From August 26 to September 6, 2013, I worked as an English Language Specialist in Pakistan. The assignment was to facilitate a two-week teacher training workshop at the International Islamic University of Islamabad (IIUI). The program went much better than even I expected. The work also presented some interesting challenges.
One of the biggest challenges to the program’s success was the extreme variations in ability amongst the participants. Many of the teachers were under-educated, while a few had had some formal education. In general, the spoken English proficiency levels were low.
There was also a constant need to sense and then navigate cultural sensitivities as I learned these issues on the go. The slightest disrespect to Islam or a participant would have crippled the program. My agenda was, and could have only been, to improve the teaching capacity of a disparate group of teachers.
All participants were Koranic scholars and passionate about their beliefs. Therefore it was imperative to remain neutral in regards to religion. In essence, I politely avoided prolonged discussions about the topic. However, since Islam was obviously the most relevant topic of concern for these teachers, I was happy to have them use Koranic examples in their teaching demonstrations.
The group worked together very well, all were eager to learn, most participated freely in our activities, and all showed me tremendous respect. I was honored to share ideas and work with these men, in addition to my fabulous colleagues and associates at IIUI.