English teaching, learning and assessment in the ‘Land of the Pharaohs’

by Graeme Harrison, 04 October 2018

Graeme Harrison reports on a successful visit to Egypt, a country that promises exciting future developments.

Along with our new Director, Education Transformation and Alliances, Hanan Khalifa, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Egypt to meet some of our Centre Exams Managers and teachers, and deliver workshops on Writing assessment at a number of top universities.

Graeme Harrison and Hanan Khalifa

After an uneventful flight, we were transported by minibus to the coastal city of Alexandria in the north of Egypt. It was a four-hour drive, which meant that we didn’t get to our hotel until almost 2 am. Interestingly, although it was a Monday night, the cafes along the waterfront were teeming with people: young couples, families with children, as well as groups of men and women drinking tea and chatting. However, as much as we might have liked to join them, we had a 9 am start the next morning.

Our hosts for the day were The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, who have their own purpose-built campus in Alexandria with lecture theatres, research facilities, a planetarium, and even a ship’s bridge simulator that trainee captains can practise on! They are the largest private university in the country with around 10,000 students, other campuses in various different parts of Egypt, and are a growing Cambridge English Exam Centre.

Hanan and I were accompanied by our Senior Business Development Manager for Egypt, George Hanna (pictured below) to a meeting with a number of the faculty Heads and the Vice-Rector to discuss how we can collaborate in future. On the agenda were the use of the Cambridge English Placement Test and Linguaskill, as well as a potential project involving a bespoke English language teaching curriculum.

Graeme Harrison in Alexandria

The Centre Exams Manager, Passant (pictured above) had arranged for me to give a workshop on Writing assessment in the afternoon. It was well attended by around 50 teachers from the university and several of their preparation centres. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to be given a short tour of Alexandria, with Hanan (who went to school and university there) and Passant as my guides, before hitting the road again and heading back to Cairo.

Wednesday began with a trip to the American University in Cairo (AUC) to register for the Fourth International Language Assessment Conference in Egypt (ILACE), an event jointly hosted by the university and the British Council. The AUC campus is just off the world-famous Tahrir square, which was the focal point for the January 25 Revolution, which took place in 2011. Although the campus was only a few blocks from our hotel, the journey there was an arduous one – as anyone with any experience of the traffic in Cairo will know, it is not quite as ordered nor as respectful of a red light as that in the UK!

Graeme Harrison workshop

In the afternoon, we headed to Future University, one of our Exam Centres, to give another workshop (pictured above). I was met by CELTA tutor Hamed at the door, alongside a larger-than-life picture of myself on a promotional banner in the doorway. Again, the session was well attended with a lively audience comprising around 70 teachers. After the workshop, Hanan and I had a meeting with the President of the university and we discussed how they were using our exams, and again, the possibility of a bespoke curriculum for their English language teaching.

Graeme Harrison workshop bannerOur final day was spent at the ILACE conference at AUC. Hanan delivered a very well-received plenary talk on the importance of assessment literacy to a packed hall, and, in the afternoon, I gave my final workshop to around 200 teachers. The feedback for both of us from participants was very positive and the conference was a pleasure to attend: well organised and interesting, in a beautiful venue.

Graeme Harrison with cat

The trip as a whole was really productive, generating several education opportunities and consolidating relationships with our existing partners.  Furthermore, it was really great to meet so many enthusiastic, committed educators.

Egypt is a country with bags of potential: it has a population of nearly 100 million and over 50% of them are under the age of 25. The national appetite for English language is strong and, clearly, there is scope to increase the work that we do there to help Egyptians learn English and prove their skills to the world.

Graeme Harrison 
Senior Education Manager, Partnerships, Projects and Policy, Cambridge Assessment English

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