A GU-TEFL Certificate Graduate shares his experience teaching English in the Middle East:
The teaching of English can be, for some, a means for career enhancement, an avenue for outright career change, or the means for accomplishing a life adventure. All such reasons are valid, true, and possible, and the Georgetown CLED TEFL Certificate Program is an outstanding way to prepare someone for any such path. But recently, I was able to witness how the teaching of English can be way of assisting others in reaching life aspirations and providing hope for change in circumstances.
In December 2013, I visited in Lebanon with a local, organic, faith based NGO, Heart for Lebanon that is providing educational assistance to Syrian refugee children in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. As reported in the news media, Lebanon has become host to at least one million Syrian refugees, most of them children, since the beginning of political and sectarian conflict in Syria. Refugees in Beirut are crowded into apartments in slum conditions or live on the street. In the Bekaa Valley they live in makeshift tent communities. The Lebanese government has refused to establish formal camps as opposed to in Jordan or Turkey for internal political reasons. Lebanon is a small country and the pre-conflict population was nearly five million so the strain on social services in extreme, especially in the area of education.
The Lebanese education system cannot support the influx of so many new students but even if it could, many of the Syrian students would be unprepared. This is because English is not widely taught in Syrian primary and secondary schools while in Lebanon by secondary school English is the language of instruction in many subjects and in most universities instruction is exclusively done in either English or French. A thirteen year old Syrian child would be unprepared for Lebanese high school. The NGO I visited is attempting to fill the gap, as best they can through limited resources, to teach Syrian students English, standard Arabic, and math. The need for maintaining math skills is a given while standard Arabic is essential to function in business and commerce. Anyone familiar with the Middle East is aware that the Arabic spoken on the streets of any given country is far different from the standard Arabic in newspapers and pan-Arabic media. I was able to witness pre-school children gleefully shouting out the days of the week in English and elementary children singing“We wish you a Merry Christmas”...
The NGO can only afford to help a few hundred children, three days a week, and only in the main three subjects. But, mothers will meet workers from Heart for Lebanon on the street imploring that their children be given seats in the classes as there is little else available. In the classes the government does provide the Syrian students are segregated and given little attention. The NGO’s teachers are all Lebanese or Syrian and are certified. Classes are intentionally small to be most effective. Most Syrian refugees are Sunni Muslim and while the NGO is openly Christian in orientation the parents do not mind as there is no direct proselytization; the focus is serving the community.
The example in Lebanon is just one of the cases where the teaching of English can be an avenue of service that extends not just at the local community center with classes for new immigrants but around the world where functional knowledge of English in necessary for career and educational attainment. In many countries, one cannot go to college or enter business or trade without some knowledge of English. But, also in many countries, the local education systems are ill equipped to meet the demand or need. There are many valid organizations and many opportunities available to help in meeting the need. As a teacher of English one can be in the position to fill the gap between the need and the possible for many children and adults locally and around the globe.
– Ray, GU-TEFL Graduate