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EL Middle East 2017: Ambition for engagement

EGYPT POSSIBLE PIC 1 Chanel Wheeler Children at Tuna el Gebel

David Townhill gives an update on a British Council project to train 37,000 teachers of English for Egypt’s primary schools

As the Gazette has previously noted, there are many challenges for the education system in Egypt, but there is a strong demand for English. There is also a big uptake in English courses and higher-than-average engagement with the UK. Over two years ago the Egyptian Ministry of Education approached the British Council to look at how to improve the provision of English in primary education throughout the country. Given the country’s geographical size and population of over 91 million, of which 20 million are children currently studying in primary and secondary schools, this was going to be an ambitious project no matter what form it took (see the June 2016 Gazette feature Egypt’s mountain to climb, based on the British Council’s own English Language Learning and Teaching in English report).

After a year or so of working with the ministry to come up with a suitable project to meet their needs, the National Teacher Training Programme is finally under way, with an objective of training 37,000 primary school teachers and improving the delivery of English to primary schools across the country. The project aims to further develop the quality of training, teaching and learning of English in primary school classrooms – including 4,000 maths and science English medium instruction teachers across Egypt. It aims to do this by providing quality teacher training to support the development of primary teachers’ performance in the classroom.

To do this sustainably, the British Council will recruit, train and develop 220 ‘master trainers’ who will develop their own teaching and training skills and then deliver face-to-face training to up to 37,000 primary teachers. We aim to simultaneously build the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Education and establish systemic change by developing a coherent continuing professional development strategy in Egypt that can deliver after the project.

An initial workshop for key stakeholders was held at the ministry in October to set the direction of the project. To be able to implement long-term sustainable improvement in this field it is vital to ensure ‘buy-in’, or engagement, from all the stakeholders. This workshop set the principles and framework for joint ownership between the ministry and the British Council.

We have now just started on a period of needs analysis, assessing both language and teacher development needs. Working with ministry experts, we are visiting schools and capturing data from 1,000 teachers across Egypt about their language proficiency, confidence in using English in the classroom and knowledge of classroom methodology and practice. We are also collecting qualitative data on teachers’ and supervisors’ attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and training needs. Put together, this information will inform how we devise the project structure and plan its delivery.

This is the first needs analysis of this size and scale in Egypt, emphasising the ambition of the project and the collaborative approach between Egyptian partners and the British Council. During this phase we are also taking two delegations of ministry officials to India and South Africa to look at the work by English for Education Systems in operation and learn how other countries have brought about systemic educational reform.

The next step will be to focus on the implementation phase, effectively a pilot during the first year, which we aim to start in April 2017. Although this is a challenging project due to its scale and reach, we are confident that it will make a lasting difference to primary education in Egypt.

David Townhill is director of English at British Council Egypt

Caption: There are 20 million children currently studying in Egyptian primary and secondary schools
Pic courtesy: Chanel Wheeler