The project was initiated after a request in July 2013 from the Burmese President Thein Sein to UK Prime Minister David Cameron for support with its process of educational reform. The British Council and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) are co-funding the project. It is being delivered through a partnership between the British Council and VSO with 48 expatriate teacher trainers. In general, one British Council trainer and one VSO trainer live and work in each college.
Year one of the project, which finished in August 2015, focused on raising the English proficiency of the teacher educators. At that time, we asked our TEs to write about their ‘most significant change’ in the preceding six months. As you can see from the following quote from Daw Yin Yin Than, an Educational Theory teacher educator from Taunggyi Education College, the achievements in year one, however, were far more wide-ranging than simply language proficiency gains, but also focused on the impact that the project is having on teacher educators’ teaching, their trainees’ learning and motivation, as well as more holistic life changing experiences.
“I’m very pleased and proud of myself to attend EfECT. It gives me new ideas, more knowledge, interesting experiences and different feelings. Now I know how to learn English and how to teach my subject effectively. I’ll always take it through my life. I can teach our trainees with a lot of activities and games which I learnt from EfECT. I gave them group work and individual work. Thus, they worked together in a friendly way and actively. It’s very important for us. Because they will apply these ways in their lives and their teaching. And they’ll improve in the future. They do their work happily, too. So, I hope, their lives will be successful.”
The target for the two year project is to raise English language proficiency by one level on the Common European Framework (CEF). Results from mid-project testing using the British Council Aptis test are still being analysed, but it looks as though already in excess of 60% of beneficiaries have improved their English by one CEF level.
In year two, the focus is on developing TEs’ teacher training competence. The methodology course used for this was specially created for the Burma Education College and University of Education context. In the initial stages of the project, trainers gathered extensive research data which were used in compiling a comprehensive needs analysis report. This was shared with a variety of development partners working in education across Burma. The report helped to inform the methodology syllabus after which experienced course writers drafted the eight modules of the course. These were then edited by the management team and piloted by trainers with their TEs, to ensure that the course is truly ‘fit for purpose’.
In particular, the methodology year attempts to respond to concerns that previous efforts by development partners to promote “student-centred” approaches (SCA) to learning have failed. In particular that they have failed to take account of barriers to SCA such as large class sizes, lack of suitable materials, classroom furniture and, in particular, a culture which expects teachers to be authoritative figures in the classroom. The project also draws on evidence from the Western world which shows that “direct instruction” or interactive whole-class teaching can be very effective if undertaken in a constructivist way which builds on learners existing knowledge and encourages active learning in a whole-class context.
The project is therefore taking a balanced approach to pedagogy which sees six months spent supporting teacher educators to conduct whole-class teaching more interactively and six months devoted to introducing methods which involve peer-to-peer learning and which are particularly suited to encouraging creativity and critical thinking.
As year 2 commences, EfECT trainers are conducting diagnostic observations of TE lessons to get a baseline of TE teaching competence. Thereafter, with the delivery of the methodology course we expect TEs to make significant gains in their teaching competence for the benefit of themselves, their trainees and the Burmese education system now and in the future.
Find out more about the project in our forthcoming webinar with the EfECT Project Director, Ian Clifford, who will explore the reasons behind the failure to implement learner-centred approaches in developing world contexts. He will discuss evidence which questions the effectiveness of learner-centred approaches and favours effective whole-class teaching. Finally, attempts to promote a balanced approach to pedagogy through the teacher education project in Burma will be showcased.