Becoming an English Language Specialist in the State Department /Georgetown University Program

Former Community College Professor Jane Theifels describes several initiatives she has led as an EL Specialist for the US State Department…

May of 2011 was approaching, a magic date for me, the time of my retirement from 32 years of  ESL Teaching at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

However, instead of staring ahead at a blank screen, I held two future prospects on my horizon.  First, I was now a registered nurse, having studied in my college’s two-year evening nursing program, while teaching during the day. I was following  my dream of going on medical missions to other countries.  Secondly, I enrolled in the English Language Specialist Program sponsored by the US State Department and Georgetown University.

I discovered the EL Specialist Program at a TESOL information session.  I knew it would be a perfect fit for me on retirement.  I would become part of a database where I could be notified of English opportunities abroad, ranging from two weeks to several months. These opportunities would arise when a Ministry of Education in a particular country approached the US Embassy there asking for an English Language Specialist to fill a special need.

Collaboration

In 2014 I answered a request to go to Togo to do teacher training in interactive methodology in the capital, Lomé, and in three villages outside the capital.  Fifty chosen teachers came to each village training from afar and were lodged for the 4 days in retreat houses.  Four Togolese teacher trainers also each had a session on one of the conference days. My focus was on Active Grammar, the Interactive Classroom, Writing, Learning Styles, and Gender Equality.  The response was overwhelmingly positive for all of us.

In 2016 there was a request to go to Benin for six weeks and travel throughout the country conducting a survey of English language teaching with the Assistant to the Minister of Higher Education and a retired English Language Inspector. This survey was to pave the way for the introduction of English in the public primary schools. Five weeks later the three of us handed in our extensive report, and now there is a pilot program with 72 trained teachers of English in the first and second grades of the public primary schools.

My Partners in Curriculum Development

The request to travel to Djibouti came in 2017, this time requiring curriculum development over a two-month period. After meeting with English coordinators, it was determined that the 9th grade book be rewritten, and our team of two Djiboutian curriculum developers and I did just that. The book is now hot-off-the-press for use this school term.

My Djiboutian contract also stipulated a return for two weeks to do teacher training in interactive methodology and teacher observations. In fact, I am writing this on the airplane on my trip back to the U.S. after those amazing two weeks in Djibouti.

I say to you that if you want to see the world and deeply immerse yourself in a new culture while working alongside new colleagues on a creative and meaningful task, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with the EL Specialist Program. Each assignment opens a new world where you and your new colleagues share your expertise and bond together. You emerge from these experiences with new friends, new vistas, new cultural awareness and a mutual contribution that enhances English teaching in the country. Try it!  You’ll  love it!

https://elprograms.org/specialist/

Meet Professor Jane Theifels

Education for the future of Jordan

Here’s the first blog on this subject from Professor Trevor Male who is beginning a project in Jordan.  Stay tuned for more.

 

I am in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan this week starting work on a project funded by the Queen Rania Foundation.  The task is to examine best practice worldwide and produce a set of options for school councils and parental engagement, which form part of an education strategic plan for this nation.

Jordan is a small(ish) landlocked country bordering Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In July 2017, the World Bank re-classified Jordan from an upper-middle income country to a lower middle- income country.  There are no natural mineral resources or other natural advantages, so its future prosperity will depend almost entirely on the talents and enterprise of its people.  As of 2010 (the latest estimate available), approximately 14% of the population lived below the national poverty line on a long-term basis, while almost a third experienced transient poverty.   This has had multiple effects on education as children from poor families may be less likely to attend pre-primary education and the burdens of indirect costs (clothing, transportation costs and the need to work to supplement family income) may contribute to non-enrolment, non-attendance and even drop out at the primary and secondary levels.

In addition to these factors, Jordan faces challenges associated with the huge influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and now provides support for more than 1.3 million Syrians.  As would be expected this does place extra demands on the education system and labour market, in addition to other national services and infrastructure.  The challenges are compounded by the continuing rapid expansion in Jordan’s population, which is expected to increase by 1.4% per year for the next decade. Consequently, increasing demands for school and further education places are feeding growing numbers into the labour market.  Whilst this expansion provides a unique economic opportunity for Jordan because the working population will exceed the dependent population for the next twenty years. Nevertheless, based on current projections, there will be a need for over 660,000 new jobs over the next decade, if the national target of 8% unemployment is to be met.  One consequence of this situation is that the kingdom developed a National Human Resource Development Strategy in 2016 which seeks “to invest in our citizens’ education and training to create a generation of forward-looking young people, who are equipped with the skills necessary to analyse, innovate and excel” (King Abdullah II).

Education has been determined as the key to transforming these demographic challenges into opportunities for growth and development, with significant changes being required across Jordan’s education and training systems.  In turn this led the Ministry of Education to devise a strategic plan to address these issues, which was published in 2018.  This is where I appear in the picture as providing “the consultancy service that an international expert will be providing to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to support its goals of having all schools actively engaging parents and working in active partnership with their local communities by 2022”.

What I have discovered since arriving here just two days ago has been unexpected as I had not done my homework on this country and assumed ‘Middle East = must be rich’.     So yesterday I reviewed the documents and today talked to people who work in the schools’ sector.  What I witnessed here is a huge lack of building provision, specially to accommodate Syrian refugee children many of whom are taught in the camps, or in evening schools.  It is not uncommon for schools to be in inadequate rented accommodation and to be double shift i.e. one building with two school populations. They are also short of materials and quality teachers.

Patently the country is not rich and thus sits right in the frame of reference provided by this blogging service in that here is a country determined to overcome social injustice, even when the increase in poverty can be blamed partly on unexpected immigration.  Despite the impact of the influx of Syrian students, however, the Ministry is committed to ensure access and equality towards the vision of “Education for All”, equity in the realms of both gender and special needs, improving enrolment rates, accommodating all age groups, providing a stimulating educational environment and developing awareness and health programmes.  It has been a generous response by this largely Muslim population that puts Brexiteers to shame.

Meet Trevor Male