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 English Language Teaching in Kurdistan

 Source : Mathaba
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English Language Teaching in Kurdistan 10.1.2005


The opportunity to pioneer ELT in Iraqi Kurdistan has never been better as English is perceived as a vital tool in education and business and is emerging as the second language in the region. Despite the recent instability in the rest of Iraq, ELT initiatives have taken off in the peaceful and secure Kurdistan Region.

‘Pioneer’ is an apt description of my work here in Iraqi Kurdistan, as most new initiatives to the region are modern and ground breaking especially in the development of up-to-date courses using the latest teaching and ICT methods available.

I first taught in the region in 2001/2 and had to leave because of the imminent war, this lead to me returning to the UK and forging a link with the British Council, whereby I partook in various projects such as the ‘Vocational Partnerships’ where 14 delegates from 7 Technical Institutes across Iraq spent 3 weeks looking at teaching methods and college organisation with backing from the Association of Colleges. We then invited 10 lecturers from 4 Universities in Northern Iraq on a 6 week intensive teacher training programme at Huddersfield Technical College, one of the main outcomes was the birth of the English Language Teachers’ Association of Kurdistan (ELTAK).

Three of the lecturers who took part in the Teacher Training programme, head the English department of their respective universities and as a direct result of the course returned to make changes; such as in the University of Dohuk where team teaching and role-play have been introduced for the first time in the English conversation classes.

Larger classes have been split into much smaller manageable groups, with many becoming more student centred. Motivation and participation has increased as a result, this can be seen most in the department’s drama class who have put on productions of Macbeth and are now preparing for a production of the Merchant of Venice. One of the drama teachers commented on increased language awareness, usage, and understanding. She also added that students are becoming more actively involved in lessons and are eager to give up their free time to work on the plays, they have also noticed a direct improvement in grades as their confidence has increased.

The teachers themselves have found this more student centred approach to be more labour intensive especially in the preparation stage; but have found the students enthused reaction to be a most gratifying reward. As the situation in Mosul became unbearable over recent months many students have transferred to the University of Dohuk and they have noticed the different teaching methods applied there and have been very receptive to it as their English skills have shown a definite improvement. As a result they talk confidently about how effective the application of these methods have proved.

Another improvement has been in the introduction of a college notice board, where students can write and display their own articles, comments and poems, in Sulaymania they have gone one step further and the department produces its own newsletter in English with contributions from staff and students, Dohuk are hoping to do the same sometime this year.

The departments themselves are looking a lot brighter with posters on the wall. In Erbil and Sulaymania the whole department has had a complete refurbishment; but there is still a problem with a lack of resources. The English Departments of the Northern Iraqi Universities still lack specialised English Language books especially for those students studying towards a MA. In spite of this, they do their best and try to glean information from the internet; but they still need access to books and journals.

On a smaller scale individuals have brought in books from the West; but it does little to fill the yawning gap. To try and plug this gap a little, we are planning within ELTAK to set up a database of English Language Resources, so that the English departments in Dohuk, Sulaymania, Erbil and Kirkuk can share resources and check on the database for access to a particular reference.

In September 2004 I returned permanently to Kurdistan and took up my post as an English language lecturer at the University of Dohuk, part of my role is to set up and run the University’s English Language Centre, where in collaboration with an American English language teacher, we are hoping to run IELTS and TOEFL courses, we are also hoping to open and run a similar centre at the University of Salahddin in Erbil.

I have also been working on ELTAK; but that hasn’t been without problems finding suitable times for meetings and the logistics of gathering the founding members together has not proved easy. We are now in the process of getting the association legalised by the Kurdistan Regional Government so that we can apply for funding and also be allocated a fully furnished office. We then hope to open the association to new members ranging from English Language University Lecturers to English Primary school teachers, but we will be doing this in stages.

With the increased stability of Kurdistan many families who fled the country in the 80’s and 90’s to Europe, neighbouring Middle Eastern Countries, America and Canada are now returning in large numbers. Subsequently the Ministry of Education has the task of integrating these children into the main stream education system. This has lead to new government initiatives such as the establishment of schools with a modified curriculum to help them. Consequently I have set up a pilot IGCSE scheme; whereby I have a class of students ranging between the ages of 14-17 many of whom have studied English abroad. This year they will take part in a foundation course which I hope will next year lead them to taking the International GCSE in English. If this pilot scheme proves successful I would like to broaden it into other subjects and introduce it to similar schools across Kurdistan and Iraq.

His Excellency, The Minister of Education, Mr Abdul-Aziz Taeeb has been very supportive of these new programmes and has given both personal and financial support from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He is also supporting the introduction of English to primary school education at year 3; which is a first in Iraq. New text books and curriculum have been devised and are now being piloted in selected schools in Erbil and Dohuk, if this proves successful then it will be extended to all primary schools in the region.



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