EAQUALS 20th anniversary, Trieste

The city welcomed us to the historic Teatro Rosetti for 2 days of stimulating conference sessions and the celebration of the anniversary, followed by a reception and gala dinner at the glamorous Excelsior Palace on the seafront.

Peter Brown, founding Chair of EAQUALS

Despite the biting Bora wind, famous along this coastline in the autumn,  the hazy sun made it warm enough to visit the sights in the conference intervals – lunch along the Grand Canal, shopping in the chocolate exhibition, and hiking up to the medieval castle of San Giusto for panoramic views of the city and coastline. Too cold to stay long, but you can immediately see why this spot high above the city was the perfect defensive position for hundreds of years.

The location was deliberate – the founding Chair and co-founder of EAQUALS, Peter Brown, has run his school here, the British School of Trieste, for 40 years.

It was the vision of Peter and his co-founders Frank Heyworth, Javier Lacunza, Richard Rossner,  Virginia Cowley and Tony Duff that language schools could (and should) aspire to the highest standards of professionalism, in academic, business and customer service areas.

Building on Peter’s success in founding AiSLI with colleagues in Italy in 1979, setting new standards of inspection for Italian language schools, EAQUALS was set up in 1991 and developed a very rigorous inspection process which ensures to this day that learners, parents, and sponsors can be assured of high quality, reliability, and transparency in dealing with EAQUALS schools.

Peter Brown, Virginia Cowley and Frank Heyworth

The conference ended with an inspiring speech by EAQUALS Chair Ludka Kotarska, reminding us of why we all work for quality in language education –  which will sustain members until the next conference meeting in Barcelona in April. Our final dinner was just outside the centre in the Antica Trattoria Suban, first opened in 1865 as a coaching stop for the Habsburg’s imperial trade route, which used Trieste as the port for Vienna.

Panel discussion chaired by Brian North

Highlights of the conference (including the stunning musical performance of a local choir singing in 8 different languages) can be found here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

EFNIL in London

This week we are privileged to host the annual EFNIL conference at Spring Gardens, the British Council  headquarters off Trafalgar Square.

EFNIL is the European Federation of National Institutes of Language – the institutions which promote and protect the use of national languages in the European Union. These organisations, such as the Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Dansk Sprognævn, Foras na Gaeilge and Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France,  work hard to support teachers and learners in their countries, creating new research, publishing and disseminating new theory and practice, providing educational resources etc.

EFNIL ‘s mission is to provide “a forum for these institutions to exchange information about their work and to gather and publish information about language use and language policy within the European Union. In addition, the Federation encourages the study of the official European languages and a coordinated approach towards mother-tongue and foreign-language learning, as a means of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity within the European Union.”

In promoting linguistic diversity, EFNIL members are often concerned about the effects of the growth of English usage in their countries or in EU-wide institutions – in Brussels, in business, in Higher Education courses, and are naturally focused on ensuring that the use and development of their national languages are not negatively impacted by the use of a global lingua franca.

We share their concerns about the over-dominance of one language – even though we of course support the learning and teaching of English –  because we share our colleagues’ belief in a multilingual and multicultural Europe, where national and local languages thrive and all citizens have the opportunity to become plurilingual.

To support that aim, I chaired a panel discussion on ‘Multilingualism in the UK’ looking at how we can encourage more learning of modern languages in the UK. We heard some ground for optimism as language enrolments are starting to creep back up again after the drop in MFL study that followed the decision to make languages at secondary school optional.

More information and previous conference proceedings from www.efnil.org

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fall in the ‘other’ Cambridge

Harvard Business School

Autumn is the best time to visit the other Cambridge – the Harvard one – and I’m here on the day that the boat race called ‘Head of the Charles’ is taking place outside my window.

This week I am fortunate enough to be attending a management training course at Harvard Business School, on the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR.

The surroundings are impressive – historic Harvard Square, walks along the Charles River into the quaint centre of Cambridge – Boston’s sister city across the river.

The accommodation is basic – an upgraded student dorm room – but the food is more corporate than canteen, and the Federal architecture of the low rise campus is very calm and soothing.

The real reason to be there is to share in the unparalleled knowledge of the world of business which HBS provides. A wealth of global experts – like Michael Porter, the world’s leading authority on creating competitive advantage – stalk the hallowed halls.

I’m here to learn about building partnerships with corporates and NGOs, around the concept of investing in the creation of social benefits to parallel business benefits.

The participants represent a range of corporations – the big four professional service firms, big pharma, oil and gas, hi-tech – and are mostly focused on how they should build a CSR strategy that will help them reap both the reputational and the business benefits.

Learning here is based around the case study method, a form of Socratic dialogue where the professors lead in-depth discussions to analyse the theory and practice embedded in the real-world consequences of corporate actions researched and summarised in the case studies.

CSR used to be about philanthropy – giving money to worthy causes – but it is now moving into an era of CSV – creating shared value. When a corporate can invest in a  new approach to business, in partnership with an NGO or social enterprise, that aligns closely to their corporate strategy and activity but in addition brings social benefits and supports the local community –  then it’s a win-win, and  a benefit that is more sustainable than a simple donation.

What’s clear is that companies are looking for new ways to build partnerships that benefit their double bottom line – their financial interests and their broader social and reputational objectives, and this is an area where the ELT world can make a contribution by helping corporates link up with educational and social benefit projects worldwide.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TIRF Accounts

White Plains, New York is a little commuter town about half an hour from Manhattan on the Metro North railway line. It’s a surprising ride the first time you take it – from the bowels of Grand Central Station you travel through bleak industrial areas and then high above Harlem and the endless towers of apartments, until suddenly you emerge into a series of small village stations like Tuckahoe and Scarsdale, flanked by their leafy (and apparently wealthy) suburbs  – like Surrey with more sunshine.

White Plains itself is not a particularly exciting, or even quaint town, but it has a major attraction – it’s the US headquarters of Pearson ELT. And this week Pearson was kind enough to host the autumn Board meeting for TIRF – The International Research Foundation for English Language Education – on which I sit as the British Council’s representative. Twice a year I take part in the Board meeting for this generous foundation, which offers research grants and sponsors new research into key aspects of English language  teaching.

TIRF started as a foundation connected to the TESOL organisation, but has since become fully independent and is very active globally. TIRF’s mission is “to generate new knowledge about English language teaching and learning. TIRF plans to apply research findings to practical language problems by working collaboratively with teachers, researchers, authors, publishers, philanthropic foundations, government agencies, and major companies.”

TIRF funds a number of post-doctoral scholarships each year, and has launched a research series called Key Questions – the key English language teaching issues of the day.   The first TIRF research paper in this series was on The Impact of English and Plurilingualism in Global Corporations” and was published in 2010 to great acclaim – reviewed here in the Guardian.

We are currently planning our new Key Questions paper, entitled English at Work: Case Studies of English Language Training for the 21st Century Workforce”, which will be published in early 2012.

To learn more, come and meet the Board at TESOL 2012 in Philadelphia at the end of March, or download the TIRF newsletters from the website.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Autumn in Kiev

I’ve just returned from a flying visit to Kiev on speak at the US State Department’s conference on English Language Education. This had a strong focus on ICT and teacher training, and I was speaking on ‘Handheld and Mobile learning’ (of which more in later posts).

The US team were very welcoming, and put on an excellent programme for over 200 Ukrainian teachers. The programme featured many of the US  RELOs (Regional English Language Officers) from other countries in the region,  joining specialists from the Office of English Language Programs in Washington D.C.  to share ideas, experiences and resources with local teachers.

The US programmes (I suppose that should  be ‘programs’ in this context…) are very creative and offer very extensive scholarships as well as in-country teacher training. Their new portal  gives more background.

I’m keen that we should work more closely with the US colleagues supporting ELT contexts overseas – we have the same goals and academic interests,  and we are both focused on helping teachers and learners gain wider access to quality resources. I’ve been working to set up closer links in the last couple of years, and we are discussing joint development projects.

We should also be linking our teacher associations more effectively – I’ve set up travel grants to facilitate leadership exchanges between the ELT specialists in IATEFL and TESOL, so that colleagues from corresponding special interest groups (US: interest sections) can attend each other’s conferences and build closer personal and professional relationships.

Of course the two countries are vying for the preference of  students wishing to learn English in an English-speaking country, so we are robust competitors in terms of destination promotion and marketing;  but overseas we have the same goals, to support teachers and learners, and raise the standards of English teaching globally.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mobiles in the classroom

I’ve just returned from the m4ed4dev conference in Washington D.C., which was an inspiring event focused on the use of mobile phones to deliver educational access to learners in developing economies.

The conference was run by USAID, jointly sponsored by the British Council, and brought experts from around the world together to study the future of education for development.

I gave a presentation about our part of this work.  We are incorporating mobile phones in our digital approaches to learning, which is especially important for people in less-developed parts of the world.

We’ve been running successful English programmes using text messages – most recently in Sudan – and we’re now building mobile phone apps as well. The market demand is huge – we launched our first apps, for the iPhone and Android, in summer 2010, and within  six months these had been downloaded over one million times.

When we talk about mobile, we don’t necessarily mean just phones, but mobile devices like the small laptops that One Laptop Per Child is a making available, or the Intel classmate device – as well as the now extremely popular tablets.

We are looking at a new kind of educational model called ‘1:1 computing’, where every learner has a mobile device to use in the classroom under the teacher’s supervision, on the bus home from school, or at home to do homework.

What’s exciting is the opportunity to reach learners and teachers who currently do not have easy access to internet, to television, to well-equipped schools – even to reliable electricity. We want to be able to use mobile to ‘connect the unconnected’.

Using this kind of mobile device in education brings many benefits. One is that you can make classroom lessons more motivating and more stimulating. You can bring in real news, meaningful text and images from the outside world and make the classroom up-to-the-minute and authentic in task and content.

Equally, if not more importantly, you can also extend the learning time beyond the lesson. We can use mobile devices to break down the walls of the classroom, and help disadvantaged children gain more access to education than they could possibly squeeze into the normal constraints of the school week.

The British Council is at the cutting edge of this development – we’ve been conducting experiments with mobile phone apps over the last year or so, and it is very validating to see that people from other fields of education and from other countries are very interested in what we’ve been doing, and many are striving to develop similar approaches for their areas of education.

Meeting professionals from around the world at this conference reinforces my feeling that we have a lot to learn from people in other areas and other regions, but also that we seem to be on the right track in terms of trying to develop a truly 21st-century approach to the challenges of education in the modern world.

This technology is clearly part of the future of education everywhere, and I want the British Council’s work in English for Development to be on the cutting edge, creating new learning models that allow us to make a really meaningful contribution to the lives of children in developing countries.

You can see my interview about this conference here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lunch with geek history

In the middle of very serious and often draining business trips there can be some lighter moments that inspire you and lift the mood, so that you almost forget you’re working, dehydrated and slightly jet-lagged.

In Seattle the other day I had lunch in the canteen at Microsoft, and as a would-be techie for many years this was an exhilarating experience.

The range of food available was not like your usual company canteen – it was more like a food court at the shopping mall, with a wide range of choices from salad and vegetarian food to steaks, Mexican and Asian food.

But the food was not the attraction  – it was a sense of history, the history of 30 years of personal computing that hovers over the campus like a gentle Seattle mist. It was here that the geeky young men who invented Windows and brought computing to a  mass global audience had lunch every day and argued about coding errors or icon design.

And also here, almost tangible, is a sense of our future – it’s here that the young women and men designing the next generation of unexpected digital experiences are tucking into their salads…..

On the way back we visited Starbucks – the original one, the coffee shop in Pike Place Market that started it all in 1971.  More Seattle history….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment