The Asia Region is geographically sprawling and varied. There are huge differences between individual countries and cities and villages. There are world-class schools and universities in rapidly developing economies where there is intense competition for student places, but there are also poorer communities where there are fewer opportunities for children to go to school. Thus, priorities range from developing high quality teaching and learning at secondary and tertiary level with an emphasis on critical thinking skills to implementing explicit, targeted education policies for marginalised linguistic and ethnic groups.
In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan
Much of our work in Central Asia and Afghanistan has been led by Claire and Alistair. Claire has been particularly involved in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan while Alistair has 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.
A Presidential Decree was passed in 2007 that paved the way for Kazakhstan’s trilingual policy. The main policy goal is for the population to master three languages; Kazakh (the national language of state), Russian (for everyday communication), and English (for international communication, business and science). The medium-term aim is for 15 per cent of the population of nearly 17 million to achieve this by 2020. This has resulted in the need for educational reform through the improvement of the teaching of the three languages. In the drive towards meeting the country’s trilingual policy goals, civil servants are expected to lead the way. In line with this in 2014 Claire carried out a scoping study to evaluate the English language requirements of Kazakh civil servants. Whilst in country she held meetings with a number of senior personnel in the Academy for Public Administration and Agency for Civil Service Affairs, ran focus groups with teachers and students, and conducted an online needs analysis with over 300 civil servants. The outcome was a report that detailed a number of recommendations on how to proceed in a systematic way to deliver an effective and efficient English language programme to support the trilingual requirement.
In addition to project management and research studies, Claire has been involved in a number of teacher and trainer training events in Kazakhstan. She was the Course Director on a Hornby School for 30 regional trainers on the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), which is an internationally recognised Cambridge English teacher training qualification. She also worked on a vocational teaching project in Western Kazakhstan, where she team taught with local teachers in a lyceum in Actau.
The most recent visit to Kazakhstan in 2015 saw both Claire and Alistair delivering training to English language specialists on the structure and content of the new English language curriculum, which will be introduced in the state schools from September 2016. A cascade training model was employed in which the language specialists will in turn be expected to deliver the training to the state school teachers. With this model in mind there was an additional focus on developing the English specialists training skills.
In 2013, Alistair 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 franca of 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....Read More!
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 is 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, Alistair and 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.
The aim of the study was to determine what the key players were doing and to explore the ways in which the British Council could contribute to the madrasa reform agenda through teacher training, ICT training and English language training. The drive for reform had been triggered by the publication of a National Education Policy (NEP) in 2010 that aims ‘to achieve quality, modern and updated education’ in the three educational systems: General, Madrasa and Technical-Vocational. In the madrasa system the key policy elements are the establishment of mandatory core subjects from primary level, which include English and information technology. The NEP states that ‘importance will be given to the subjects such as English (…) Information Technology (… ) in the syllabus and curriculum (…) so that the students get equal opportunities and find them competent for the demand and needs of the national and international job market’ (2010:28).
Through interviews with the main stakeholders in Aliya madrasa education, visits to madrasas, and a review of the relevant empirical studies on madrasa education in Bangladesh a number of areas were identified in which contributions could be made to the reform agenda with regard to teacher training, ICT training and English language training. However, given the aim and scale of the initial scoping study we recommended further investigation to determine the scope, impact and feasibility of all possible options....Read More!
In China, DPRK (North Korea) 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. Alistair was also in China in the early 1990s working for the UK international development organisation Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) first as a lecturer in English Language Teaching (ELT) at Tonghua Teacher Training College and then as a teacher trainer at Sanchazi Forestry Bureau in Baishan in Jilin Province.
Since then both have 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.
A fair amount of our work in China has involved researching documents, papers and policies with a view to supporting clients’ ability to make decisions. For example, Hamish carried out an analysis of education links between India, China and Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This included a detailed and thorough analysis of the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, the non-formal sector and vocational education. The study included a policy review for each country. He identified ambitions in each of these countries in relation to qualification frameworks, lifelong learning or international linkages and made recommendations for possible steps that the SCQF could take in relation to more detailed benchmarking activity with China and India. The study was used by the Scottish Education Minister as a policy forming document on official duties in China.
Another example of desk-based work in relation to China (and Hong Kong) was when Hamish and Claire worked on the entire range of English language courses produced by British Council Hong Kong (from Early Learning-Adult) to support major British Council academic development projects. This included a comprehensive review of the China New English Curriculum (NEC) documents and how they relate to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
More recently, 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 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. Alistair led 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. We are all preparing for further work with the CPPTC.
Both Alistair and Hamish have 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. He subsequently trained British Council teacher trainers engaged on this project to give them the professional tools to help their DPRK colleagues work on curriculum, syllabus and course design.
Later, in 2013, Alistair conducted an evaluation of the same project, which is managed by the British Council. He evaluated the teaching, teacher training and materials development created over the lifetime of the Project in universities and schools in Pyongyang, and made proposals for the project’s future direction in partnership with the DPRK Ministry of Education. Alistair has also worked in Mongolia, training language testers from the Ministry of Defence on test design with a particular emphasis on test item-writing for Speaking and Writing....Read More!