Monthly Archives: March 2014

Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers

IMG6026We launched our global publication, ‘Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers’, edited by Julian Edge and Steve Mann in India in February 2014. The two editors undertook a six-city book tour, after delivering the first joint plenary at the Teacher Educator Conference 2014 in Hyderabad.

Julian Edge visited Chennai (25 February), Bangalore (26 February) and Pune (28 February), while Steve Mann delivered talks in Delhi (24 February), Kolkata (26 February) and Chandigarh (28 February).

At each stop the editors met with a large number of enthusiastic audience comprising in teacher educators, English teachers and trainee teachers. The focus of volume on pre-service teacher education and training (PRESETT) of English language teachers chimed particularly with the audience as PRESETT tends to be a neglected area within the wider field of ELT.

In Delhi, Steve Mann was the keynote speaker at the ELTAI Delhi chapter’s annual conference and the book was launched at the end of the lecture. In Kolkata the book was launched by Dr Chhanda Ray, Director SCERT, West Bengal, followed by a talk on “Innovations in PRESETT” by Steve Mann. The Kolkata event saw a full house of more than 80 inquisitive participants ranging from accomplished teacher trainers, current teachers and trainee teachers. The book event in Chandigarh was co-hosted by the Regional Institute of English, attracted over a 100 people and the book received excellent press coverage in the local press.

Julian Edge kicked off his leg of the lecture tour in our Chennai library, with the book being launched by Pooja Kulkarni, State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Mission, Tamil Nadu followed by an interactive lecture. Elsewhere in Bengaluru, Mohammad Mohsin (Commissioner for Public Instruction, Karnataka) launched the book and Julian Edge’s presentation was very well received by the audience, majority of them being B Ed students. In Pune, the lanch was well attended as well where the local press also wrote about the book.


This book is part of British Council’s ‘Innovations in…’ series. The series aims to bring to the reader a range of ideas and practices in English language teaching (ELT), and to stimulate new thinking and experimentation, by providing accounts of innovative experiences from a range of international contexts.

The book is available for free download on our website. For more information on our research and other publications visit this link

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Nirbhaya: what is the way forward?

Yael Farber’s internationally acclaimed play, Nirbhaya is currently touring India. It is a play based around the personal testimonies of women who have survived sexual violence and an evocation of the Delhi rape case of 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya has played to audiences around the world and met very similar reactions to the global problem of sexual violence: how do we move forward from here?

As part of Nirbhaya’s India tour, the actors and associate partners – the British Council, Oxfam and UN Women are supporting several ‘Way Forward Discussions’, which are open forums for people to share their ideas on we can advance on this issue.

In the ‘Way Forward’ discussion in Delhi, we were joined by great speakers: Huma Masood, UNESCO, Sonali Khan, Breakthrough, Keerti, ActionAid India, Manak Matiyani, Must Bol Campaign and Poorna Jagannathan, actor in Nirbhaya.

During the discussion, some very important points were raised, including:

  • The key to this problem is the prevention of violence and being critical of our social norms. Violence against women is accepted and normalised in India.
  • We need to reach out to various audiences, we can’t continue to speak to the ‘converted’.
  • Violence is about power and subjugating another person. This issue is about the framework of power.
  • All genders are responsible for this issue, the onus is not on just women or just men.
  • The culture of shame and silence about sexual violence is universal.
  • Sexual violence is a cultural and a social development issue.
  • The time is right to take action and engage more people in this issue.

But most importantly, the discussion focused on actions that we can take to change attitudes and strengthen our support systems:

  • Use popular culture and new media to engage different audiences, especially young people.
  • Demand that more budget is allocated to implementing the laws against domestic violence.
  • Women are kept without resources and thus unable to acquire power. The government needs to strengthen the social security system to enable women to be independent.
  • Translate Nirbhaya into Hindi and play around with different pricing structures so we can take this to more people.
  • We need to work at all levels, grass roots to policy, in a decentralised manner with various mediums and forums.

Do you agree? What do you think is the way forward?

Post by: Emer Coyle

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Nirbhaya: can theatre make a difference?

NirbhayaNirbhaya is a tapestry of personal testimonials from women who have survived sexual violence and an evocation of the Delhi rape case of 16 December 2012. The stories are harrowing and are delivered with such intensity, that the anger and strength of the actors reverberates across the stage and into the audience. The play aims to end the global culture of shame and silence around sexual violence and act as a catalyst for engaging more people with this issue that affects one in every three of us.

Nirbhaya premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2013. It won the coveted Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, the Scotsman Fringe First and the Herald Angel Award for Outstanding New Play.

The play is currently playing to packed out auditoriums across India. Two of the actors, Sapna Bhavnani and Priyanka Bose, took time out to share their thoughts with us.

You have performed this play around the world, are there any differences in the way people react to or speak about this issue?

Priyanka: Yes, we have had the privilege of sharing the play with an international audience and to my surprise, we have been flooded with similar stories of trauma and shame that surrounds people who have experienced sexual violence. So many people express their need to own and accept their experience, and then the struggle to move on.

Sapna: After most of the performances, I get a lot of women wanting to ‘break their silence’ to me. I think this might be because my story is full of the stereotypes by which most societies judge women (the way they dress, how they act and where they go). So many women from all over the world seem to recognise elements of my story in themselves.

When humans witness others breaking down and opening their soul to them, the reaction has been the same. The audience bears witness to the story and in turn we bear witness to theirs.

Do you think theatre can inspire social change? Does theatre have certain qualities that other media may not?

Priyanka: I hope so. The play is not so much about teaching lessons but is a source of inspiration for the survivors of sexual violence and catalyst to get them speaking about their experience. It is a part of human nature to separate ourselves from people who are different and live in different situations. The theatre breaks that barrier of separation. Unlike any other art form the focus of theatre is on the human being, his or her existence, and his or her relationship with society.

Why do you feel it is important to break your silence?

Priyanka: Because staying silent makes me part of the problem. The change came when I wanted and was able to create change by just speaking up about my truth.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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How to teach the phonemic script

Every ESL teacher knows that teaching the phonemic script is indispensable. The best way to start off is to make sure that students are aware that the phonemic script can be divided into three main components – vowels, diphthongs and consonants.

The teacher can start with one at a time; usually consonants are the easiest to start with. Lay stress on certain difficult consonants based on the student’s first language. These are often the th, v/w, r, s/sh, z/zh and p/b sounds

The vowels can be broken up into short and long vowel sounds and can be taught through drama techniques. The teacher could make up a poem such as the pin on the tree, the bush like the boot.

Done with a lot of action, this can be enjoyed by both children and adults. So, the phonemic script need not only be taught with the mouth, jaw, tongue movements but the entire body can be a part of it.

Teachers can a few tricks that are listed out here. It has individual sounds of the entire phonemic script and three words with that particular sound in it.

Post by: Veera Sabzeh, Teacher of English, British Council Hyderabad

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Kamila Shamsie: where does a writer belong?

Kamila Shamsie, one of our ‘Best of Young British Artists’ launched her latest book, A God in Every Stone in Delhi last week.

She shares her thoughts with us on the complexities of writing about place and identity.

The idea of place has a strong presence throughout my works. I seem to think more about cities than countries, cities are much more likely to have identities than nations and I feel a strong pull to explore them and their spirits. Lahore, for example, is a deeply imagined city surrounded by ancient stories. Karachi is much newer. It is a city of migrants who don’t have monuments or histories reaching back to ancient times. Karachi is a new and restless place and so a writer has to learn to imagine Karachi in order to capture it’s essence. My relationship with London very meaningful but it is a little hazier with England.

There is always a tension between distance and place for writers. Some say that they are able to write their most vivid work about a place when they are in a different country or have just recently returned to a place after a long period of absence. Others would say that you have to truly ‘be’ in that place so as to really capture the nuances of the surroundings. For me, I start writing about one place and then the story spills into other locations. When a writer moves through geographical places, it takes longer to write; especially when you are writing about somewhere you haven’t been before. I have to spend time in my head getting to know a place through research but also my imagination.  Also, when you spend so much time thinking about place and how that affects your characters, you really start to question where you belong.

For me, national identity is something very porous. I have been called both a British writer and a Pakistani writer and I love that. Pakistan has quite negative connotations for some people in the west, and so if the words ‘Pakistani’ and ‘writer’ can sit together through me, then I am very happy.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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Contemporary dance in India: a tension between tradition and modernity


Photo credit: Sudeep Bhattacharya

Dancer and choreographer Jayachandran Palazhy has watched India’s contemporary dance scene grow and begin to flourish. He shares his thoughts with us on how to shape the future.

I think that Indian dance and music have deep roots because they are linked with religion. That means they have benefitted from religious belief but they are also limited by what is permissible. In the beginning of contemporary work, a lot of people were trying to make work but they didn’t have any specific techniques or skills or modes of creating work. So they were primarily interested in attempting new ideas, contemporary ideas, but their language, structure and approach remained classical and traditional, because they didn’t have the physical techniques or choreographic knowledge or stage technologies…”

Read the full article here

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Study India Programme: Reflecting upon my stay

Asking me to only write a 500 word reflection on these three incredible weeks is like asking someone to condense all the stories and teachings in every holy book that ever existed into just a few hundred words. It’s impossible! This trip was everything and more. It’s freed me from so many restraints I had placed on myself. Restraints from following my passion for different faiths, beliefs and religions to the simple restraints of always trying to please others and worrying about others opinions. Now I have released these passions and confidences I shall not restrict them again. This trip has bought a new fascination every day. From the simple act of placing flowers over my head to the complex understanding of the social sciences. I discovered so much that sparked a bonfire of fascination in my heart that I never want to douse. Often the trip bought about frustration. How is it that India has managed to do so many things that large, richer western countries are still busy arguing about without actually doing anything. This goes the other way too. There are so many simple suggestions put forward to the Indian government and country, that would be relatively straight forward to achieve but instead the rest of the world receives a collective head wobble and a shrug.

So, as well as being freeing, fascinating and frustrating I could use any adjective, good or bad, and I would be able to write about something I heard, saw, smelt or did on this adventure that would fit it. When we first arrived Nick said to us ‘for every true thing about India the opposite is equally true.’ As a mathematician myself, this made no logical sense and I almost took it upon myself to prove this wasn’t the case. You can’t have two completely opposite statements being equally true! However, sure enough, even now I can’t think of anything in India that goes against Nick’s statement. It, as a country, is two extremes that live side by side without ever disproving the other. It is a country that can only be summed up by the Indian head wobble, “it is both this and it is that.” It’s everyone’s paradise and everyone’s hell. I am still unsure what it was I went to India with in mind, everyone had told me different things to expect but I don’t think anything prepared me. I arrived as a country bumpkin with my rose tinted glasses on, immature and naive. Slowly, over the three weeks, I removed my glasses, with help, to reveal a scene more colourful that I could have ever dreamt. Yes there were dark patches, but they boarded the colour and made the brightness more intense. My eyes have been opened, my heart stolen and my mind filled. I have, for better or worse, been changed. Thank you, I could not recommend this opportunity enough!

Post by: Libby Down

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UnBox Labs 2014: urban challenges and opportunities

Creative practitioners and researchers from across India and the UK have spent two weeks exploring the theme of Future Cities at UnBox LABS 2014 in Ahmedabad.

The team exchanged of ideas around the application of design principles and innovation to public services and the urban environment. Claire Mookerjee shares her thoughts on the diverse challenges that face cities in both India and the UK.

“The opportunity that presents itself at UnBox Labs amongst such a wealth of talent and expertise is in choosing the most impactful thing to innovate for Indian and UK cities. Both are facing significant challenges, some shared and some very different.

India’s rapid urbanisation lies ahead, most of which will occur in informal or ungoverned ways. UK cities are in need of significant renewal, suffering from over-burdened infrastructure, services and a housing shortage. Indian Cities need to absorb millions of new residents whilst UK city authorities struggle to house everyone even with flats lying empty. There is an agility in response shown by Indian cities whilst UK cities are cumbersome and wasteful. Yet there is a potential humanitarian disaster waiting around the corner for India if basic sanitary infrastructure is not provided for rapidly expanding cities. The challenge for India is to accommodate this expanded urban population in a more resource-efficient way than the West has done.

Informality in the city – as demonstrated by so many of India’s urban practices – brings social intelligence and sophistication. It respects our true nature as social animals. In some respects UK cities are trying to ape these systems, becoming once again mixed-use, with conspicuous production as well as consumption, and allowing empowered entrepreneurialism, sharing economies, material social consciousness and recycling. But of course there is a flip side: inequality and insecurity.

Is there a sweet spot? Through our discussions and explorations at Future Cities Lab, we should strive to develop prototypes and ideas that interact successfully with people and institutions. Perhaps we should have in mind Partha Chaterjee’s take on the Indian post-industrial city: ’like science, cricket, cinema, medicine and even terrorism, this time too our native vernacular genius will corrupt the imported model of the post-industrial city and turn it into an impure, inefficient, but ultimately less malevolent hybrid.’”

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No Boundaries, a world where there is no normal.

The No Boundaries symposium took place last week , supported by Arts Council England and the British Council. It was ‘an open symposium on the role of culture in 21st century society’.

Watch this series

The discussions focussed around the future of arts and culture, particularly about new ways of working in response to new challenges faced by the arts sector as a whole, such as how to navigate a changing cultural landscape, diversity and trusting your audiences.

What was particularly interesting was a running theme of ‘creating a world where there is ‘no normal’’. I wonder could this ever happen?

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Study stay in India

As I boarded my flight to India I had no idea what to expect. I knew nobody, no Hindi and very little about either Delhi or Mumbai. The second I walked out into arrivals and met fellow students outside
Costa Coffee I instantly felt a part of something amazing. And amazing is exactly how the Study India Programme was.

I will never forget our first trip to Old Delhi on our first full day; my first real introduction to India. The sights, the sounds, the colours, the glancing onlookers and very inquisitive staring Indians! It was a huge culture shock to the system, as if you just received a cultural slap in the face. I was instantly encapsulated by what I saw and couldn’t wait to see more as the program continued.

In one of the talks we met with an author who stated that for everything you say about India, the
opposite is also true. From the old fashioned, cramped, shocking streets of Old Delhi to the modern and open areas of New Delhi, such as the parks and area surrounding India Gate, there is something for everyone. India can be whatever you want it to be. If you believe the media and stereotypical images of India we are led to believe and concentrate strictly on the poverty, the societal issues, the pollution etc. you may leave India with a very negative perspective.

But if you look and explore deeper you’ll find such a friendly, open and inviting country. Talk to almost any local and they’ll be interested in what you’re doing, what you think of their country, whether it was anything like you expected it to be. It’s like looking through a dirty window; you need to look behind the dirt on the surface and further beyond the window to outside world.

When we visited Dharavi slum in Mumbai; the largest slum in Asia. I certainly had my own initial reservations, especially having never seen or visited a slum before. I was gob smacked by the sense of community, the positive attitude of the residents and the general outlook on life. People are living way below the poverty line, yet they are happy (or on the surface they certainly seem it!). As we ventured further in to the slum we were surrounded by families with children excited to see us, dancing, lights and celebration. For somewhere that I initially perceived to be so negative, I was blown away by the community spirit. Locals were outside dancing in the rain as they celebrated a festival called Ganesh Chaturthi. We joined in too.

I have left India with such a different outlook on life. Deep down I think we all know how
lucky we are when we are brought up in the western world, yet there are so many things we take for granted and never fully appreciate, such as education and food. These things are simply not available to so many people. I think we can all learn a lesson from India and that is to be positive and thankful every day for everything that we have. I had a fantastic time on the Study India Programme and cannot wait to
return in the future.

Post by George Wiley

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