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Transforming English language learning in rural classrooms: OERs, mobile technologies and scale
Power, Tom · Umar, Abdurrahman · Hedges, Claire

PublishedMay 2011
ConferenceeLearning Africa: 6th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training

Through its “OERs for English Language Teaching (Pan-Commonwealth)” project, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is working in partnership with educational institutions throughout Africa and the Commonwealth to develop open educational resources (OERs) in multimedia and traditional text formats to support school-based training for teachers working in the upper basic education sector. These resources will become freely available for use and adaptation during 2011. Work being done by English in Action may provide some insights into how the maximum impact can be gained from use of such resources, in bringing about improvements to classroom practice. This is illustrated by hypothetical application to the context of the challenges in teacher training, faced in the emerging state of South Sudan.
The Open University is a key partner in a current large-scale teacher development programme, English in Action (EIA), in Bangladesh, South Asia, building on previous work in Africa. The DEEP project (2001 – 2008) explored the potential of mobile technologies to support and enhance teacher development in schools serving disadvantaged communities in South Africa and Egypt; the TESSA programme (2005 - ) continues to research the integration of school-based professional development activities in teacher education programmes, at substantial scale, and the potential of OERs to support international, and inter-institutional collaboration in teacher training. We believe the experiences and insights gained have wide applicability to many of the challenges facing teacher education in Sub-Saharan Africa, including how OERs, such as those from the COL project, can be effectively used, to promote change in schools.
EIA is currently training the first cohort of 680 English language teachers in predominantly rural primary and secondary schools across Bangladesh, whilst preparing to scale up to 12,500 teachers in the next three years. In EIA, teachers are working in pairs, using a range of support materials including digital learning materials on a portable media player. These include materials for teachers’ own professional development (videos of classroom practice, pronunciation practices, guidance on classroom organisation and activities), and many audio resources for use with students in the classroom, and a guide on how to use these.
The results show radical transformations to teachers and students classroom practices in a remarkably short period of time. There is a substantial increase in the extent of spoken English language in English lessons; perhaps more importantly, students, who previously had very little opportunity to talk at all, and almost no opportunity to talk in English, are now talking for a third of all the lesson time, and 88% of all student talk is now in English.
As well as giving a brief overview of the ‘hard evidence’ arising from large-scale research studies, we want to try and present the voices of teachers, students and the wider community, through sharing their thoughts and experiences.
We suggest a model of teacher development, which can use OERs, in a way that is: School based, giving high impact on practice; Supported by open distance learning, to achieve large scale; Enhanced by mobile technologies, to equip teachers with tools for change.
We then consider the potential application of such a model in the context of the severe challenges to providing quality teacher education at scale, in the emerging state of South Sudan, drawing upon recent fieldwork reviewing the effectiveness of current donor funding of basic educational services provision.

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