A Full House here in Colombia for IATELF2017 Online’s Signature Event
I was touched that my open invitation to my classroom to watch the live stream was met with such a hugely enthusiastic response.
We had a full house with standing room only in the wings for this fascinating presentation about Syrian refugees gaining resilience through learning English.
As a teacher I learnt a lot from co-hosting* this live stream and as a guest in this country I learnt a great deal more about my Colombian students and colleagues.
From the point view of being a guest in Colombia:
I suppose I naively felt that perhaps my hosts may identify with Syrian refugees because, following a referendum that was, and continues to be, about as divisive as the Brexit debacle, the Colombian nation is tentatively entering what politicians and Nobel committees refer to as a post-conflict paradigm.
In terms of the magnitude of the shocking and highly visible destruction coupled with the relatively short timescale over which it has occurred, the Syrian crisis at first glance seems different to the 52 year civil war Colombia is trying to extricate itself from. However, sadly in terms of the levels of violence, the numbers of casualties, and the numbers of both internally and externally displaced people, these two conflicts are remarkably similar.
So I was surprised then that in my conversations with students after the presentation none of them articulated this connection or sense of relevance. Instead, and I suppose typically for a room made up predominantly of students of the caring professions such as Environmental Engineering and Nursing, they didn’t focus on themselves or the situation in Colombia, all they could do was talk with deep concern about the plight of the Syrian refugees. They also clearly understood what an essential role a good command of English might play in improving the life chances of these displaced people. And the words of one of the speakers, Jill Flint-Taylor, about English’s role in “surviving and thriving” struck a chord with many of them.
In fact, for me, this disconnect raised more questions than it answered. What is it like to live in a country that has been at war with itself since before you were born? How can you become so accustomed to living with conflict that you don’t recognise your situation in the lives of others living in a conflict zone in another part of the world? What is it about the slow insidious march of protracted conflict that is so easy for those of us outside of Latin America to ignore?
Ignore is perhaps the wrong word as it’s a more passive phenomenon than that, as evidenced by this Comment is Free conversation that took place just before plans for a referendum on the proposed peace accord was announced.
Social science is not my forte so I invite others to answer these rhetorical questions in the comments section below.
What I learned as teacher:
This experience also raises more questions about my practice as a specialist instructor of adults. As a Trinity Cert TESOL fledgling, teaching multilingual groups in the UK, “Teacher Talking Too much” (TTT) would ring in my ears like an unassailable mantra. But my experiences in Colombia with large monolingual groups have caused me to reassess the validity of that wisdom. In fact this axiom is now perched firmly on the same fence as the “shh! don’t speak in L1” taboo.
After observing the impressive and sustained levels of the students’ engagement with the live stream, despite the seemingly impenetrable C2+ academic output related to this specialist content, my fence is buckling under the weight of doubt.
But this is a good thing and it illustrates exactly why access to conference is such a vital part of teacher CPD – it stimulates us to challenge our established beliefs.
Well, I have class again tomorrow at an ungodly hour so I’m going to head off to bed now (as you’ll gather from the photos above, my face is more suited to radio – so I need my beauty sleep).
If I’m leaving you in suspense about how I resolved my doubts then be sure to tune in tomorrow for an updated version of this post.
In the meantime you can access the full report that this presentation summarises here.
And you can see a recording of the session here:
*is there a suitable verb for ‘relaying a live stream to a live audience located on a different continent to the where the live recording is taking place’? Prize for the best answer that appears in the comments section below (NB. prize has no monetary value, is non-transferable, cannot be exchanged for another item, the value of investments can go down as well as up, unexpected item detected in bagging area….. it’s good prize nonetheless)