Alistair and I have just completed two one-week English language test development courses at the the China Peacekeeping Police Training Centre (CPPTC) in Langfang in Hebei Province just outside Beijing. The courses were designed for English language teachers from the Centre and the Ministry of National Defence as part of the British Council Peacekeeping English Project (PEP). The overall aim of the project is to enhance the capacity of teachers so as to improve police and military officers’ interoperability when deployed on international missions abroad. I delivered the first course, ‘An Introduction to Language Testing’, which involved training in the principles of language testing and processes in English language test development and evaluation. Alistair led the second course, ‘Language Test Item Writing’, through a series of workshops on developing tests and test items in a principled way using a set of item-writing guidelines.
Rob has recently come back from Algeria. He was attending Secondary School Inspector and Teacher Trainer Assemblies in Ouargla and Algiers, training them in materials design and training skills. He had 26 trainees in Ouargla, in the desert and 68 in Algiers. This is one of a number of training and advising initiatives we have delivered in the country in recent years at secondary and tertiary levels.
I am delighted that the Cape Town Language and Development conference papers I edited have just been published by the British Council. The design team have done a really good job. It’s a busy time. Claire and Rob have come back from Algeria and South America and Alistair and I will be crossing each other at Edinburgh Airport tomorrow as he comes back from PEP testing training in Ethiopia and I fly out to the UN Police Training Centre in Langfang in China.
We are all quite busy at the moment. Rob is currently in Algeria training teachers to use coursebooks to their fullest and to create supplementary materials. Claire will be in Chile and Peru for the next two weeks carrying out Quality Assurance and Development visits to Laureate Universities on behalf of Bell Cambridge. The aim is to gain a comprehensive overview of the Universities English language programmes in terms of their quality and to identify areas that require improvement. During her trip she will be visiting Laureate Universities in Santiago, Vina del Mar, Trujillo and Lima. Alistair is preparing for a language testing training course in Ethiopia for the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP). He will be leaving for Addis Ababa at the end of this week. Later in December he will be joining me in China to deliver a language testing course at the China Police Peacekeeping Training Centre in Langfang in Hebei Province.
This week Claire is delivering a session at the ‘English to Go – Successful Blended Language Learning’ Conference in Magdeburg, which is being organised by British Council and the State Institute for Quality in Education and Teacher Training of Saxony-Anhalt. Her talk is on blended learning course design and how to approach it in a principled way. She will outline the 24 design-related questions that practitioners should consider when developing their blends. These are outlined in ‘Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation’, which she co-edited with Brian Tomlinson. She will also summarise the advice given by 20 case study authors in the publication on blended learning course design.
Claire has recently returned from Kazakhstan where she carried out the second and final phase of the evaluation of the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP). The aim was to determine the extent to which PEP objectives were met during the last financial year and to review the English language training needs of military institutions in the Republic of Kazakhstan in order to plan effectively for the remainder of the project (until March 2015) and possibly beyond. The outcome was a report that summarised the findings and identified ways in which PEP could support the further development of English language training in the institutions that were visited. She was accompanied by two British Council Kazakhstan colleagues and travelled widely during the week she was there, visiting military establishments in Almaty, Astana, Aktobe and Schuchinsk. One meeting was held at the impressive National Defence University in Astana where intensive English courses that follow the American Language Course (ALC) are run.
Alistair and I have returned from a second visit to Egypt where we made a series of observations in government schools and in private classes as well as talk to academics delivering pre-service teacher training. We also talked to teachers, students (studying for their school leaving certificates), employers and parents. We sent out survey instruments through the Egyptian Ministry of Education to be completed by teachers and students. We have received several hundred completed surveys so far, which are currently being collated. Our report, for the British Council and Egyptian Ministry of Education, will be out by the end of this year.
We are continuing our work with Peacekeeping English Projects (PEPs). Next week Alistair will be delivering a course on language testing in Serbia as part of our continuing work with the Serbian Ministry of Defence and PELT Board comprising the MOD and General Staff, European and US Defence Attachés and the British Council. The main focus will be on developing tests for Reading and Writing. Claire will be returning to Kazakhstan to visit MOD ELT training centres following on from her previous trip in July which took her from the south of the country to the north with meetings in Almaty, Astana and Schuchinsk. The picture here was taken by Rob earlier this year at an online materials development course he delivered to MOD teachers in Tara, Serbia.
I had a very interesting and constructive two weeks in Cairo learning about British Council activity in English language education and meeting officials from the Ministry of Education. I also had the chance to see some teacher training. Alistair and I will be going back at the end of October to observe teaching in schools in Cairo and governorates outside the capital. I will be talking to employers and parents about their experiences and expectations of English language education particularly at Primary level and in the vocational education sector. The aim is that by the end of the year we will have enough information to help the British Council and the Ministry of Education develop sets of standards and levels of quality for Basic Education over the next three to five years. We have also been busy elsewhere. Claire has been working on curriculum development for the Bell Educational Trust and Rob continues his work on materials development in Serbia for staff at the Ministry of Defence. Alistair will also be leading a test development workshop in Serbia in October.
I’m making final preparations for a two week visit to Egypt. The British Council has asked me to gather views in the Ministry of Education and Higher Education on policies, the perspectives of teachers from primary to tertiary level, the aims, motivations and expectations of students (in particular in learning English) and the expectations of employers across Egypt. This may be followed up with a second visit before I present the results at a regional symposium in the New Year. I’m looking forward to getting started…