Speechmaking By Twitter ….

March 1, 2013

Yesterday was our ‘Education, Education, Education’ Day.

I met the prizewinners of our competition for English teachers, including an inspirational administrator from Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp, whose winning lesson plan was based on fish and chips. She is helping even those living in extreme desperation to enjoy and unlock English.

But the day began with earthier Anglo-Saxon, unsuitable for a family blog. I had got up early to write a speech on education for an event twinning UK and Lebanese universities, but my iPad crashed before I could send it to the printer. My son, off school ironically for the teacher’s strike, had run the battery down.

The speech wasn’t exactly Demosthenes, but with half an hour until the event, it was too late to start afresh. So I asked Twitter for ideas.

As ever, it delivered a mixture of the comic (free visas?), critical and creative. Twitter told me that lack of education was more expensive than education. That education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. That the Arab world is young –  with one in four jobless, and 90m due to enter the job market in the coming decade.

That almost 400,000 international students study at UK universities each year, 10% of the international market. That we have four universities in the top 10. That Peter Brougham said ‘education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive: easy to govern, but impossible to enslave’.

That Lebanon spends more on education than anything but food, more per capita than any other country.

Twitter also generated suggestions for Lebanon: more online resource, less rote learning, civic education about other religions.

With all this in mind, I want to explain Britain’s education offer to Lebanon, how we will back Lebanon’s future by backing its educators.

First, the English language. As I argued in an earlier blogpost, this is a fire worth lighting. For a nation of traders and travellers such as Lebanon, the language of Shakespeare, Facebook and the London and New York stock exchanges is not just useful – it is indispensable.

The Phoenecians gave us our alphabet. We want to give the Lebanese our language. So the British Council will make it possible for anyone in Lebanon to learn English, for free. We are putting online every resource you need to teach or learn English.

Second, because it is about quality and not just quantity, we’ll make sure that English language teachers are the best they can be. In the coming year the British Council will train 2000 English language teachers, about 20% of all those in Lebanon. With their help, we want to boost the numbers of students taking English by a third, making it Lebanon’s second language.

We’ll also make available our benchmarks for English, including the IELTS test. And we’ll fight hard for equivalence for the British A-Level.

Third, we’ll bring the best of British technology to Lebanese classrooms and educational partnerships to Lebanon’s institutions.

Already, Prometheon are putting interactive whiteboards in schools across the country. Last year we organised the largest British education trade mission to the region. We’ll bring an even larger mission in September, with over thirty British education providers in Beirut, alongside English UK’s annual conference.

Fourth, we will aim to attract more Lebanese students to UK universities. We issued 25% more student visas last year, more than ever before, enabling an increasing number of Lebanese students to study in the UK.

We’ll support the very best students, the role models and change makers, with six fully funded Masters scholarships. And because we also want to forge connections between those who don’t have the means to travel, we are linking more than fifty classrooms to their counterparts in the UK.

Finally, we will support the Ministry of Education’s reform agenda. They and their local partner – an NGO called Adyan working with educational experts and religious leaders – are changing the foundations of the education system, from one based on fusion and tolerance to one based on diversity and partnership. Pupils will for the first time be taught in all schools that Lebanon’s diversity is not a reason for division and weakness, but for unity and strength.

So thank you Twitter for salvaging a speech, thank you to the British Council and English teachers throughout Lebanon in the frontline of this effort, and thank you to the British and Lebanese institutions that are forging the partnerships that will underpin it.

It matters. As investment in Britain’s best export. As downpayment on Lebanon’s future. And because, as Disraeli said even without the benefit of Twitter, “on the education of the people the fate of this country depends”.

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