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Skype comes to Libya’s rescue

Ben Gray reports on an innovative way to deliver British Council training to English language teachers in the war-torn country

Despite turbulence and instability in the region, the British Council office in Libya’s capital Tripoli is still operating with a limited service. One of the services we’re still delivering is our four-week Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) course for teachers, which, in a change from how it normally is provided, is being delivered via Skype video conferencing at various universities – and has been for the last eight months.

We first came up with the Skype idea last year, drawing on the example of the Plan Ceibal project in Uruguay, which provides English language teaching to schools using the same approach, and it was a solution to the team and myself not being in Libya (see the July 2015 Gazette, page 15 for Plan Ceibal). It’s something we may have done at some point anyway as, when we were actually based in Libya (most of the ELT team are now in Tunis, Tunisia), we were pretty much restricted to Tripoli. Using Skype at least allows us to do teacher training in a number of other cities in the region.

The TKT training via Skype, which started last October, takes place at various universities in the city. Each university provides the internet connection and the room and prints the materials – the British Council’s TKT Essentials course. The Ministry of Higher Education pays for the teachers to do the exam at the end of the training.

We tend to have about 35 to forty teachers in a room set up around a webcam and a big projector or one of those big LCD TVs. As for the equipment, it really does vary depending on the university and its resources. The international trainer, the person who’s doing most of the training, is in the UK, but we’ve also used a trainer based in Turkey. They log on to Skype for the lesson – which is about an hour and a half per day – with the local trainer in the room. After the session is over the local trainer continues with more training.

Of course there have been challenges, a big one being the internet connection. It’s often slow, and sometimes cuts off in the middle of a session. But the good thing about Skype is that it’s designed to work in relatively low-tech environments. So although there have been problems with the connection we still manage.

So far the feedback has been very good as our teachers like the fact that they can communicate with the trainer via Skype, asking questions and getting them answered in real time. That has been the reason why this training programme has been successful – unlike others where there has been no face-to-face contact. In the past, I’ve tried to do pure distance learning with Libyans but they don’t like it very much. They need the face-to-face contact.

Now that we’re doing this training in this way, it’s about following it up with a more long-term programme – simply because the universities are very keen to carry on working with us in this way. They like the model and the face-to-face element that Skype provides.

Even though there is uncertainty in Libya, there are still long-term opportunities for the British Council in the region. That’s why it’s important more than ever that we deliver and build trust with our partners by coming up with new ideas to make this happen.

Ben Gray is British Council Libya director of English