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    British Council: English language skills open up new opportunities for young people

    Education 24 July 2021 345

    This year British Council celebrates an important date: 25 years of their activities in Uzbekistan. Much of the work over these years has focused on partnership in reforming English language teaching and learning system in Uzbekistan, bringing the best international practice to this area.

    Uzbekistan’s commitment to high-quality and free secondary school education is an invaluable to the country’s development. Providing equal opportunities for students to gain English language skills can open the door to even more opportunities for school leavers.

    Teaching foreign languages is one of the priority areas of education reform in Uzbekistan. In May 2021, the Presidential decree entitled “On measures to promote foreign language learning in the Republic of Uzbekistan to a fundamentally new level” set the goal of higher standards in foreign language learning in the country, including in English.

    As part of its long-term commitment to support English language teaching in Uzbekistan, the British Council signed a memorandum of understanding with Uzbekistan’s education ministry in January 2020. Under this memorandum, the British Council would assist the education ministry to achieve the targets set out by Uzbekistan’s 2030 public education development strategy. The memorandum symbolises the continued cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United Kingdom in the field of English language teaching and education reform.

    For 25 years of activity in Uzbekistan, the British Council and partners have engaged in a holistic approach to developing the English language teaching system: carefully examining the process of modern teaching, how teachers see it can be improved, and what changes would be most effective in the first and next stages of reform. An important part of this holistic approach is to conduct analytical studies of the current situation and to formulate recommendations based on them. 

    In a recent example of the important cooperation with the Ministry of National Education, the British Council carried out a number of studies on English language teaching and curriculum reform in Uzbek schools. For this purpose they invited experts from the University of Cambridge and the University of Leicester to analyse the current state of school education in Uzbekistan. The researchers from Cambridge aimed to evaluation a new English language curriculum for Uzbek state schools, including a description of the basic principles, design processes, and structure of the curriculum. The researchers from Leicester focused on how Uzbek teachers could adopt innovative methods for English language instruction, including the use of new technology, suggesting a set of guidelines to further support English language teachers in their professional development.

    At present, English language instruction in Uzbekistan is based on an old curriculum and traditional methods that rarely see students put their skills into practice in real-world situations. The British Council facilitated research identified the importance of teaching practical language skills that will give students the confidence to communicate verbally and in writing in ways that allow them to express ideas and lead discussions. The Cambridge and Leicester researchers emphasised that students would benefit from recreating and discussing real-life situations and practicing their language skills with native English speakers, for example through online conversations.

    The British researchers also suggested that Uzbekistan increase the number of teaching hours devoted to English language instruction and to develop a common standard for English language teaching. The British ELT (teaching English as a foreign language) programme could be helpful in this regard.  As part of these standards, the opportunity to learn English should be extended with full inclusivity, meaning that children with special needs should have the opportunity to learn the English language alongside other pupils. This would help them to better integrate into society.  Teachers' greater understanding and support for children with special needs plays a significant role in an inclusive approach.

    "As education reform moves forward in Uzbekistan, it is important that all learners are included and supported, whether their accessibility problems are permanent or temporary, or driven by ability or learning preferences,” explained the Cambridge researchers in their report for the Uzbek education ministry.

    The researchers also highlighted the importance of assessment literacy. Generating useful feedback from teachers, pupils, and parents is perhaps more important than language skills assessments themselves. For example, making students feel invested in learning the English language should be more important that compelling them to learn from mistakes in scored assessments. Creating a culture where students support each other through peer learning is also necessary to create more positive outcomes. Close cooperation between schools and higher education institutions will reduce the gap between school results and university entrance standards.

    The results and recommendations of the research facilitated by the British Council have been submitted to the Ministry of National Education and the Agency for the Promotion of Foreign Languages under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan. These recommendations are expected to be implemented in the new curriculum in the near future.

    Successful implementation will require that school principals and teachers understand the any new curricula and instruction methods. For this purpose there could be organised training sessions, methodological manuals, etc.

    English language is the key to mastering the relevant and in-demand professions in the labour market. Thus provides a prospective opportunity for young people to get a modern higher education in a foreign language, to be in high demand not only at the national but also at the international labour market and, as a result, to have wider employment opportunities both at home and abroad. And this is an effective way of introducing the best international experience in Uzbekistan for the further development of the country.

    British Council Uzbekistan