Item writer training and a football match in Tashkent

by Guest Blogger, 01 August 2019
Cambridge Assessment English item writer training in Tashkent

Louise Gilbert and Stu Proudfoot report from their visit to Uzbekistan where they delivered an item writing workshop, part of the English language consultancy Cambridge Assessment English offer to support the development of high quality learning, teaching and assessment.

In April, Stu Proudfoot and I made the long journey to the city of Tashkent to deliver Item Writer training for the State Testing Centre in Uzbekistan. This was the first Cambridge English project in Uzbekistan and comes during wide-scale education reforms currently underway in the country. Interesting fact about Uzbekistan: it is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. Which is the other?

Having survived the rigorous security during the transfer in Kazakhstan – rather bewildering when it’s the equivalent of 2 a.m UK time! – we arrived in Tashkent to warm weather and a warm welcome. This was to be a feature of the trip; we never ceased to be overwhelmed by the friendliness and hospitality we were shown.

People were very enthusiastic about meeting speakers of English, and seized the chance to practise their language skills. Helpful strangers even made sure we didn’t get lost when travelling on the underground. The stations, incidentally, are works of art!

tashkent blog - IELTS billboard - image
An IELTS billboard in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

We got down to work on Monday 8th April, when we met the Head of Department, Sardor Radjabov, and the 14 delegates who would be attending the week’s course. The State Testing Centre is a key education stakeholder in Uzbekistan, reporting directly to the Cabinet of Ministers, and they deliver a large number of assessments for undergraduate and postgraduate university admissions.

tashkent classroom

For this project, we focussed on Item Writer Training for the assessment team responsible for B1 and B2 English language exams. Stu looked after the training on Reading and Listening while I took on Speaking and Writing. The delegates were very conscientious and active participants. They were a delightful group to run training for, and they really looked after us with everything from cake at the Monday morning coffee break (thanks to one delegate celebrating her birthday!) to making sure we had great places to eat lunch in. They were kind enough to drive us to the main market one evening and were on hand to translate and help us bargain with stall-holders for our souvenir shopping!

Louise Gilbert
Senior Assessment Manager, Cambridge Assessment English

IELTS and the Asian Champions League

One of the item writing trainees was Oybek, the Deputy Head of Pedagogical Measurement of Foreign Language Proficiency at the State Testing Centre. Through talking to staff at the hotel, I’d managed to blag a couple of free tickets for an Asian Champions League game between Pakhtakor and Al Sadd, and so I offered him one, my colleague Louise having seemed strangely reluctant to join me.

tashkent football crowd

It’s a pity she didn’t, as she would quite possibly have been the only female face in what was by far the most uniform crowd I’ve ever experienced in over 30 years as a match-goer in various parts of the world. Apart from some of the players (most notably the Spanish legend Xavi), I was quite possibly the only non-Asian in the building. The atmosphere in the half-full 40,000 capacity stadium was raucous but strangely unintimidating.

tashkent football fans

I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics of crowds, and terrace humour is far from the preserve of the British. In fact, while I couldn’t understand what was being said, the repartee and the wisecracks seemed to be coming from all corners of the ground, producing a camaraderie the like of which I had never experienced at a game before. They played to my camera as I waved it around, and I was as taken aback by their interest in me as they were by my interest in their team and their fixture. For fellow enthusiasts, the highlights are here.

football in tashkent
Stu Proudfoot (right) with Oybek and Abdullah

Oybek brought along his 6-year-old son Abdullah, who loved every minute of what proved to be a thrillingly chaotic game. Well, the bits of it he could see, anyways. When the heavens opened, so did the umbrellas. A sea of them, on all sides, completely obliterating his view. This would never ever happen at a British football match, where it’s absolutely not the done thing to actually employ this most British of cultural emblems. The delicious irony of this was not lost on seemingly the only man in the ground without a brolly.

IELTS poster in Tashkent
IELTS poster in Tashkent

As you can see from the photographs, IELTS was everywhere in Tashkent and has recently been recognised for Higher Education admissions by the government (alongside B1 Preliminary and B2 First). The young guys photobombing the three of us (in the picture above) were all noticeably enthused when they realised they were seated with a native English speaker, wanting to practise their English, telling me about their IELTS results and their ambitions to go to university. They tried to persuade me to sit amongst them. I politely but firmly declined this opportunity to give them a free English lesson, insisting I was already spoken for. It’s a good job I hadn’t brought along my IELTS umbrella, let alone revealed what I did for a living. I’d probably still be sat there now.

It’s a bit of a cliché but, even more so than IELTS, football really is an international language.

Stu Proudfoot
Senior Assessment Manager, Cambridge Assessment English

Contact Cambridge Assessment English to learn more about their approach to English language consultancy, and to discuss how they can support you in the development of high-quality English language education. Find out more.

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