Past Projects

The Team has worked with policy-makers in Ministries of Education and Defence and international organisations such as DfID, UNICEF and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as well as with Ambassadors and decision-makers in national training institutions across four continents. To give you an idea of how this works in practice, below are a few examples of some of our past projects in different parts of the world.

In China, DPRK and Mongolia

The Team has had long links with China. In the mid-1980s Hamish was a lecturer and teacher trainer in English language at Beijing Foreign Studies University (formerly known as Beijing Foreign Languages Institute), which is one of the country’s leading tertiary institutions. From 1992-1995, he was a lecturer in applied linguistics and teacher trainer at Jilin University in Changchun, Jilin Province and a teacher trainer at Tangshan Institute of Science and Technology (now Hebei Polytechnic University) in Tangshan, Hebei Province. 

Since then the Team has completed a range of consultancies across the country. An example of this was working with the Liaoning International Exchange Centre (LIEC) and the British Council (China) with support from the Liaoning Promotion Committee on International Education. Eighty Chinese teachers of English took part in a three-week in-service teacher training course in Dalian. They were shown a wide variety of communicative activities that were designed to expand their teaching repertoires and to develop their teaching skills. Twenty teachers subsequently received further ELT training in the United Kingdom. On their return to China they trained trainers throughout Liaoning Province.

The whole team has worked with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the British Council to support the China Police Peacekeeping Training Centre (CPPTC) and Ministry of National Defence Peacekeeping Training Centre (MNDPTC) through a series of workshops held at the CPPTC in Langfang in Hebei Province just outside Beijing. The courses were designed for English language teachers at the Centre and also teachers from 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. Courses have included an introduction to language testing delivered by Hamish, which involved training in the principles of language testing and processes in English language test development and evaluation. A 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.

Hamish has worked with officials in Pyongyang, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK [also known as North Korea]). In 2006, Hamish was tasked by the Ministry of Education Pyongyang and UNICEF to carry out an initial analysis of the current implementation of English language teaching and learning in North Korea for the Primary sector and the nature of contributions of other agencies including UNESCO and the British Council. The information was used to develop a strategy for renewal of the English language curriculum and syllabus, which we completed in collaboration with Ministry of Education academics, researchers, trainers and teachers. This followed on from advice Hamish had earlier presented to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on a project working with the three leading universities in Pyongyang: Kim Il Sung University, Kim Hyung Jik University and Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies (PUFS). The aim of this advice was to encourage ELT sustainability and to maintain the project as a tool to support FCO engagement and influence. In 2010, he worked with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education to help develop an English language reform plan for teaching English in Primary and Middle Schools. This included working with a group of 20 trainers who were to cascade the programme to teachers across the country.

McIlwraith Education in Bangladesh

McIlwraith Education’s involvement in Bangladesh goes back to 2005 when Hamish was asked by the British Council in Dhaka to evaluate the impact of two major UK Department for International Development (DFID) interventions: the Primary Education Resource Centre (PERC) and the English Language Teaching Improvement Project (ELTIP). He was then contracted by DFID to review and finalise a draft project concept note for a proposed English Language for Education and Employment (BELEE) project.

The background to this work was a request to DFID by the Government of Bangladesh to assist with improving the English Language capability of the workforce, in line with Government economic objectives, to enable Bangladesh to increase employment, encourage investment opportunities and compete in the regional and global market. The aim was to help the (then) current generation of school children acquire the necessary skills to become proficient in English. The perception was that after Bangla became the official language in the 1970s, there was a lack of visual, spoken and written English available in Bangladesh to reinforce learning with the result there was a generation whose grasp of English was incomplete. DFID wanted a multi-faceted response, which was to include face-to-face teaching, interactive learning through radio, and the use of other relevant media, such as television, radio and newspapers. The main focus was the initial training and long-term support for teachers with the aim of delivering a national English language teaching programme for Bangladesh through the Ministry of Education in co-operation with the British High Commission in Dhaka.

Using this information, Hamish developed an initial concept for the professional development and social inclusion of teachers and students in remote areas (where some schools can only be reached by boat during the monsoons) and for the marginalised tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. One year later, he worked with a team gathered by DFID to draw up a plan for the £50 million 10 year English in Action (EIA) project. The project started in 2008 and is a major initiative designed to raise the language skills of 25,000,000 people in Bangladesh by 2017. The aim was to contribute to the economic growth of Bangladesh through delivering English language courses via mobile phones, the internet, print media and television. The project has been very successful. Its many honours have included a Microsoft Education Award, a WISE Award through the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and a British Council ELTon Award.

EIA involved significant English language test development, through these media, led by BBC Media Action. From 2012-13, Hamish reviewed existing tests for BBC ‘Janala’ (‘Window’ in Bengali), designed new tests (linked to the Common European Framework of Reference [CEFR]), trained trainers for conducting the tests and provided comprehensive specifications, assessment criteria and marking schemes, which were included as part of a training manual for test developers and trainers. This work was extremely important not only considering the huge financial investments, but also the ambition that by 2017 some 51,000 teachers and 7,000,000 students will have been reached through it mainly through mobile and Internet platforms; television programmes are intended for a wider, less formal audience.

Claire has also carried out important work in Bangladesh on behalf of the British Council. In 2014 she conducted an initial scoping study into Aliyah madrasa education. Aliya madrasas, unlike independent Quomi madrasas, are registered with the Ministry of Education. Most of them operate as co-educational schools and follow the national curriculum; students are given lessons in Mathematics, English, and Science as well as religious education.

In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan

Much of our work in Central Asia and Afghanistan has been led by Claire who has been particularly involved in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We have also led a major research study into Higher Education in Afghanistan. The continued expansion of NATO membership and the active role that NATO has played since the 1990s in crisis management operations, including peacekeeping missions, has resulted in English emerging as the lingua franca of the armed forces.  NATO-Uzbekistan relations began in 1992, when Uzbekistan joined the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. Relations further developed in 1994, when Uzbekistan signed up to the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and in 2002 when it joined the Planning and Review Process (PARP). In recognition of the importance of English to military, police and border security personnel the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP) was established in 1996 and managed by the British Council.  At its height the project operated in 28 countries and Claire joined it in Uzbekistan, (the same project also covered Tajikistan), in 2002 as a teacher trainer. In this role she provided training and support for the 40 English teachers who were based in military institutes across the two countries. Apart from the regular in-service training programme that she designed and delivered, she also established a materials development group, and set-up a self-access centre at the Military Academy in Tashkent.

After a break from the region in 2008 Claire returned, this time to Kazakhstan as the project manager on the military English project, which also covered Kyrgyzstan. The project was in its end stages at this time, so Claire was responsible for preparing for the handover of the management and running of the English language programmes to the respective Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces. Claire’s involvement with military English projects in Kazakhstan continued once more in 2014.  Further funding had been given for a three-year (2012-2015) Peacekeeping English Project that spanned Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Claire was invited to determine the extent to which the project objectives had been met and to review the English training needs of military institutes in Kazakhstan. This led to recommendations in five areas where PEP should focus its efforts namely; policy work, testing, teacher training, observations and resources.

In 2013, we visited Afghanistan, which was prompted by a 2012 decree issued by President Karzai to change the medium of instruction in Afghanistan from Dari and Pashtu to English. The advantages of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) are manifest. English is the lingua francaof the academic, scientific, and business worlds. You need English to access information and research both formal and informal. The transition period for Kabul Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) was decreed to be three years and five years for provincial universities. However, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) decided to limit the scope of EMI to faculties of Agriculture, Engineering and Medicine and focus on the four public universities in Kabul: Kabul University (KU); Kabul Medical University (KMU); Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU); Kabul Education University (KEU)

It is, of course, impossible to introduce EMI without preparing the way by raising the language levels of future and current students to the appropriate level. Currently, English language is not seen as a priority for school students with regard to their ambitions for getting high marks in the national entrance exam for further education; the exam, the Kankor, focuses principally on other subjects such as maths and science, with only a very small percentage of items for English. In addition, ELT in state schools needs more resources, more hours of instruction, improved quality and status of teachers and an amended curriculum with clear objectives for each grade. On the basis of this, Alistair made recommendations regarding the transition to EMI up to 2025. This included the development and introduction of a Kankor English Supplementary Test for those school-leavers aspiring to attend the selected HEIs with the hope that the ‘washback’ effect of the introduction of the new Kankor supplementary test would also improve the quality of teaching and learning of English in schools.

South Sudan: Alternative Education System (AES)

Many South Sudanese have never been to school and the majority of teachers have had no formal training. There have been different responses to these challenges by various bodies, agencies, donors and government officials. One of these has been the Alternative Education System (AES). The aim of the AES is to assist the economic and social reintegration of the generations who did not have access to formal education during war, or have dropped out of school due to the conflict. The AES approach is aimed at improving access to basic education, to enhance life skills and basic occupational skill training to primary school students, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), demobilised soldiers, and other non-traditional learners. It is considered by many to be a keystone of South Sudan’s re-building process. It includes seven programmes targeted at different groups with support from the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI) and a number of international development partners

We examined the impact of donor nations’ contributions to the seven main elements of the South Sudan government’s eight national Alternative Education Sysytem (AES) programmes. This included the Community Girls’ Schools run by the Bangladesh NGO BRAC, Intensive English Language Courses (funded by DFID and delivered by the British Council, the Windle Trust, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children) and Basic and Adult Literacy Programmes being designed by UNESCO and run through a number of agencies including IBIS, Warchild, VSO, OXFAM and church organisations.

We conducted an extensive survey of all of these NGO’s work in each of South Sudan’s 10 States including activity at County level. We followed up our discussions in Juba with field visits to agency work in Rumbeck in Lakes State. Among our recommendations was to create an ESOL Standards and Credit Framework linked to the Common European framework of Reference (CEFR). All of this informed our work with MoEST and UNICEF in 2015 when we developed an English Language Policy Framework, which was later accepted and approved by the government.

Our Work in the Balkans

The team’s involvement in Balkans goes back to the late 1990s when Hamish arrived in Sofia to work with the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence and was based at the GS Rakovski Military Academy (now the Rakovski Defence and Staff College [RDSC]). He developed language and testing systems for the language interoperability of Bulgarian Armed Forces with multinational forces within the context of Armed Forces reform and NATO/EU accession. Later he helped form an international testing group across NATO accession countries with Alistair and other British Council colleagues, which involved training at Lancaster University. One of the most significant outcomes of this was the securing, as an MOD policy objective, a link between Council of Europe Common Reference levels (CEFR), NATO STANAG 6001 and MOD/General Staff English language courses. He also provided a framework for training in all units active in Peacekeeping Operations and developed focus for CPD Teacher Training.

From 2012, all of the team have been heavily involved in the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) Programme for English Language Training’ (PELT) project. Hamish conducted an evaluation of PELT in 2012 and reported to the international Programme Board (comprising NATO Defence Attachés and the British Council). He submitted a three-year sustainability and exit plan for consideration, which we all later became involved in implementing. This has included Rob developing a number of five-week online courses in Email Writing and Report Writing aimed at students who language levels are at NATO STANAG 6001 Level 2 (approximately B1/B1+ level of the CEFR). He has also led seminars in paper-based materials development resulting in 30 units of materials on speaking created to support teaching in the Serbian General Staff and Military Academy. He has also led teams from Serbia and Montenegro in developing paper-based an online courses (offered on a Moodle platform) to supplement materials (at STANAG Level 2) in Campaign and Headway as well as other commercially-available textbooks.

Rob has also conducted a seminar for PELT on developing the skills required by Military teachers in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro to 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 J7 and the Military Academy worked on drafting listening materials for their Moodle courses. The materials were all peer-reviewed and trialled. The course was held in Ruma, a small town just outside Belgrade.

Claire and Hamish have also led seminars and workshops (often at the MOD training base in the Tara Mountains) as well as in Skopje in Macedonia and Podgorica in Montenegro on a variety of subjects including language testing, blended learning and materials development. In June 2015, Claire and Rob led the first PELT Regional Conference was held in Belgrade. Participants from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia gathered to discuss regional co-operation and how to widen the project throughout the region. We carried through with PELT and widened it to include Macedonia, Montenegro and BiH.