Access to consistent and good quality English language learning in Central Asia and the Middle East is variable and, particularly in remote districts, finding qualified English language training is a major challenge. In response, the Jamati institutions launched the English Language Connections (ELC) programme, which is growing fast.

Proficiency in the English language is essential for accessing quality higher education, employment with better earnings potential, and international business opportunities.

The English Language Connections (ELC) programme was launched as a pilot in September 2020, as a partnership between the Council for Canada and the Council for Afghanistan. The goal was to develop an internationally recognided English language teaching programme. The instruction of English learning is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), an international standard for describing language ability.

The initial plan was to send four skilled teachers to Afghanistan. Due to Covid the team had to pivot and rethink its approach. The delivery of the pilot was re-designed as virtual classrooms using a well-established learning platform called Off2Class and delivered through Zoom. “Learning a language when you are an adult is a challenge because one may lack study skills, time and confidence,” said Farah Babul, International Curriculum Design Lead. “The English language programme for our adult Jamats is designed to make language learning a fun, engaging and social experience where adults learn language that will be useful for getting jobs, making friends and practical tasks like shopping.”

The pilot ELC programme included building English skills of teachers within our institutions. Approximately 100 teachers as learners in Afghanistan were selected by the Council for Afghanistan. After an initial learner assessment, virtual classroom assignments were made. Each class of 10-12 learners was assigned a TKN volunteer Educator and a Teaching Assistant.

The pilot team was made up of 38 TKN and a non-TKN volunteers with professional backgrounds in their specified role, with recruitment support from the TKN Global Office to ensure we were leading in best practice to become the standard by which English language initiatives were designed. “The ELC programme is changing the lives of students in Afghanistan, India, Syria, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere,” said Nusri Hassam, Curriculum Lead for Iran. “This is all due to the courage and competency of international teachers giving freely of their TKN and many of whom have bonded and made some lifelong friendships as they continue to pave the path for ELC year 3 coming up next.”

The success of the pilot was due to the professional expertise of every volunteer and the project managers in each country. “Having the opportunity to teach English to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan is not only fulfilling but it has been pretty incredible. Watching their enthusiasm and growth has been a true gift.” said Farzana Karmali, Curriculum Lead for Afghanistan. “A virus that turned the rest of the world upside down also gave birth to an online programme created new possibilities for our Jamat in other parts of the world. We were able to create something positive out of an otherwise negative circumstance, and the connections that now exist between our students and staff will hopefully impact them well beyond the programme.”

ELC has grown to the countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, India, Turkey, and UAE, with over 200 international volunteers filling roles in programme management, academics, teaching assistants and coaches. “The dedication, commitment and professionalism of both the Afghanistan and international volunteers has made our English language project so successful. To facilitate English language learning to individuals in our Jamat in the farthest areas of Afghanistan with technology will have lasting impact,” said Ehsamuddin Dilawar, Chairman of the Aga Khan Education Board for Afghanistan.

In the two years that ELC has been running, these are some of the major accomplishments:

  • Initial results are demonstrating growing improvement of English skills of murids in the programme
  • Growth of English language projects to include industry best English language platforms for virtual classrooms (Off2Class) and self-paced learning (Learning Upgrade)
  • The thirst, enthusiasm and personal commitment of learners to invest time to improve their English to benefit present and future generations.
  • The tremendous growth from the initial 100 learners in Afghanistan to an approximate, One thousand-sixty (1960) learners in the English Language Connections programme. Approximately 230 learners are in Afghanistan, 61 in Syria, 44 in Iran in virtual classrooms using Off2Class and 225 in India, 1300 in Turkey, 290 in Afghanistan, 25 in the UAE learning English through Learning Upgrade.
  • The professional expertise, resiliency, incredible commitment, and tireless drive of the over 160 international volunteers to help improve the lives of the murids they serve

“I feel very humbled and blessed to be able to put a smile on our students’ faces every week and play a small part in improving the quality of their lives, personally and professionally,” said Educator Nadia Gilani.

“In doing so, we are gaining much more ourselves. I look forward to our class every week, and it gives me immense joy to see perfect attendance. It has given me an insight into their lives, their culture, their language learning barriers, and so much more. It is indeed an enriching experience for me as an educator. It is aptly said, 'Once a teacher, always a student!' I love what I do, and I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity.”