading a PEP seminar. The course focused on developing the skills required by Military teachers in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro so that they can develop high quality teaching materials based on listening texts. The twenty-three teachers who took part learned how to source, download, edit and convert video and audio files, and script and record audio. One team produced a set of general English and Military English paper-based lessons using a collaborative model of materials development, while the second team of Serbian teachers from the General Staff and the Military Academy worked on drafting listening materials for their Moodle courses. The materials were all peer-reviewed and trialled.

Serbia Task Work