Saudi performance on the IELTS and TOEFL iBT

According to publicly available information on the Cambridge Esol and ETS websites, Saudi’s seem to perform best in the speaking skill.

In both exams, listening comes second, though a little behind on average compared to speaking.

In IELTS, Saudi’s do worst in writing, but in the TOEFL iBT they do worst in reading.

So basically, reading and writing are the weakest skills.

What’s odd (in my opinion), is that I thought that as the TOEFL iBT is online, typing might be an issue. It seem’s not based on the statistics available.

Fundamentally, what the figures (for 2014) show, is that speaking is way ahead in terms of average performance, whereas listening, reading and writing are clustered closely together.

It’s difficult to read too much into these numbers, but one thing that policy makers should start focussing on, is the development of reading and writing abilities in the long-run, especially for those who are planning to travel overseas for further study or work.

 

 

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You’re a scholar. You just don’t know it.

Very often, many of us, no matter what our field of specialism, read articles, books, watch documentaries, and hope that we might learn something from them.

There is probably someone well known in your field, someone who is respected, and considered an authority, whom you admire and look up to. For some of us, we’re in awe of these people. Their thinking, their ideas, their creativity. It seems that they’re a million miles away from us in terms of achievement. We’ll probably never hit those dizzying heights, you might think. In reality though, they’re just as human as the rest of us, the only difference being that someone gave them the idea of writing about what they know.

But, what if I said to you, that you probably had something more valuable to add. An angle that has never been explored before, something in your context, that an authority thousands of miles away does not know about? An experience that can’t be had anywhere else, may be an experience or situation that makes a difference?

When I think of my colleagues and the many educational professionals I’ve met over the years, I often wonder what it would be like if they wrote about everything they did. What if they reproduced every lesson plan or every activity they ever did. How successful was it? Was it a total failure? What could others learn from it? I’m sure that you’ve read books and articles where you thought that something wasn’t quite right, may be there was a mistake, or you were left wondering that something didn’t make sense. The reality is, that you can do better. All of your knowledge and experience, is locked away in your brain, destined to disappear with you.  That’s a waste. But what if you decided to write it up, imagine all of those things that you’ve done. It could probably turn into something the size of an encyclopedia. It would have worth and value, because others could learn from it.

I once met Krashen, a well known linguist from the US. He came to talk to us about the problems of over assessment and how it had a detrimental affect on learners and learning. He had (has) a real issue with standardised assessment. Although I could agree with what he said in principle, in the context I worked in, standardised assessment was a godsend. It was an independent measure, that allowed everyone to be assessed on an equal footing. It added credibility to a system that was still going through developmental and growing pains. It added fairness to the system, something that was in total contrast to what Krashen was saying. We can talk about this issue some other time, but the point is, that he did not take into account the context he found himself in. He was in effect repeating what he had been saying, back home.  Great idea, wrong context. YOU know more about your context.

Apologies for going on a bit. You have knowledge and you have experience. These are all valid. Your knowledge and experience is worth sharing. As we continue through life, we accumulate knowledge, to which we constantly make adjustments in order to improve on an idea. Something didn’t work before, we discard it. If something did, we use it again, and modify it if necessary. I’m sure everyone’s doing this in their daily lives.

To cut a long story short, wherever you are in the world, whatever your  field, whatever your language, your experience and knowledge has worth and value. You don’t need to have an amazing, ground breaking idea, it can be something simple. Whatever it is, what you have to say counts. YES, you are a scholar, and don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise.

Please share your ideas with the world, and make it a better place.

Blackberry Passport Silver Edition – Saudi Arabia

With virtually everyone in the world carrying around Samsung’s and iPhone’s, and getting caught up in the world of games, social networking and attractive new apps, I’ve always felt that these devices represent a kind of fashion that many get caught up in.

Blackberry Passport Silver Edition

Blackberry Passport Silver Edition

IMG-20151011-WA007 IMG-20151011-WA008 IMG-20151011-WA009 IMG-20151011-WA010 IMG-20151011-WA011 IMG-20151011-WA012

I don’t mind playing games and experimenting with the odd app, but at times it feels like the world is busy playing games, and that acquiring these gadgets is a form of conforming to the new norm.

I could also be accused of the same. Am I also a victim of these great mobile phone empires that want to suck all of our blood (aka money!!) every couple of years? May be I am.

I recently bought the Blackberry Passport Silver from STC, the local major telecoms company. When I went to get mine, even the customer services rep didn’t know which phone I was talking about even though it was in the latest promotional brochure. He had to ask one of his colleagues. It seems that I was the only one interested in this device. Everyone else was busy with buying the other makes (see first line).

I’m not going to say too much about the phone, except to say that I have had surprisingly good reactions from colleagues. Initially it was a case of “What’s that?”. Interestingly, my Samsung and iPhone owning colleagues have been very complementary.

The phone has a rock solid silvery quality look and beautiful finish. It exudes quality, and does not suffer from the plastic look that so many phones seem to have about them. The square screen is great for watching videos, it has a great calendar, and what is probably the most interesting aspect for me, is the keyboard. You can move up and down applications by swiping the keyboard. No need to touch the screen all the time.

I’m not going to pretend I’m a professional reviewer. I’m pretty much a lay person when it comes to these things. As mass consumers of these products, they reflect who we are and what we feel. For a moment, some of us Blackberry users can feel that we’re not following the crowd, that we have more important things to do than get caught up in the constant stream of messages via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and that we’re different or more independent in the way we think.

Hope you like the photos. As a typical amateur, I’ve kept the original screen cover on the Blackberry until I buy a new one, and the order of the photos is questionable. Peace.

To teachers: You can use mobile phones as a great way to produce English. Nothing better than learning language through an interesting subject.

The problem with teaching language through integrated skills

Many of the books that we use to teach English nowadays, combine the skills. Although this seems to be in vogue, as someone on the ground, I wish there was more time to focus more on one particular skill.

Although integrated skills are meant to reflect the reality of language use, they fail to take into account a learners trajectory. When learning a new language, it takes time to master a particular skill.

Many teachers are not in control of their teaching schedules, and are likely following one that is centrally produced. My experience has been, that lower level learners are left struggling, and those above do not get enough time to practice. This becomes even more apparent when teachers have a finite amount of time to cover a course, and they are under pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially if they work in a large organisation.

Basically, as a practitioner, I believe that the introduction of integrated skills should happen at a later stage when learners have a stronger foundation in the new language.

This is no sentimental hark back to the past, it’s a genuine concern of someone who is teaching day-in-day-out.

Is anyone listening out there? What do you think?

Are UK universities sacrificing standards in order to get more foreign students?

Personal view

As someone who is from Britain and takes pride in UK education and it’s reputation, it’s disconcerting to see some of the UK’s top universities announcing joint collaborations with organisations that may not necessarily meet the same high standards. This is not to suggest that ‘we’ should not be trying to help elevate or help institutions around the world in their pursuit to join the ‘upper tier’ of universities, or to give them a helping hand in elevating their research status, however, in a world where there is obviously a great deal of pressure to earn ‘big bucks’ and compete with universities in the USA, Canada and Australia to name but a few places, the UK needs to stand back and look at what it see’s as it’s future.

We can’t keep harking back to ‘Great Britain’ and expect people to blindly accept that the UK is the place to study. Potential students around the world are much more savvy about these matters. Many institutions around the world are ‘catching-up’, and rightly so. Their hard work is paying off, and the world is noticing. As China, Singapore and others gradually climb up the academic ladder as a result of, no doubt academic blood, sweat and tears, the UK is in danger of compromising for the sake of another dollar.

On a related note, there are a lot of students coming into the UK after having taken a language proficiency test, very often the IELTS. Is getting a 4.5 (or even a 6) on IELTS sufficient enough to allow these people (after a year of English) to go on to do a basic degree, a masters or even a PhD?

How strict are UK universities in enforcing plagiarism rules? What checks exist? Are we going soft on candidates who pay a foreign fee? There is a view that some students have ‘writing advisors’ who are helping them complete their work. Do UK universities give preference to foreign candidates to local ones, because they can rake in more money? I’d like to suggest that we start researching these questions, or more immediately there is some kind of quality audit process in place.

Although this blog sounds somewhat alarmist and potentially damaging, in reality, it is a wake-up call. Historically, the British brand has been exceedingly valuable, and still is. However, if someone somewhere, with the powers that be does not start taking a closer look at UK Plc (the higher education sector), there is a danger that the value and expertise that exists in the UK, will take second place to the new up and coming universities, simply because some over-exuberant decision makers are looking a little short-term.

The British higher education sector is a strong player internationally, a place that I would encourage people to go to, to further their education. However, if Britains’ educational mandarins are seeing dollar signs, and that is what’s driving them, then I for one will have to think again about recommending the UK to those I know.

Are universities around the world selling themselves short in order to gain overseas students?

I’ve worked now in Saudi Arabia for a few years (10 at the time of writing) and work within a university context.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of students coming back from overseas, with either a Masters qualification, or even a PhD. When in discussion with some, I’ve been taken aback by the level of their English (you assume they’ve written their assignments in English) and some (meaning many) at PhD level seem unable to converse fluently about their particular area of research.

There are even rumours of individuals who are ready to ‘help’ overseas students with their writing. There is a lot of money being exchanged to ‘edit, rewrite and prepare students for their viva.

The fact of the matter is, is that you are left wondering what’s going on. Are there two sets of assessment criteria? One for locals and another for the more lucrative overseas students?

The reality is this, that the reputations some countries have built over the generations, are at risk for the sake of a few dollars/pounds. If things don’t change soon, we are going to have a large number of ‘graduates’  with advanced qualifications which are not worth the paper they’re written on – in fact there are too many of them already.

Is anyone listening?

Speaking to yourself is not a sign of madness – it’s a way to learn languages

Hello all.

Talking to yourself

I’ve been assessing my students speaking this week. It’s been pretty time consuming, but worth it (I hope).

One of the questions I’ve been using to elicit more speech is about how students learn English outside of university. There have been a variety of very interesting answers. One of the most interesting methods, is to talk to themselves. Students cannot find anyone to talk to, so it seems like the only solution.

Talking to yourself

One of my students who drives back to his village from the main city at weekends, told me that on his two hour journey back, he speaks to himself. He kind of imagines that he’s speaking to another person. A made-up, contrived situation. Wow. Fantastic idea.

What are the possible pedagogical implications? Well, I wonder whether we should introduce speak-to-yourself sessions in our conversation lessons?

I’m seriously now planning to learn Chinese – “I just can’t wait to speak to myself!”