During a sweltering Korean August, dozens of English teachers from across the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) convened in the capital, Pyongyang, for a British Council-led training course.
The two-week intensive course took place at Kim Chol Ju University of Education, the country’s premier training university for secondary teachers. Three trainers delivered sessions on methodology, learner autonomy and classroom English to a total of 78 university English teachers.
Many participants had endured arduous journeys affected by severe flooding while travelling from as far afield as Hyesan and Chongjin, near the Chinese and Russian borders. All were highly enthusiastic and keen to learn about new approaches to English teaching. After overcoming initial shyness when practising techniques in front of their peers, the teachers soon seized the chance to experiment with a wide range of tasks and activities.
The sessions were full of energy and laughter, and feedback from those involved was overwhelmingly positive. One participant remarked, “I am sure that I have acquired some skills and methods to develop my teaching as more learner-centred.” Another said, “I was afraid of expressing myself in English in my classes. I am more confident in speaking now”.
This was the fifth intensive course held since 2011 and these have become an integral part of the British Council DPRK Teaching and Training project. These courses, which have also been held in the cities of Sariwon in the west and Wonsan in the east, provide an invaluable opportunity to support English teachers working at provincial institutions, thus extending the project’s reach.
A key component of the intensive courses is the development of teacher training capacity with the Commission of Education, so each trainer works with two Korean co-trainers. These are experienced teachers of English who are provided with the opportunity to lead several sessions during the course, thus building their skills and confidence with the long term goal of them cascading the training to a wider audience.
For the rest of the year, the project team works with teachers and students at ten partnering universities and schools in Pyongyang, providing teacher training, English teaching and guidance on material development.
The British Council’s work, which is undertaken in partnership with the DPRK Commission of Education and the British Embassy Pyongyang, began 15 years ago and the project has consistently grown since then, with three full-time trainers and one project manager now based in the capital. Supporting the implementation of a more communicative approach to English teaching has been a key goal of the project to-date.
The project is an important part of the British government’s engagement with the DPRK, with support in education providing an opportunity to strengthen relations and cooperation, and build trust and mutual understanding.
By Lawrence Smith