Over the past few months, 30 primary and secondary school teachers from provinces across Viet Nam have been improving their English and teaching skills with one of the UK’s most prestigious language schools. But how, you may ask, have they been able to do this during the Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions? This has been achieved through an innovative online pilot project which partners UK language schools with teacher associations around the world, including, in East Asia, in Indonesia, Thailand and here in Viet Nam.

The PRELIM (Partnered Remote English Language Improvement) project is an initiative from the British Council, English UK and IATEFL to help local teachers in 20 countries around the world by partnering them with one of 17 UK language schools, who in many cases were unable to welcome students to their doors due to travel restrictions associated with the pandemic. Here in Viet Nam, VietTESOL (Viet Nam’s premier teacher association) partnered with the Wimbledon School of English in London to develop an online programme designed to help English teachers and teachers of other subjects in Viet Nam improve their English, build their confidence and at the same time enhance their teaching methodology and communication skills.

Starting in February 2021, three groups of teachers (with either B1 or B2 CEFR levels of English) took part in weekly 2 hour Zoom sessions with Wimbledon School of English (WSE) teacher trainers to develop both their general English and classroom language. In between the weekly live sessions, participating teachers engaged in asynchronous tasks, such as writing learning journals and reflecting on teaching approaches, completed on the Edmodo learning management platform. 

Planning for success

As WSE Principal Fiona Dunlop explained, 'VietTESOL were a delight to work with and worked so hard along with our staff to make this project a success'.

Indeed, Duncan MacInnes, one of the WSE trainers on the course, said that the course participants were all very hardworking and dedicated, making rapid progress in such a short time. He was particularly impressed given that most participants were juggling a number of other commitments.

Development of the course was a real UK–Viet Nam team effort, with WSE academic managers, Julian Oakley and Jo Krousso, coordinating the project with their counterparts at VietTESOL, board members, Nguyen Hanh Dao and Dr Dang Tan Tin, who served as project consultants, along with project co-leaders, Dr Trinh Ngoc Anh and Nguyen Tam Trang.

Julian explained that, 'developing this course provided us with a unique opportunity to gain an insight into how teachers and supporting organisations from a different culture operated. Before the course began, regular input from VietTESOL proved invaluable in fine tuning the content in order to benefit the participants as much as possible, and this was reflected in the positive feedback we received from the participants throughout and at the end of the course. Without this cross-cultural co-operation, providing such a successful course would have been many times more challenging'.

The UK’s NILE (Norwich Institute for Language Education) were appointed as managing consultants to create a community of practice for the 17 UK schools involved. Martyn Clarke said, 'The PRELIM project involved twenty remote learning partnerships of UK schools and Teacher Associations around the world. The commitment and collaboration shown by all has been a bright feature in a difficult year. For NILE, our role in supporting the projects has been a tremendously motivating experience'.

Reaping the rewards

In early April, having completed the course, an online ceremony was held to present the participants with certificates. At the ceremony a maths teacher who attended the course reported that thanks to the PRELIM course he had just attended with WSE he had successfully delivered a maths lesson to his students in English that week.

At the end of the short course, feedback from the course participants has been overwhelmingly positive about both the experience and their learning. 

'I highly appreciate the course. I enjoyed all of the sessions due to their diverse content covering many topics. The things I liked best in this course are the English interactions that help me to broaden my mind and enlarge the circle of friendship. I would like to pay tribute to my teacher, Duncan. I will share what I have acquired here with my school colleagues'. – Dao Thuy Nga, English teacher, Son La province.

'The course benefits me so much. The virtual class is so well-managed by experienced teachers despite the intervention of Covid 19 and the distant connection between us. I learned much from that most useful and tactful skill from my beloved teacher. I learnt how to engage students in learning activities, how to use listening lessons to focus on pronunciation, and how to conduct more effective writing lessons'. – Pham Hong Nhung, English teacher, Quang Binh province.

What’s next?

Wimbledon School of English see this as the start of a long professional relationship with VietTESOL and teachers in Viet Nam not the end. Already a few of the teachers have shown interest in attending other online teacher training courses run by WSE. Both parties also hope this will lead to face to face visits in the future in Viet Nam and in London.

Indeed, NILE Director Thom Kiddle said, 'we feel this collaboration between EnglishUK members, IATEFL-affiliated English Teachers Associations, and British Council is unique, innovative and will lay foundations for great partnerships and programmes in the short, medium and longer term'.

Here in Viet Nam, motivated by the success of the PRELIM project, VietTESOL’s K12 – Interest Group representatives, and PRELIM project leaders, Dr Trinh Ngoc Anh and Nguyen Tam Trang, launched a follow-up project called Talk and Share to encourage continuous professional development. The project is a dynamic platform for teachers from across Viet Nam to exchange on social and professional topics. These meetings will happen twice a month, from May to December 2021. The first Talk and Share took place on 10 May 2021 with nearly 60 participants from various parts of Viet Nam, including both English and even some maths and science teachers. 

Forthcoming webinar – Tuesday 15 June 16.00–17.00 

Fiona Dunlop, Wimbledon School of English Principal, has agreed to give an online session for teachers in June, sharing their experiences of the PRELIM project and talking about the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers. As teachers across Viet Nam start their summer vacation, it is the perfect time to reflect on the academic year past and think about professional development opportunities in the new academic year to come. More details will appear in the June e-newsletter and on our British Council Viet Nam Facebook page so stay tuned to register for this exciting event.