Adopting Alternative Approaches to Teaching English in Afghanistan

08 December 2020

Adjusting to a ‘new normal’ has had its fair share of challenges including learning new ways of teaching, learning, and living. Educators at the Aga Khan Education Service in Afghanistan (AKES,A) realised very soon into the pandemic that they could no longer use the traditional teaching approaches that were once commonly used in the classroom.

In addition to no longer having face-to-face classes, teachers had another constraint – a large proportion of their students did not have access to adequate technology and could not participate in online classes. Teachers had to think quickly and creatively; they adopted the approaches of ‘flipped learning’ and ‘extensive reading’ to underpin their new way of teaching. 

Flipped learning is a recent development in education and English language teaching. In flipped learning students first do the initial learning for a topic independently. They then have a session with a teacher and other students where they participate in activities which apply the material they have learnt to improve their understanding. Before sessions, students practice extensive reading using graded readers - books specifically written for those learning languages that have the language level simplified to help the learner. Extensive reading is used for teaching foreign languages and involves reading widely and large amounts, with students aiming to get an overall understanding of the text. This technique aims to help students to improve their reading comprehension skills, vocabulary and grammar. 

Lina Amiri, an English teacher in a Learning Centre located in the Mazar-e-Sharif district of Balkh province, explained how she structured the students learning: “After completing their readings, I would organise teleconferences for up to six of my students a couple of times a week, where I would request them to discuss the stories that they read, conduct role plays or work on a specific group activity. After the group sessions, I would call my students and ask them questions in English that ranged in complexity.”

Teachers prefer flipped learning over the traditional approach as it helps them to encourage student engagement, teamwork and autonomy. Students are able to complete the pre-lesson reading in their own time and at their own pace. They are given more control of how they manage their learning and are able to immerse themselves in the text. It also allows teachers more opportunity to offer one to one support to students via telephone calls.

Reflecting on the experience, Ramazan Khademi, English Language Program Manager, said: 
“It was a pleasure to be contributing to such a meaningful project in these challenging times... Of course, there have been delays and stumbling blocks due to the environment that we are navigating through, but in parallel, progress has also been visible. Over forty titles of the graded readers have been distributed to the students, along with sim cards [for the teleconferences]. The collective planning efforts, cross-departmental support and student-centred ethos has played a key role in carrying the work forward – it makes me proud to see what teachers can achieve together.”

Photo:  Lina Amiri, an English teacher in the Mazar-e-Sharif district of Balkh province