The Academic Skills Support Team in the Department of Graduate Studies at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) is tasked with raising the number of high-quality applicants for the Institute’s graduate programmes from priority countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Tajikistan. In particular, we focus on finding excellent candidates to apply for the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP). This in itself has not been difficult; year after year, we find people with fantastic teaching potential, motivation and commitment to the Jamat. However, getting their academic skills up to a level where they could undertake the rigours of a dual programme including a Master’s and PGDip is more of a challenge. We work with local providers who teach academic skills in each country, but another important ingredient to achieving our goal has been the use of TKN teachers to shore up local and UK programmes with remotely-based, small-group, targeted online teaching.

Working on our Postgraduate Preparatory Programmes (PGPPs), our TKN team runs online lessons between and alongside each of the PGPPs.  Covering areas such as critical thinking, global issues, reading for discussion and critique, academic reading and writing, and IELTS exam preparation, the TKN teachers have bridged the gap between what local providers are able to offer, and what is required for success on STEP.

For example, we have a transnational PGPP which is run online by a London-based provider and supported by TKN teachers. Students from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Moscow (Tajik Jamat) come together for three weekly classes with their London-based teachers and twice weekly with their TKN teachers.  Our TKN Book Club teachers excel in pushing the students to develop their critical reflections and reading skills, by analysis and discussion of a range of human-interest stories. Our Academic Skills TKN teachers stretch and enhance the applicants’ reading and writing skills through our Read to Write module, where they dissect and discuss pedagogical and humanities-based articles, then write academic essays on them. The IELTS exam TKN teachers then coach and train the students to perform their best on the test, which is the first ticket to applying for STEP.

Having knowledge of Ismaili communities and of what STEP both entails and requires, places our TKN team members in a unique and invaluable position, which is different to that of the institutions we use for academic skills courses. TKN volunteers with qualifications and experience of teaching in Higher Education, teaching advanced academic reading and writing skills, and / or with extensive IELTS teaching experience are particularly valuable. The TKN contribution directly impacts upon the students’ success in applying to STEP, and we could not do this work without their priceless involvement.

We have worked closely for over 6 years with the TKN Central office in Canada who have supplied us with a large TKN teaching team of sometimes upwards of 50 volunteers at a time, working on a range of projects to support the PGPPs. Some have stayed with us for years and continue to do so. Others dip in and out according to their availability, but all contributions are welcome and appreciated. Our annual TKN conference brings everyone together and reviews the successes and developments of the previous year, while looking at the plans and challenges of the one ahead. It is a wonderful opportunity for pooling and enhancing learning, sharing experiences and commemorating the hours of work the TKN volunteers have put in.

Our TKN teachers are a transnational team themselves, drawn from Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Canada, the UK, Uganda, Emirates, Kenya, and the USA. They sometimes find themselves working with a range of obstacles in the students’ home countries such as political instability and connectivity issues, but almost always find the students motivated, engaged and participatory.

The IIS is immensely grateful to all our TKN team members for their exceptional commitment and contribution. They have been instrumental in the success of our PGPP students making it onto STEP, and later out into the field as STEP teachers. We could not do this work without you.