Hala Salih M.Nur is an assistant professor at the University of Khartoum. She graduated in 1988 with an honour degree in Literature, received a Master’s Degree in American Literature and a Ph.D. in Shakespeare. She worked in Saudi Arabia for nine years before returning to work again in Sudan. Hala was the head of the English Department at the AUR/University of Khartoum responsible for teaching English language as university requirement throughout the university campus. Currently she is the founder and director of the English Language Institute at the University of Khartoum. The ELI is the first teacher training institute of its kind in the country. Hala’s other interests are professional development for teachers and CALL.
Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
1)Tell us a little bit about your English-learning experience. What sparked your interest in teaching English and training teachers?
I learned English in an English medium school, which enabled me to take the O’ levels, enter university, and study the English language. I graduated with a B.A in English literature and I got my M.A. and Ph.D in literature. When I returned to work in Sudan in 2005, the situation of the English language was very bad. We needed to concentrate on English language teaching and teacher training. Although I do still miss teaching literature, the real need in the country is in teaching English and training of teachers.
2) You are founder and director of the first teacher training institute in Sudan, the English Language Institute at the University of Khartoum. In your blog post At Last the ELI (http://teachinginsudan.blogspot.com.br/), you mention how hard it was to convince the University Council to open the institute. What were some challenges you faced in establishing the institute and what have been its more significant successes so far?
Some of the challenges were that the University as a public institution lacked the resources (human and financial) to establish the ELI, and we had to convince the council that the ELI would not be an extra burden on the university strained budget. We argued that in six months’ time the ELI would be a ‘self-sustaining’ institute. Another challenge was that there were already other departments teaching English and the council wanted to know what the ELI would offer that would be different from these departments. We were also faced with the challenge of the lack of human resources as the country is facing a large wave of ‘brain drain’ where qualified English language teachers immigrate to Gulf countries. One last major challenge which is still facing us is the implementation of standardization in English language teaching.
Some of our significant successes were that after four months we were able to become a self-sustaining institute by running some courses for the public that helped us to have some money to spend on running the ELI. We have also been contracted by the Ministry of Higher Education to run general English courses for university professors from around 31 public universities from all regions of Sudan. In these courses, we managed to teach around 500 university professors. We are also working in a project with Reading University, which is funded by the British Council under the grant from the Sudan Higher Education Quality Improvement Project. The project is aiming at improving English language teacher training proficiency. In this project, we will design and develop different types of degrees. Next month we will run a Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This is the first certificate designed with the support of Reading University. It is also the first of its kind in Sudan.
3) In January 2011, Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, wrote an article in The Guardian entitled Sudan needs English to build bridges between North and South, explaining how English is essential for the effective communication between North and South Sudan, and also how it can pave the way for future nation building in the South (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jan/11/tefl-sudan). How successful has the initiative to strengthen ELT in Sudan been and what are the main challenges ahead?
English language Teaching has suffered since 1990 with the implementation of the policies accompanying the Arabicization of institutions of higher education. For the past 20 years the level of English language proficiency deteriorated to a level whereby graduates from universities graduated with A2 level (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) instead of the old C1 level. In recent years a lot of efforts have been made to improve the situation, but the damage is so huge that it is now a problem for all the sectors of society. The establishment of the ELI by the University of Khartoum is one of the initiative trying to improve the provision of English language services. Last year the British Council launched a very big project in which 450 school teachers were offered 120 hours of training in ELT issues. The main feature of this training is that the trainers and supervisor were all Sudanese who have gone through different kinds of training. The second part of the project will start this year in which another 450 teachers will be trained. I have worked in this project as consultant, a trainer of trainers and a supervisor. The hope is that this initiative will move to other provinces of Sudan.
4) How are native and non-native teachers seen in your country? Do you feel that native-speaking teachers enjoy more benefits than non-native ones, as occurs in other parts of the world?
Native teachers enjoy more benefits than non-native ones, but from my own experience as a manager for both native and non-native teachers, I think that non-natives teachers, when well-trained, are more successful than native teachers. We have excellent non-native teachers, but we still need to employ native teachers, as this helps us to build an image of real professionals (native speaker fallacy).
5) Your recent presentations in conferences have been about blending web 2.0 tools in the classroom (http://www.slideshare.net/halasalih) and teaching large classes, with project-based learning as a means to maximize learning (http://tinyurl.com/8vhgnqo). How successful do you think you have been in leading teachers in your country to embrace these two trends in ELT?
I have given a lot of talks on the topic of dealing with large classes, and worked closely with my colleagues trying to show them ways of using successful techniques for teaching large classes. Our classes range from 80-400 students, so trying to find new techniques for teaching large classes is very important for us in Sudan, especially in the tertiary level. I have also tried to encourage research in the area, just recently we finished a research paper to investigate English language learners’ needs in large classes.
6) You are an active practitioner, with a wide Personal Learning Network, a strong digital presence (twitter, facebook, British Council blog, to name a few), and constant participation in teacher development programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the British Council, as well as TESOL’s Electronic Village Online. What drives you to invest in continuing professional development and what are your plans for the future?
Using the web to develop professionally is one of the options we have in Sudan. For me to promote change in the situation of ELT in Sudan it is important that I develop professionally. I consider myself as one of the leaders of change in the country, so it is important for me develop my skills, build links with other teachers, keep abreast with new research and new trends in ELT.
My plans for the future are to carry more research in topics of interest for us in Sudan. Currently I am working on several research projects among which is a project to investigate the effects of using self-access centres to promote reading skills among university professors. Also I am writing up a paper on the training needs of English language teachers who work with refugee students. It is important for us to inform our work through research.