Author Archives: Nataasha Southwell

Learning from innovation – a digital approach to developing creativity in schools

Written by Andrew Foster – Senior Academic Manager, British Council, South India

It’s well known that teachers are busy people with many demands on their time, from administrative matters to participating in projects alongside their day-to-day work with students in the classroom, so it’s not surprising that finding time to attend face-to-face training workshops can be a challenge. Technology can offer an alternative to bringing teachers to learn and share their classroom experiences in the same physical space, although we need more information on teachers’ ability to access and use digital resources to understand what can work for them.

Core Skills* (also known as 21st century skills) are a focus of the Pudumai Palli Project: Developing Innovative Schools in Chennai (P3DISC) in which the British Council, teachers, students and head teachers of 70 of the city’s high schools have been working together over three years. One of the Core Skills we’ve focused on is digital literacy. Early in the project we discovered that it was rare to find computers that teachers or students could access in schools, with the internet usually only available to the school secretary or head. Quite a few teachers needed basic IT and email skills (which we added training for) while for some, access to the internet is via mobile only. WhatsApp became a key channel for communication between, to and from teachers, and one that we could use to learn about their digital habits and preferences.

We also identified the need to develop teachers’ ability to build their learners’ creativity and imagination skills. We wanted to trial how technology could be used to provide this training, via a simple digital learning resource which was in line with the teachers’ developing digital literacy skills.

User preferences

To explore what kind of an app teachers would be able to use and would find interesting, we initially asked them about which websites, apps and games they used. Their responses provided clues about what might be both engaging and navigable for them. An animated story with alternative choices for the teachers was decided on, and the concept developers mapped out the optional story paths in a cobweb of arrows and textboxes.

Conceptualising design

This story design then went to animators at Flow Creative, based in Manchester, who depicted a class with their teacher trying to enliven a cross-curricular theme of encouraging tourism in the students’ locality. The user follows the story and is presented with three choices of action, one of which will best encourage students’ creativity and imagination. Upon choosing one, the user receives feedback (spoken and in text) after which the teacher can return to the other options or carry on with the storyline. Sharing pictures from the animation with the teachers’ WhatsApp group got their opinions on the look of the classroom, the students and the teacher and their feedback was used to revise how these appear.

Piloting

The main test came when teachers used the pilot app – an opportunity for us to evaluate how easy and interesting or not they found it to use, and what they would learn. This evaluation was designed by The Research Base who were the third-party evaluators for the wider P3DISC project.

Many of the teachers were unfamiliar with aspects of the interface and needed assistance to find how to turn on optional subtitles that accompanied the spoken English narrative, and to select one of the boxed short texts which would give them feedback on their choice (see the photo below). It was clear that messages or illustrations could be added to guide the teachers, and subtitles made ‘always on’. The app was in English, and teachers’ comprehension abilities vary widely, so some appreciated the way that the app illustrated what was being described. One commented, ‘It was very helpful because even when we could not understand all the words the animation helped us.’

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Once the teachers got used to the format they were interested to follow the story and make the choices that followed each of its stages. To find out what teachers had learned, we asked them to do a quick ‘pre’ and ‘post’ test on ways to encourage creativity to see if their responses changed after using the app.

The test results showed some positive changes in teachers’ thinking and knowledge. After using the app more teachers saw the advantage in letting students take the lead in stages of the lesson, more thought that defining ‘right and wrong answers’ can be unhelpful in the process of encouraging creativity, and more were convinced that creativity has a place in a wide range of school subjects. Most teachers found the app ‘useful’ (46 per cent) or ‘very useful’ (41 per cent) for their classroom teaching. Almost all the teachers involved said that they would recommend the content to others, citing how it helps to develop teaching techniques, using new, creative ideas that are key in teaching 21st century skills. Of 26 teachers interviewed between one and three weeks later, 25 reported they were finding the training useful for their classrooms.

Learning in motion

Using an animated, story-based app was a first for these 76 teachers, who were used to receiving input on what to do in the classroom via print media, face-to-face training or the occasional use of websites, and they enjoyed having something more engaging and dynamic than a text or a video with no built-in interaction. They found that the information came a bit too fast for them and suggested that the ability to watch and listen to sections again would help.

This experience has helped us to think about how we can better engage teachers to learn and reflect about the choices they can make in the classroom. It has also underlined the need for us to try out and evaluate digital routes to learning so that we are supporting teachers and learners effectively and not making assumptions about what is accessible or intuitive.

P3DISC_2

* The six Core Skills that the British Council works in partnership to develop in young people are creativity and imagination, citizenship, collaboration and cooperation, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, and digital literacy.

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EDGE – empowering girls to change their world

Written by Ruchi Jain, Academic Manager East India and Deepali Dharmaraj, Senior Academic Manager – Training Consultant Network and Resources.

‘I will talk to my Ma about giving me the same food as my bhai (brother)’, said Rani. ‘We will protest against the daily harassment that we face on our way to the centre’, chorused the girls but not before I heard a small voice, ‘I will eat more vegetable and fruits for better health’.  These are the small but significant desires to bring about change from participants in Baladbandh and Kumrogodi, on the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) pilot project with Rasik Bhita, an organisation working with women in West Bengal’s Hoogly district.

The change agent
EDGE aims to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically marginalised communities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal where digital and gender divides are significant, and opportunities are limited. The programme focuses on providing participants with training and resources to develop their English proficiency, digital skills, 21st century skills and awareness of social issues in peer-led after-school clubs. The programme also aims to build trust within the communities to change and develop the perception of the value of girls within those communities. To date the programme has reached over 17,000 girls in 750 clubs across the region.

In a pilot project with Rasik Bhita, a group of adolescent girls recently met over a two-week period to trial the materials and Peer Group Leader model. The girls supported each other’s learning in these informal yet structured input sessions on English, digital and social skills. Eight British Council trained PGLs facilitated sessions and the participants benefited from a relaxed and enjoyable approach in the centre. ‘I did not know that learning was fun!’ said a PGL, a thought echoed by the participants after a round of a memory game aiming to practice greetings and small talk in English.

The context
Girls in South Asia continue to face innumerable challenges in their lives, many of which are due to unequal perceptions of gender equality. According to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, as many as 19 per cent of women experience violence at home. Although instances are reducing, early marriage is a common obstacle in the education and employment of women. Poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and poor nutrition are also daily concerns. Women also work as much as three times more than men in domestic chores which can prohibit or delay their educational and professional development.

A UNESCO report from 2013 (UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013) shows that educated rural women can bring about a host of changes in their lives and in the lives of people around them. For example, educated women are less likely to marry early and consequently early child-bearing risks can be reduced, leading to lower infant mortality rates. Educated women value hygiene and health which leads to better nutrition of their children. Also, an educated woman is more likely to find work and gain financial stability.

In 2018, the British Council is undertaking a detailed study to explore livelihood opportunities for women in South Asia, ensuring that the EDGE programme develops the most appropriate skills for these young people.

A way forward
Everyone can work closely to empower girls and support their education. We can strengthen learning, boost confidence and celebrate role models. Here are some of the practical ways that we seek to address these issues through the EDGE programme and our wider work relating to gender:

  • Holding open dialogues with learners about challenges and involving boys as well in looking for solutions
  • Inviting working women professionals to counsel learners on career choices
  • Introducing vocational skills
  • Making learners aware of successful women and their achievements
  • Celebrating International Women’s Day, sharing the success of our learners
  • Creating student council bodies which include both boys and girls
  • Organising competitions and programmes to showcase the talents of our learners
  • Teaching more than the typical syllabus – addressing real-life issues such as early marriage or the importance of a balanced diet
  • Fostering 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

For more information, read about the British Council’s approach to promoting gender equality and the EDGE project.

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“Teaching hardly matters, learning does”

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

I’ve shamelessly stolen the title of this blog from Jim Scrivener, whose presentation I attended at the recent IATEFL* conference in Brighton. I’m not sure I entirely agree – good teaching clearly supports effective learning – but the sentiment interests me, not least because it seems to sum up one of the emerging themes of the conference this year: English language teachers need to remember what is truly important about the work that we do and not let ourselves get distracted by all the various trappings of the multi-million dollar industry that has grown up around ELT**.

In my experience, most conferences can be boiled down into a few key messages for participants to take away. I don’t think these are always planned or intentional – although the existence of a conference theme can help give them some direction – but instead the current collective consciousness of the profession often seems to emerge during the course of the event. Of course, these are subjective to a large extent, but conversations with others suggest at least some commonality. These themes aren’t shaped only by fads or trends within the profession, but also by the way the world is changing around us. Technology is an obvious example – many recent conferences have reflected on (and usually championed) the integration of technology into our teaching. But this year at IATEFL it was interesting to note people questioning the its role. As its use gathers pace, do we need to consider going back to basics and ensure that we are controlling the use of digital tools, rather than the other way round?

Similarly, there were questions raised around the publishing industry and whether it has lost sight of its true purpose. According to the hugely popular plenary speaker Dorothy Zemach, many publishers are focusing too much on making money and retaining their market share rather than ensuring the quality of their products and capitalising on the creativity of experienced ELT writers. She called upon teachers to be more discerning in their choice of course book and to question the motives when offered multiple wraparound elements for free which might actually just distract from effective classroom teaching and learning. Dorothy also questioned whether a one size fits all global approach to product development was really helpful, beyond the reduction in costs this provides for publishers. This was highlighted again in Barry O’Sullivan’s entertaining plenary, where he called for assessments to be made more localised and personalised to individual needs and context.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt from Women for Women International had a strong message for delegates about the purpose and power of English and education more generally: women supported by this organisation in countries including Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan have escaped poverty, violence and damaging ingrained social norms as a result of educational interventions. English has considerable power to enable positive change by generating hope and opportunity for a better life and as English language teachers we have the capacity to be agents of that change. To paraphrase Spider-Man, we mustn’t forget the great responsibility that comes with that power.

To return to Jim Scrivener’s statement, it is true that learning matters most of all, not only for our students but also for teachers. Attending conferences supports teacher learning – and hopefully as a result of that, their learners – not just because of the content and ideas shared in each session but also the learning that takes place on the sidelines. Networking with colleagues and meeting new ones is key, as is critically reflecting on the messages and themes that bubble under the surface, taking shape only as the conference develops.

What conferences are you attending this year? Our new conference calendar might help you to decide. If you know of others we should include, please let us know.

A selection of the best sessions from IATEFL 2018 are available to view online here.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

*IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

**ELT: English language teaching

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Defining and measuring quality teaching: is it getting the attention it deserves?

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had? What made him or her ‘the best’? Was it because he or was funny, or kind? Or because she was generous with her praise … or selfish, so you felt you’d really earned it when it came? Or was it because he just really knew his stuff and how to make a class of 30 kids want to find out more? What are the qualities that make a good teacher … or the best teacher?

On a personal level, we can define our favourite teachers and easily discuss why we liked them so much. But do these personal judgements really tell us whether or not a teacher is good at his or her job? How can we best determine whether a teacher is really providing quality in the classroom? How can we best evaluate teacher performance, in a way that is supportive and helps the teacher to further develop her skills? These are some of the questions that have formed the basis of a recent project of inquiry led by the British Council.

We set out to answer these questions using a two pronged approach. First, we have commissioned a review of the global literature to try to better understand the different ways that teachers – specifically English language teachers – are evaluated around the world. Together with Dr Simon Borg, we have been exploring the varied terminology and strategies employed by different education systems to measure teacher and teaching quality. A clear outcome of this work has been the realisation that there is relatively little research conducted specifically around how English language teachers are evaluated or assessed. The full review will be published at the beginning of next year.

Secondly, we’re developing national-level case studies of practices, tools and processes used in teacher evaluation. The first of these will come from India. The purpose of these case studies is to shine a brighter light on specific contexts, setting out the current state of play and considering the contextual differences which may impact on the adoption of one approach or another when it comes to teacher evaluation.

To try and ensure as detailed a picture as possible of the varied India context, we convened a group of representatives from 23 different organisations and government agencies, along with several independent consultant experts, to share their knowledge and experience gained while working across the teacher education sector in India. Over the course of two meetings the group has wrestled with definitions, lamented the many challenges and shared inspiring stories of positive interventions and programmes taking place across the country.

Collectively, the group has identified what they believe to be the key features of an effective approach to teacher evaluation and considered the practical application of this at different levels of the system. This input is complemented by data from a series of focus groups with teachers, conducted across the country. These features and findings will be shared in detail in the case study report.

Several high quality tools exist, but consistent and standardised implementation at scale remains a challenge. An important message from the many of the participants has been the need for changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour at all levels of the system in order for teaching quality to be adequately assessed in a meaningful way. As one participant in the group said, ‘evaluation tools are useful but you have to create the culture, the organisation and the climate for them to work’.

Improving learning outcomes has become a key priority in India, as elsewhere, in recent years. Within this, it is clear that a focus on defining quality teaching and how this is assessed is extremely important. This project aims to continue the conversation about how to address this issue and offer some practical recommendations for moving forward at the school, state and national levels.

Both the global literature review and the India case study will be published in early 2018.

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A diverse classroom: the ideal laboratory for developing global citizens

Written by Manisha Dak – Academic Manager, Schools, English and Skills (North India)

Indian classrooms are among the most diverse in the world, with students from different cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. While many teachers find this diversity challenging to deal with, others consider this an opportunity to enable learners to work collaboratively and develop understanding of the world outside their own sphere of existence. The world is a global village, more so since the advent of internet, and the key purpose of education necessarily needs to shift to preparing global citizens who can live in harmony with others.

This was the theme of the 4th International ELT@I conference organised by the Jaipur ELT@I chapter with support from the British Council: English in Multicultural Classrooms – Perspectives, Prospects, Possibilities. The theme immediately struck a chord with me and I’m sure with many other conference attendees as it was an excellent opportunity to explore the unexplored and listen to various perspectives around teaching English in multicultural classrooms.

The conference included plenary talks by eminent speakers and workshops and presentations by enthusiastic professionals. From the idea of teachers taking initiatives to organise themselves and creating opportunities to learn from each other shared by retired Professor Shreesh Chaudhary, to the need for promoting resilience among teachers and learners using mindfulness activities proposed by Dr Bradley Horn, the plenary talks truly reflected the need of the hour. ‘Any group of people that is thrown together will face conflict and difficulties at some point, so what is important is that group members are able to look at that conflict and come back from it to be able to cope with future stressors more effectively, ’ emphasised Dr Horn in his talk.

Another useful way to make the most of potentially conflicting cultures present in the classroom, as suggested by Amy Lightfoot, is by finding ways to ‘celebrate this diversity.’ Why not encourage teachers and learners to draw on the linguistic, socio-economic and cultural diversity and treat it as a resource in the process of English language teaching and learning? This would enable teachers to help deal with growing concerns around erosion of cultures and identities while also being one step forward in the direction of preparing learners to be global citizens.

‘Changing words, changing minds’ from Dr Rajni Badlani’s talk was another highlight of the day. Dr Badlani advocated using and encouraging learners to use more positive words, for example, saying I need to understand more about your culture instead of I don’t understand your culture or I think differently instead of I don’t agree with you can change the way your brain works and the way people respond to one another, leading to more positive outcomes. This was a useful tip not just for the classroom but for day-to-day life as well. After all, despite the old adage ‘sticks and stones…,’ the words we use can have a profound effect on people’s beliefs and attitudes about themselves and others.

The three roles of teachers that emerged from various presentations and workshops in this context were that of an educator, facilitator and learner. The teacher can not only become a source of information about different cultures – both national and international – but also facilitate multicultural interactions and show genuine interest in learning about learners’ cultural backgrounds.

The workshops and presentations left attendees with a greater understanding of the issues relating to multicultural classrooms and a plethora of ideas they could take back to use in their contexts. Careful and deliberate planning and the integration of simple activities can turn the challenge of diversity into a huge advantage and aid the teaching and learning of English, along with other subjects. It’s important for teachers to establish early on that ‘different’ does not equal ‘bad’.

Some of the practical tips to exploit and promote cultural diversity in classrooms include:

  • personalising learning
  • giving equal importance to all learners, regardless of their background
  • adding storybooks from different cultures to the school/class library
  • avoiding stories that include only male or female characters, or stereotypes
  • organising multicultural interactions and sharing through group work and projects
  • being aware of possible cultural conflicts among learners and monitoring them closely to avoid clashes
  • choosing related topics for writing tasks and encouraging peer editing to spread cultural awareness
  • publishing learners’ work as a class magazine, celebrating the diversity in the school
  • conducting a culture quiz at the beginning of the year
  • allowing learners to discuss a speaking task in their first language prior to doing it in English, to build confidence and remove anxiety related to deciding what to talk about.

Overall, the two days spent at the conference led to a lot of sharing and reflection. If the attending teachers can put to use their understanding and ideas gained from the conference effectively in their classrooms, and share these ideas with their colleagues, it is truly possible that classrooms can become ideal laboratories to help learners become global citizens.

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Teachers, research and evidence: a happy marriage?

Written by Amy Lightfoot, Assistant Director – Academic, English for Education Systems, British Council India

Do teachers make enough use of evidence to inform their classroom practice? This was a key underlying theme of the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) conference, held earlier this year in Glasgow. It’s a growing topic of conversation in education circles generally, including English language teaching. Some excellent initiatives are underway to try to promote more informed teaching in the classroom. For example, ELT Research Bites aims to present research findings related to ELT in an accessible and ‘easily digestible’ way. The relatively new Chartered College of Teaching in the UK has made access to the EBSCO research database a cornerstone of teacher and associate membership. The inaugural issue of their journal series focused on impact and evidence. 

But what do we mean when we talk about ‘research’ and ‘evidence’? For some, the word ‘research’ has negative connotations; it might suggest an outsider view on what is taking place on the ground, or it might be assumed to be impenetrable or inaccessible – aimed at other people, not at me. But research in the broadest sense can be defined simply as asking questions and looking for possible answers or explanations. In other words, research is the process through which we look for evidence which can support (or refute) decisions about what to do in the classroom.

Evidence can come from a wide range of sources. These include external sources considered to be particularly trustworthy, such as peer-reviewed academic journals, but arguably just as useful are reflections from fellow teachers on what seems to be working (or not) in their classrooms perhaps via blogs or shared more informally. With all of this externally-sourced evidence, John Hattie suggests that the individual teacher still needs to be the final judge of its relevance and applicability to their own context. What works (or doesn’t) for one individual or group of individuals is never fully guaranteed to work for another when we’re talking about the social sciences, regardless of how robust the data is.

With this in mind, there is a growing movement within education communities around the world to encourage teachers to undertake research for themselves, within their own classroom settings. Again, in its simplest form this involves the framing of questions (or a question) and seeking answers. This approach is being actively promoted through a network of professionals working in English language teaching who have established the International Festival of Teacher Research in ELT. This aims to bring together details of events happening around the world and highlight the benefits of and approaches to teachers undertaking research. So far, affiliated events have been held in Turkey, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, online through the TESOL Electronic Village and in India, with over 1,500 participating education professionals globally.

Most recently, the All India Network of English Teachers organised a two day conference in Nagpur, central India, to provide a platform for teachers across the country to share the results of their small scale, classroom-based research. A key feature of the event was a series of presentations by teachers and teacher educators who have been participating as mentors in British Council India’s Aptis Action Research Mentoring Scheme (AARMS). AARMS seeks to develop a network of 14 mentors, working directly with two of the leaders in the ELT teacher research field – Dr Richard Smith from the University of Warwick and Dr Amol Padwad of AINET. The mentors work with more than 80 teachers across India to develop their skills in conducting relevant, classroom-based research related to English language teaching. This Nagpur conference was closely followed by a four day workshop at Gauhati University, also supported by the British Council and the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG, with Dr Smith and Dr Padwad introducing the principles and practices of exploratory action research to 30 teachers and teacher educators.

The benefits of classroom research shared through these conference events and from those involved in the AARMS scheme are clear. External research is all very well, but teachers’ reflecting on their own practice, setting their own research questions and actively seeking the answers is the surest way to improve classroom teaching in a way that is contextualised to and appropriate for individual learners’ needs. Martyn Hammersley from The Open University has talked about ‘the privileging of research evidence over evidence from other sources, especially professional experience’: there is no doubt that the former is important, but teachers need to take ownership of the research process and actively find evidence that applies directly to their own classroom.

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Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India

India has a long tradition of educational research dating back to the pre-independence period which has included the foundation and development of national and state agencies including the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). However, as David Graddol (2010: 98), for example, has pointed out, the results of this research have not always reached the wider world and India may have been under-represented in the international academic community. British Council India places considerable emphasis on encouraging and supporting educational research and a key strand of that work, for a number of years, was the English Language Teaching Partnerships (ELTReP) Award programme.

The ELTRePs programme ran from 2012 to 2016, with the aim of facilitating high quality, innovative research to benefit the learning and teaching of English in India and to improve the access of ELT policy makers and professionals from India, the United Kingdom and the global ELT community to that research. Researchers on this programme have been supported in undertaking explorations in a wide range of contexts. All writers are practitioners in the field of English language teaching and learning in India, whether teachers, lecturers, educational department personnel or in other roles that involve day-to-day contact with the teaching and learning of English.

Our new publication series Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India brings together thirty three papers which are describe the research undertaken, and present findings and recommendations which we hope will be of benefit to a wider audience. The papers are presented in a series of eleven issues, each containing three papers and each addressing one of the professional practices detailed in the British Council framework for continuing professional development. Topics include a focus on understanding learners, managing resources and the use of information technology, assessing learners, taking responsibility for continuing professional development and using inclusive and multilingual approaches. Each paper reflects the creativity, detailed awareness of context and practical suggestions of the wide range of writers, from different backgrounds and working in different situations. They present results which in each case are innovative and thought-provoking. The papers deal in different ways with the teaching and learning of English in India today and offer suggestions on how to meet these challenges.

Twenty-two of the papers have been edited by Professor Brian Tomlinson, Honorary Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool, TESOL Professor, Anaheim University. A further eleven papers were edited by Andy Keedwell, Senior Academic Manager, British Council India. Both editors worked in collaboration with the writers themselves.

Issue 1 looks at the professional practice of understanding learners and in particular the needs of students, especially for future employability. Barasha Borah makes suggestions on how a more communicative, task-based approach can be used to develop students’ speaking skills for students in secondary schools. Seemita Mohanty looks at ways in which the motivation and self-confidence of young people can be increased. Sutapa Chakravarty investigates how a range of multiple intelligences can be addressed inside and outside the primary school.

We hope you enjoy Explorations: Teaching and Learning English in India Issue 1 and find it helpful for the context you work in.

Issue 2 will be released in August 2017.

Reference:
Graddol, D. (2010) English next India: the future of English in India. London: British Council.

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Collaborating, innovating, learning and unlearning: UK-India Education Week

It wasn’t the first time I’d visited and observed an educational system of another country. It wasn’t the first time I’d met international (education) entrepreneurs/leaders and had some dialogue with them. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in a delegation that brought diverse people together on a study tour.

The delegation at The Open University

The delegation at The Open University

Yet, it was my first time experiencing a group that ‘worked’ so well together. It was the first time that right from the moment that I received an invitation until I received a ‘thank you’ email, I found a warmth exuded by the hosts. Kudos to British Council India for making this week long UK-India study tour the first for me in myriad ways.

In such study tours, it remains the participants’ responsibility to grab the most that they can. And I did that. But this was assisted by the well-planned and diverse interactions I experienced. The British Council team had put together quite an eclectic blend of stimulants. From a school visit to a meeting with key members of a university, there was a range of conversations that helped me assimilate a lot of educational ideas, triggering strong forward-looking thoughts on the domain.

My favourite part of the tour was the time well spent in an elementary school in central London. Direct interaction with the leaders, teachers and the students gave deep insights into classroom pedagogy and the incredible climate of trust within the school. Reaffirming several aspects of our own organisation’s programme back home, it was an eye-opener and a reassurance at the same time.

Higher education visits seemed irrelevant to me when I first looked at the agenda. However, interactions here set the context for the formative years’ education in which Chrysalis, my organisation is deeply involved. The most exciting of these was the detailed conversations at The Open University. The power of ‘open’ learning struck me like it never has before.

A surprise bonanza for me was a sudden invitation to speak in a panel at the Education Innovation Conference in front of an audience of 150 key players working in education in the UK and India. An Indian perspective came pouring out when I had to speak about an educational leader’s approach to the fluid and ambiguous nature of global education. I couldn’t quite hide the joy when I received great feedback for the talk.

It was a week that emphasised the importance of collaboration, innovation, learning and unlearning. That the two countries had a lot in common, and yet are unique in their own way was made clear with this first person experience.

Post is by Chitra, Founder and CEO, Chrysalis.

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Investing in innovation: UK-India Education Week

With the recent budget announcements in India and the huge expectations from the Finance Minister with regards to the education sector; (the 2017 budget allocation to education was upped by 10 per cent from the previous year, now standing at INR 79,000 crores / INR 790 billion),  it seemed like the perfect time to press the pause button in my hitting-the-road-running life, to take a deep breath, reflect and perhaps (Un)learn! The opportunity to do just this came in the form of an invitation to participate in an exciting outing as a delegate at the UK-India Education Week, organised by the British Council offices in India and the UK.

Janaka Pushpanathan at the Bett Show

At the Bett Show

During this time, I along with other delegates was exposed to current and future technological trends in school education practice; the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers using advanced technological tools; a library of experience for diversity and inclusion (facilitated by a Microsoft partnership); digital democracy and the overwhelmingly huge Bett show, to name a few. The common denominator underpinning all of these remarkable developments in education is the snowballing of computing technology, coupled with a strong desire to create disruptive innovation.

Two experiences amidst many that stood out for me personally: the visit to Christopher Hatton primary school located in central London and the meeting with the team at NESTA. I could totally relate to the background and setting of the primary school, with many children from disadvantaged communities (opting for the free school meals scheme), and almost 26 different languages being spoken in the school. The dedication of the head teacher Gwen Lee and her team of very driven staff touched me and it was no surprise that the school recently received an ‘outstanding’ rating from the English government inspectorate: Ofsted. It was interesting to note that many of the challenges that the schools’ sector faces in the UK were similar in nature to what we are facing in India and in Tamil Nadu, where I am from. For example, at Christopher Hatton school, more than two thirds of the children were learning English as an additional language (which is the given, in our classrooms in India). The school has also invested deeply into teacher development – the recruit, train and retain policy that Gwen follows in the school uses technology very innovatively to strengthen teachers and make them more self-aware. This includes the use of the Iris Connect system.

At the end of the week, I had made new connections, not just with people in the UK, but also with fellow delegates from back home. Along with our full schedule of meetings and events, we also had time to eat hot desi khana (Indian food) and hip fusion cuisine (thanks to some seriously awesome hospitality from the British Council), hang out at an uber-cool Sherlock Holmes themed pub and just simply walk the streets of London, soaking in the beauty and busy-ness of it all. Even the classic London weather taught me something significant: change is constant, but it is magical too.

Back home now I’m looking forward to following up on my conversations, exploring collaborative possibilities and continuing the learning opportunities with potential partners.

Post and images by Janaka Pushpanathan, Founder, UnLearn.

Tower Bridge, London at 3.55 PM

Tower Bridge, London at 3.55 PM

Tower Bridge, London at 3.57 PM

Tower Bridge, London at 3.57 PM

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How is technology being used in schools in India?

95805Technology is often seen as a solution to improving learning and teaching, but what exactly does this look like in Indian schools? Which types of technology are being used? Does technology actually enhance learning in this context, and if so – how? Can technology be successfully used in government and low-income private schools in rural India?

To answer these questions, British Council India and Central Square Foundation recently launched a joint publication Teaching and technology: case studies from India edited by Dr Gary Motteram from the University of Manchester, UK. Twenty two case studies were selected from over 430 submissions following an open call. The selected stories highlight the innovative ways in which teachers, schools and organisations are using technology to improve student learning and teacher development across the length and breadth of India.

The collected data highlights a number of interesting features.

  • Technology is frequently used to show their learners videos or images are frequently used to demonstrate concepts more clearly. This is particularly prevalent in science classes, but also used in social sciences and English lessons.
  • Many teachers give their students tasks and projects in which they have to research topics using the internet and then co-create presentations of their findings. Such tasks can also benefit learner autonomy, as learners are required to find things out for themselves rather than rely on the teacher and textbooks. This also helps to develop digital literacy and internet navigation skills.
  • There are several examples of flipped classroom approaches, with teachers asking learners to watch videos or read articles before coming to class, so that class time can be used for going into more depth and clarifying any misunderstandings.
  • A number of organisations aim to increase the quality of education available to disadvantaged learners by using tablets, videoconferencing, projectors and other technology to support their learning.
  • Many teachers mention how they use technology for their own professional development, such as participating in social media communities of practice, following massive open online courses (MOOCs) and using the internet to deepen their own subject knowledge.

This publication studies reveal that there are a lot of enthusiastic teachers and organisations using technology to enhance learning, and aims to inspire further action from others working in similar contexts. We strongly encourage you to try out some of the ideas from the case studies in your own schools, building on the knowledge and experience gained by these individuals.

You can download or view the publication here, along with a research report published in 2016 on how teachers in South Asia use technology for their professional development. We will also be doing some further activity around the themes from the current publication and individual case studies in coming weeks, via webinars and our social media channels.

Post by Rustom Mody, Senior Academic Manager – English Partnerships, North India.

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