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Empowering remote learning in remote regions

The future of international training contracts is increasingly online, but providers need to plan for problems with internet connectivity, so believes UK training specialists NILE in Norwich

Currently working on a range of programmes for British Council teachers and trainers in the Middle East and North Africa, NILE has found itself having to work around internet problems in some lower-resourced regions.

“To make the courses more accessible, we’ve made much of the content downloadable and more suitable for use on mobile devices,” says NILE director Thom Kiddle.

Last year, NILE’s experience in adapting its course delivery to fit into the digital environment for participants in remote areas was key to a major new project. With the backing of local IATEFL-affiliated teacher associations, NILE supported 17 English UK member language centres. These ranged from Russell Group universities to small family-run schools, delivering training courses to over 3,000 teachers in 20 countries through the British Council PRELIM project – and all in the middle of lockdowns.

Special delivery

This year, NILE is back in the thick of it with PRELIM 2, this time working with
35 language centres to deliver projects in 40 countries. One key to this programme’s success, and certainly something the UK language centres valued, was the development of yet another NILE digital solution: an online Community of Practice.

Like many in language teaching, as the pandemic hit, NILE found itself having
to rapidly shift existing projects online. In Uzbekistan, for example, a three-year project to develop EMI teaching competences, which had begun with face-to-face training in Tashkent, had to switch to online. It was transformed using a combination of synchronous training webinars, a bespoke asynchronous course on the NILE Online eLearning platform, and remote collaboration between smaller project teams and trainers.

“In Uzbekistan, for example, a three-year project to develop EMI teaching 
competences, which had begun with face- to-face training in Tashkent, had 
to switch to online”

Meanwhile, a three-year training plan with Princess Nourah University in Riyadh, which started with face-to-face training in Saudi, has moved 100% online. The programme covers academic management, assessment and trainer training, and is also helping the University prepare for accreditation by Eaquals, the independent, not-for-profit association which runs a Quality Assurance scheme for language centres in a wide range of educational sectors worldwide.

In Tunisia, NILE has trained over 5,000 primary teachers via synchronous online sessions using a team of more than 40 specialist trainers based all over the world, as part of an ongoing project with the British Council, the Ministry of Education and the British Embassy. This course uses materials commissioned by the British Council and participants are given access to tablet devices to use while they’re taking it.

Staying flexible

NILE’s dexterity with digital training owes much to its experience with NILE Online, a platform it launched back in 2014 and which has had thousands of course participants. However, the onset of Covid-19 definitely had an impact on training, as the organisation faced the issue of how to deliver its famous face-to-face summer courses, which normally take place in the UK, and have expanded to Malta and Ireland post-Brexit.

“The pandemic meant that we were able to reframe the content to provide online versions of the traditional summer professional development programmes with a more intensive asynchronous schedule and additional live online sessions,” explains Kiddle.

In fact, there wasn’t an element of NILE’s training portfolio which didn’t get a digital makeover, even the initial CELTA training programmes. The arrival of Covid led Cambridge Assessment English, the department of the University responsible for EFL teacher training, to change its rules on remote observation and assessment, allowing online teaching practice. This meant that NILE’s existing Online Delta “was able to flex to include online Module 2 assessment of teaching,” says a NILE spokesperson, and so a new, fully-online CELTA was launched.

It all adds up to good news for would-be teachers in the far-flung corners of the world.

Image courtesy of PHOTO SHUTTERSTOCK
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.

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