10 essential things to consider when choosing a US University

Dustin Daniels at Florida State University on 10 things international students should know before choosing to study in the USA:

1. Location and Culture

The first thing to know about the American university system is that there are over 4,000 colleges and universities to choose from. These sites of higher education range from small liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, specialized community colleges, and many others in between! I’d say two of the most common kinds of universities are those found in more urban city centres and those found in more rural ‘college towns’.

Going to school in the city can be a very rewarding experience, as the city life can help complement your time as student and add a layer of cultural discovery to your collegiate career. On the other hand, it might also dilute or convolute your time as well, as the hustle and bustle can sometimes build a wedge between you and the university student experience. Likewise, a ‘college town’ is typically a place where you can find a small community coalescing around a university as its main focal point and lifeblood. There is something to be said for this kind of school, but it might also mean you don’t have access to the amenities or the diversity of a large city.

2. University Pride and Alumni Network

One of the amazing aspects of the US university system is the great pride and enthusiasm that folks develop for their school. This pride often starts with competitive sports programs, but also manifests in many other areas. It isn’t uncommon, for instance, for students to wear university apparel, attend university events, and rejoice in university achievement, whether it be a sports championship or a faculty member winning a research award. Pride for your university allows you to build powerful relationships that often transcend generations, backgrounds and ideologies. It allows you to feel part of a greater community; a feeling that you quite frankly cannot put a price on.

With this university pride comes an alumni network. These networks are used to help people continue to stay connected to their university, while also allowing for professional development and advancement. It isn’t uncommon for graduates in the US to get their first job as a result of connections or information provided by a university’s alumni network. When picking the best school for you, you ought to consider the kind of network that will stand behind your degree and help you get where you want to go.

3. Public and Private Universities

There are two types of universities in the US: public and private. The main differences between the two are the prestige of studying at a private university over a public one, and the cost which obviously is much cheaper at a public university. A year of classes of public tuition costs around $3,500 (around £2,250) whilst some private universities charge well over ten times that. A public university also has a large number of students, which may suit someone who thrives in a social educational environment. Private universities have smaller classes and allow students to forge closer relationships with their tutors.

4. Scholarships and Funding

When looking at how to pay for a US education, your focus should then turn to scholarships and funding.  Not all US universities offer scholarships to international students and government loans can’t always be applied to paying for and tuition and fees. Despite this, increasing fees for university around the world have made the U.S. university system quite competitive comparatively to other countries around Europe. One of the most important things to look at is the OVERALL cost of going to a particular university: specifically tuition and fees, on-campus or off-campus accommodation, cost of living in the location of the university, etc. One of the most confusing traps I have seen international students fall into is being distracted by only looking at tuition fees or the kind of scholarship universities offer. Here is a typical scenario:

University A is a public research university located in a small city. It costs $40,000 a year to attend, including accommodation and tuition. University B is a private university located centrally in a large city. It costs $100,000 to attend for all accommodation and fees, but it offers a 50% scholarship to all international students.

As you can see, even with no scholarships, university A would be a better choice from a funding standpoint.

5. Liberal Arts Education: Majors, Minors and Credits

Liberal Arts colleges and universities provide specialised education in the basic disciplines of humanities, plus social and behavioural sciences. They offer a huge range of potential Major subjects, including Political Science, Religion and Sociology. All universities will also allow you to study a Minor subject if you so desire. Some Majors even allow a Minor to take the place of supporting coursework. Each Major and Minor requires a certain level of credits that need to be achieved to qualify for a degree. The definition of a credit can be difficult for someone who has not been born in the U.S. to get their head around. Credits are awarded for the time you spend studying or in class. If you have already attended University in the UK, you should be able to transfer some credits across.

6. Internships & Undergraduate Research

Internships and Undergraduate Research programs are where companies sponsor students to go to university in the hope of securing them as employees once their studies have finished. This is an excellent way of securing financial backing for your studies, and some companies will even help with accommodation and transport. It’s not all study though – some companies will expect you to work for them as well, particularly during breaks.

7. Rankings

When choosing a university, the rankings that are produced by several independent institutions are a good place to start, but should be viewed with a grain of salt. These rankings can tell you about certain qualities of schools, but can leave out some vital information such as student satisfaction, engagement, and alumni performance. They can also be biased towards smaller universities that focus on a few key subject areas. Many times students think that the ‘Ivy League’ schools are the only ones worth considering, when many non-Ivy schools are collectively and in many individual programs more well-regarded. At the end of the day, US universities all over the country are known for something, so make sure to cast a wide net.

8. The US Student Experience

The main difference between being a US student and a UK student is that whilst the UK student is encouraged to be an expert in a single field, a US student is more likely to become successful if they can exhibit a breadth of knowledge. On the social side of things, students in the U.S. are much more likely to spend time together, especially on campus. Many students will live on campus for all four years of their degree. Eating and playing sports together and being members of sororities and fraternities is a big part of university education.

9. SAT & ACT

Many times students wonder whether their secondary school program, whether it be an IB diploma, A-Levels, Advanced Placement, etc. allows them to forgo taking their SAT or ACT tests. The answer is almost always NO! Because U.S. schools have students from all over the world applying, it is hard to fairly compare them. After all, a student’s achievements in Canada vs. in Italy may be completely different. This is where the SAT or ACT come in. These standardized tests focus on general knowledge and skills in math, verbal reasoning, writing and science, though each is slightly different. They are usually required for all students as a way for the university to compare students effectively and to predict how they are likely to do in their first years of studying. Few universities waive this requirement, but some do let you postpone taking the exam until after admission.

10. Cultural Capital & Global Consciousness

US universities do their best not to promote cultural capital and to treat all students equally, no matter their social status. However, outside of the lecture halls and classrooms students from poorer backgrounds may find themselves at a disadvantage, and be looked down upon by those more socially fortunate.

More information on Florida State’s International Gateway Program can be found at http://www.fsu-gateway-program.co.uk, where they offer some useful tips of their own for any potential students.

 

Paying for an International Education – Expensive: Yes. Easy to Understand: No

An interesting take on HSBC’s research that indicated Australia tops the league of costly study destinations…

“The cost for international students to acquire a degree has become a more and more debated issue.  One reason is that the worldwide revenues attributable to international higher education have reached around USD 120-140 billion.  When schooling, language, and vocational training are added in, total revenues are estimated to exceed USD 200 billion (ICG, 2013).  International education has become a large, global business.

Costs for individual students to participate in international education of course vary widely.  One year of high quality academic language or higher education studies can run from as little as USD 14,000 to more than USD 60,000.  Understanding these costs has attracted attention, most recently in an overview published by HSBC which received widespread media coverage.

Flawed and unrealistic

Unfortunately, the data presented by HSBC appear to be both flawed and unrealistic.  For one, many international students are required to demonstrate a minimum level of funding in order to obtain a study permit.  To indicate student cost of living amounts which run significantly under such thresholds is not helpful, and would clash with legal requirements.

In addition, some cost of living data presented by HSBC simply bears little relation to actual cost of living as established by respective higher education institutions, governmental bodies, and other research.

For example: Germany can be a “cheap” country to study in for international students, but a monthly cost of living level of USD 524 as indicated by HSBC does not map remotely to the reality of living in cities which are home to Germany’s ten largest universities (which include Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, and Munich).

Rent alone in these cities would reach or exceed this cost level (the average rent for students in Germany is USD 406.  Source: 20. Sozialerhebung by the Studentenwerk (a report sponsored by the German government).

10 institutions hardly representative

HSBC’s tuition research was based on scoping a country’s ten largest institutions by enrollment.  This is hardly a representative sample in a country such as the United States, which is home to more than 4,000 higher education institutions, nor does this relate to international enrollments.

Not surprisingly, the supposed tuition averages indicated for many countries are neither an accurate portrayal of average fees, nor particularly helpful.

International students in the United States can find themselves courted by institutions which will offer full scholarships while most others will be asked to pay annual tuition fees exceeding USD 30,000.  Anyone fortunate enough to be admitted to Columbia University faces a tuition bill of nearly USD 47,000 per year.

Getting it right

Getting it right requires a bit more of an effort.  Earlier this year, ICG completed a commissioned research project on international tuition fees which took nearly 2,200 hours to complete.

Results have been presented at various conferences, including EAIE and AIEC conference in Canberra (the EAIE presentation can be accessed at ICG’s homepage under September Updates, www.illuminategroup.com).

The outcome of this research is contained in the International Tuition-Based Competition Database (ITBCD) which contains tuition fees for more than 7,000 individual undergraduate and graduate degree programs, added fees per program, and actual cost of living calculations.

The latter alone required 400 hours of research and analysis.  The point is that an international comparison of tuition fees and cost of living requires many data points, a proper methodology, and a recognition that supposed averages can be utterly misleading.

What this research shows is that the total cost of obtaining the most popular degree amongst international students – a Bachelor of Commerce or Business – at a ranked international university ranges from USD 120,000 to nearly 300,000.  Most degrees required an investment of USD 150,000 at minimum.

International students who enroll in non-tuition systems such as universities in Germany will still face a minimum investment of USD 45,000 into cost of living in most major cities.  Clearly, for most international students it is not cheap and possibly very expensive to study away from home.

With the aforementioned caveat of not using averages to make too many assumptions, countries can be broadly characterized as follows.

–       Australia overall is a highly expensive country which nonetheless can provide good outcomes to its graduates.

–       The United States is characterized by the widest spread of costs from quite reasonable to very expensive, and institutions ranging from world leading universities to little more than vocational training institutions.

–       Canada’s international tuition fees are often below the corresponding mean, but cost of living in Vancouver and Toronto has negated this advantage largely.

–       New Zealand offers good value (outside of Auckland) based mostly on its moderate tuition fees, though some program fees appear to be poised for notable upticks.

–       The United Kingdom offers middle-of-the road tuition fees costs with London setting a high cost note for both fees and cost of living.

–       The Netherlands offers lower-end tuition fees with middling cost of living levels, offering overall a compelling value proposition.

–       Germany offers great value based on its no-tuition fee setting, but much less outcome.

With a consortium of universities having signed on to ITBCD, we expect to publish updated results in the spring of 2014.  In the meantime, the only safe assumption is that being an international student will be more expensive in 2014 than it was in 2013.

Daniel J. Guhr is Managing Director of the Illuminate Consulting Group in the USA. 

Attracting Students from China

Since the turn of the century, the number of students studying abroad at a tertiary level has nearly doubled, with China being the largest contributor to the pool of foreign students.

In 2010 there were approximately 550,000 Chinese students pursuing higher education in a foreign country. More than 1 in 6 foreign students originate from China.

Not surprisingly, that’s created a huge push from educational institutions in the UK to attract Chinese students.

Tailor your offering

It’s tempting to take a one size fits all approach when it comes to attracting foreign students. What works in Australia should work in China. However the fact is what works in one country often won’t cut it in another.

The simplest example of this is the digital space. Google, the search behemoth, dominates many markets. It’s the leading player in Europe and North America, as well as in many emerging markets such as India. However with nearly 75% of the market, the largest search engine in China is in fact Baidu.

According to Paul Hoskins, chairman of Precedent, a marketing agency working in the higher education sector, you may also need to tailor your offering. “A simple example is to ensure that a required/featured module in any programme aimed at China is Business and/or Management,” he says. “These subjects are highly valued.”

League tables are vital

One of the key factors for Chinese students is league tables. At first glance this may seem pretty obvious and not all that helpful. Educational institutions already spend a lot of time looking at league tables and how to improve their standing.

However the important factor here is that Chinese students will not only look at the league tables for the university as a whole; they will also look at the league tables for specific subject areas.

Consequently, it’s vital that you focus on your strengths. Avoid the temptation to market all of your courses in China. This might seem self-defeating. The more courses you offer the more you’ll sell, right? But the simple fact is if you’re average or below average in a certain area, your marketing efforts in China are likely to be wasted. If you’re good at something, focus on that.

Factors out of your control

Other factors that are important to Chinese students include immigration issues, attitudes towards international students, standardised tests required by schools such as the SAT and how easy the visa application is.

These factors may be out of your control, but that does not mean they should be overlooked.

For example, if the visa application is difficult, any assistance you can provide will pay dividends down the line. This may be as simple as providing some additional support pages on your website specifically tailored to Chinese students.

Just because you can not control a factor, don’t think you can’t affect how it is perceived and handled.

Some of this may seem obvious, but the key factor is not to take a boilerplate approach to attracting Chinese students. Consider their needs, consider their concerns, and consider what it is you can offer that will make the 5000 mile trip worthwhile.

Hannah Sweeney works for 4Ps Marketing.  

The French touch!

Olivier Chiche-Portiche, head of promotion at France’s higher education agency Campus France rightly puts the country’s regular “will we, won’t we” with the English language into perspective (PIE Chat, July 26).

France indeed boasts numerous HE courses delivered in English in both the private and public sectors. And the wish to attract the best foreign students for prestigious courses, particularly in science, technology and medicine, is dominated rather by France’s desire to spread its global influence economically and politically than by the need to find additional revenue streams. This brings enormous financial and other advantages for foreign students.

French is one of only two languages taught and spoken on every continent (guess which is the other!) but as a nation we are often reluctant to insist on the language’s key international role, despite the odd headline-catching quote and also the substantial state support for promoting both language and culture worldwide in a variety of forms.

Paradoxically this is coupled with a reluctance to aid a more effective spread of French by supporting the very active internal FLE (French as a foreign language) market which provides the linguistic underpinning essential for a wider use of the language.

For sure, the state introduced a British-Council style accreditation scheme in 2007 and some 90 training centres (public, private, associative etc) are now recognised out of the 300-plus in the hexagon.

Accredited centres can join Campus France and are now in principle prioritised for visa applications and official language contracts proposed by the France state and international bodies.

But Chiche-Portiche gives the game away by emphasising that Campus France’s support is aimed mainly at its membership of mainly public institutions amongst which figure comparatively few specialist language centres. As he says: ‘The network has some schools of French” (writer’s emphasis).

But let’s face it, even students following courses delivered in English need to live (and love) in the local language and fluency is also vital for getting the top level work placements in French companies essential to complete most degree courses.

There is, however, a general reluctance amongst the public structures supporting French education to accept the essential basic input of language schools in the process. This is grounded firstly in the national predisposition towards all that is public as opposed to private, even/especially when the latter proves more effective, but also in the intellectual snobbery of the educational establishment.

The embarrassing truth that French actually needs to be taught in a practical hands-on way (just like English!) as opposed to being absorbed subliminally via literature, cinema etc (France’s much vaunted “cultural difference”) creates a dual approach difficult to reconcile.

Luckily the private sector has not been quietly waiting for official backing, as PIE readers must know. Of which more anon. In the meantime, vive la France, vive le français!

Tom Maitland
Director, French in Normandy

Four tips to prepare for students with their own devices

The growth in consumer devices such as mobile phones and tablets looks set to continue, and with an international survey finding that 65% of children have a mobile phone handset[1], more and more students are turning up to class with their devices in pockets or backpacks.

However, technology that can inspire and enable a generation also becomes a real challenge for a school when students and staff expect to be able to connect their own devices to the network.

Today, educational technology is migrating from simply enhancing traditional teaching to transforming it. PCs and tablets not only provide the interface to the Internet, but are also the platforms for digital learning tools, online assessment, and student collaboration.  Studies have shown that the schools that embrace these technology changes see strong positive impact on student grades and learning outcomes.

‘Bring your own Device’ (BYOD), is already an issue for businesses worldwide, as they struggle to balance the benefits with the challenges.  So, how can schools across the globe embrace the opportunity by developing a BYOD policy and what is involved in policing it?

Embracing BYOD can bring benefits to a school if done right.  For instance it can reduce security risks, increase productivity in the classroom and provide cost savings through a reduction in school-owned devices.

Where to start?

Guidelines are important and let students know that using their own devices are welcome, but instruction and education use is the primary reason for that access. They should also include clear statements of consequences for student failure to follow the school’s acceptable use policy.

Here are four tips to help managers of IT systems within schools stay sane when faced with multiple devices on the IT network.

 1.    Ask yourself: Is your wireless network prepared?

While your wireless network may be experiencing more demand now than ever before, the truth is that this just the beginning. Projections indicate that we can expect these figures to continue to skyrocket, with more devices, applications and traffic demands on the way. Unfortunately most school networks are nowhere near prepared enough to keep up with these increasing demands.  Therefore, the first important tip is to review the capabilities of the existing school IT infrastructure and ensure it is fit for purpose.

2.    A Unified, proactive approach to BYOD

Without a unified network management approach – one that extends to the pupil – the costs and resources necessary to manage a BYOD initiative become overwhelming, taxing the school beyond its limits. A unified approach to BYOD adoption policy needs to cast a wide net, covering issues such as:

  • Approval of mobile devices
  • Registration and on-boarding
  • Usage policies
  • Budget constraints
  • Infrastructure restrictions

3.    Document and communicate BYOD best practices

Through the communication of a strong mobile device acceptable use and security policy, schools and colleges can define user conduct, support policies, IT support responsibilities, and security controls and features with very little room for confusion.  These documents provide general use guidelines for users accessing the school/college network and deliver a framework for conduct for staff, students and guests alike.

4. Appoint a leader, plan ahead and constantly review

A BYOD solution should not be a responsibility that goes hand in hand with the many other day-to-day IT management tasks. Appoint a member of staff to be a cross-functional leader who will oversee the BYOD strategy as a whole.  Ensure adequate time is taken to plan appropriately, make sure you know which devices you will and won’t support.  Finally, review policy compliance regularly – there’s no point in setting policies if they’re being violated and content isn’t secure.


[1] Research carried out by in 2012 by mobile operators in conjunction with GSMA and the Mobil Society Research Institute

Mark Pearce is a strategic alliance director at Enterasys Networks

Using the internet to shape language teaching

As a French language teacher I am always looking for ways to better engage my students with the language and support their learning needs.

And as I work in a British university in China, teaching French to students from all over the world, using English as the instruction language, it can be a challenge to find an approach that appeals to all.

One thing my students do have in common is the internet and their ability to use it effectively. And as language teachers we should be harnessing this ‘Generation Y’s’ digital know-how.

The internet is changing how young people learn.

Young people today, for the most part, are more tech-savvy than they have ever been.

They are actively involved in the internet’s participatory cultures like joining online communities, producing new forms of creative work such as video or digital sampling, working in teams to complete tasks and develop new knowledge, and shaping the flow of information by creating blogs or podcasting.

Being literate today doesn’t just mean knowing how to read and write on paper, but knowing how to read and write across multiple media platforms – books, videos, social networks, blogs, text messages etc.

And being fluent in another language also means being able to navigate, and contribute to, these platforms.

How can these skills help us teach young people languages?

Alongside my teaching, I have conducted research into how the internet’s participatory culture can be used in student-centred learning environments and found that transmedia storytelling – telling a story across multiple media – can be an extremely effective method of teaching.

My research involved asking students to create multiple media products to investigate, and help others learn, lexical and grammatical teaching points in French, Japanese and English.

Once they had created their products, the groups then commented on others’ products using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and blogs moderated by their tutors. They used these comments to improve their own products and to practice writing and reading in the respective languages.

The results showed that the students were able to create sophisticated media products ranging from multi-genre films to remixed songs and computer games, and that from the comments posted on the blogs, and elicited after the project, they had fun while also improving a number of important key competences that are often outside the domain of language learning.

I found that if well moderated, transmedia storytelling can provide students the opportunity to engage in projects that tap into their own experiences of social networking and digital creation.

Teaching the teachers.

The key to this, of course, is ensuring language teachers have the knowledge necessary to create these kinds of learning environments.

I recently shared the findings of my research, and trained secondary school teachers to use transmedia storytelling, at the V International Convention of Reading and Writing in Bogota, Colombia, which explored new ways of language teaching.

I found that the teachers who attended the conference from all over the world were keen to explore teaching methods that ensure the language skills young people are developing are relevant to them in the real and online worlds.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in the Language Centre  at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China are engaged in research and course development that investigate new ways of using technology to enhance learning.

It is really through our own continual learning, and sharing of knowledge, that we can hope to teach young people the language skills that will help them navigate the online world and achieve true digital literacy.

Filippo Gilardi, is a French tutor in The University of Nottingham Ningbo China’s Language Centre. For more information on his transmedia storytelling research contact him on Filippo.Gilardi@nottingham.edu.cn

The Cultural Value of International Students

From 2008 to 2011, I studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, an establishment with more than 3,500 international students (or a third of the 2012-13 in take). In the three years I spent there, I met and made friends with students from California, Thailand and Nigeria; Russia, Australia and Malawi; Pakistan, Belgium and Tanzania.

In my first year, I lived on campus in the architectural rarity that is the UEA Ziggurats. My room was small but perfectly formed and I delighted in the rare personal freedom that I was allowed there. Sandwiched by Jao from Portugal, Stacey from Boston – and with Maiko from Japan just down the hall – students from all over the world lived together under one roof.  Above, below and side-by-side, one of the most poignant aspects of this multicultural cohabitation was that everyone was in the same position, on the threshold of a new chapter in life without the apparent prejudices or inequalities of their respective ethnicities. Housed inside our little concrete boxes of opportunity, we took to the task of education like a pack of hungry wolves.

My hallmates and I regularly ate together, taking it in turns to stage themed nights. It was the first time I ate real sushi and the last time I drank copious amounts of Sake. Not since that year have I eaten such a diverse (and boozy) parade of foodstuffs.

As a domestic student, it was a truly multicultural experience and to this day, I have strong connections with people in countries I’ve never been to. Thanks to the wonders of the web, I’ve been able to nurture these friendships and this has inadvertently created cornerstones in a world that I’ve barely started exploring.

Before going to university, my experience of other cultures was limited. Everyone at my state school was born and raised in our home town and aside from holidays to over-populated resorts in Europe (where you’re much more likely to bump into a fellow Brit than a local) I’d never had much contact with “international” people. As such, university taught me important lessons about ethnicity and culture, in that no matter where you’re from, when you’re put into a nurturing learning environment with like-minded people, you’re sure to blossom.

Despite this fortuitous discovery, it has recently been announced that in 2012, there was a 22 per cent drop in the number of foreign students studying in the UK. Following a tightening of VISA controls and a politicised crack down on immigration, official figures showed that in 2012 a net total of 153,000 migrant students came to the UK (down from 242,000 in 2011).

This news came as a shock to me. International students were paramount to my university experience – offering as much of an education as my actual degree, if not more. And yet despite the many opportunities available for international students in the UK, not to mention the hugely beneficial impact they have on the economy, David Cameron has decided to strengthen his policies against them. Oddly, the umbrella term “immigrant” still refers to international students – even though most of the EU does not recognise or practise this categorisation.

Let’s not forget that international students have to pay through the nose for their degrees, sometimes as much as three times the price of domestic students. You’d think that at a time of extreme economic fragility the prime minister would want to encourage one of the country’s most lucrative exports rather than making potential pound signs feel unwelcome. That’s not the half of it. A report by Oxford Economics estimated that the GDP generated by international students at the University of Exeter directly supports 2,480 jobs in the city. And above all else, international students play a vital role in academic research labs, particularly in science, engineering and maths – accounting for around 45% of the UK’s postgraduate students. These bright young things are willingly committing their lives to crucial research and yet UK politicians are trying to discourage them? It doesn’t make sense on any level.

We must not discredit just how valuable immigrants and international students are. They provide a context and a deeper understanding of what is an increasingly multicultural country. To deny that is to pull the wool over your own eyes. Multiculturalism should be embraced and celebrated, not chastised. By opening our minds and our communities to the culture of others, we are given a greater understanding of what it means to be human.

Emily Buchanan is a professional writer living in Norwich, UK. She’s passionate about the environment, education and human rights – subjects you’ll mostly find her writing/ranting about. Follow Emily on Twitter for the latest.

Why we went global when it came to our daughter’s education

 When the latest South African high school graduation exams results were announced in January of this year amid a furore of expert criticism, I felt I’d made the right decision in moving my daughter into an international education system.

As a teacher myself, I have witnessed what many believe to be falling standards in education and the challenges this brings to students in their first year at university. A low pass rate for the graduation exam means that many students qualify to go onto university but discover when they get there, that they do not have the right skills to cope at that higher level. It is a real issue in this country that of every 1,000 children who start out in grade one in national education, only around five make it through tertiary education.

I’m fortunate that in my professional career I was introduced to the educational route that is also proving successful for my daughter. I started my career in government schools, but my teaching style didn’t always suit the official style. A school which offers qualifications from Cambridge International Examinations opened in my local area in 1999 and it didn’t take me long to realise that this was a syllabus I wanted to teach.

My friends teaching at the College persuaded me to join the team in 2001 and it was the best decision I have ever made for my career.  The qualifications suit my teaching style and I thoroughly enjoy the freedom of being able to develop my students and their attributes and interests as part of a bigger picture.

As my daughter approached high school age, she was also increasingly looking for a school environment which would give her more freedom, encourage creativity and prepare her well for university.

With this in mind, in her grade 8 year, we enrolled my daughter at the school where I teach – Ridgeway College in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo Province.  In recent years, she has studied a number of international qualifications, first Cambridge IGCSE and now Cambridge International AS Level. The benefits of these international qualifications are manifold.

Cambridge qualifications are recognised by universities all over the world – they provide students with skills they need to flourish in tertiary education. Locally, our universities are also becoming increasingly aware of the exceptionally high standard of education that Cambridge students enter into university with. Students are equipped with universal thinking skills, an analytical perspective and an ability to adapt to any change in their environment. They are taught communication skills, self-discipline, independent thinking and the ability to work on their own as well as a level of confidence that makes them stand head and shoulders above their peers in other systems.

Furthermore, international qualifications prepare young people for the world at large, above and beyond university.  I feel my daughter has been provided with a holistic, flexible education that enables her to cope in a workplace that – in today’s world – is fast moving and ever changing. She’ll be able to cope with new situations and be able to face challenges and move beyond her comfort zone. What’s more, emigration is definitely featuring more strongly in young people’s future plans than ever. By providing our children with the opportunity to do an international education, we are enabling them to have a wider choice for career options or studying overseas.

I feel certain that my daughter is much better prepared than her peers to cope with the ever-increasing demands of the outside world, because she has a set of skills that makes her adaptable and able to cope with pressure and large volumes of work.  Her level of confidence has shot up as she has been given the skills to communicate, to analyse and to problem solve in every aspect of her academic and personal, life.

I fully believe that our choice of qualifications have helped my daughter work towards achieving her long-held career dream of becoming an Air Traffic Controller.

In Grade 10, she completed work experience at the Air Force Base, coming home at the end of the first day having memorized the call signs of the fighter aircraft pilots, and being able to read and interpret both the weather station’s data and the radar system. She received a glowing appraisal for her confidence and her ability to analyse, interpret and apply information totally new to her.

As a teacher, I’ve witnessed how an international education can steer a student towards success but it’s really as a mother that I have experienced the full impact of these qualifications on all aspects of a young person’s life and I look forward to watching my daughter continue to reap the benefits for many years to come.

By Annaline Smit, mother and teacher at Ridgeway College, Louis Trichardt, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Online short story competition gets language students writing

During an economic crisis, resources (books, budgets, infrastructure) are limited but high standards and qualifications are required so that learners can survive on the job market. Can the use of technology help learners and teachers overcome this problem? If so, how?

Why not try the Extremely Short Story Competition (ESSC) for a fun, free, online writing activity for your students?

The project is the brainchild of Peter Hassall a professor at Zayed University Dubai who has run the competition for several years.

Language students have to write a short story on any topic they like in exactly 50 words and enter it on the ESSC administrative website. They can add a title which is not included in the 50 words and even a visual, if they wish, but it must be the exact number of words. The competition is free and students can enter as many stories as they like, but they must undertake that the work they enter is their own without help from anybody else.

The competition can be run through language schools who have to find prizes and arrange a prize-winning ceremony, but that offers great scope for publicity, coverage by local media, and exhibitions of students’ work. Basically the administration (processing, editing, judging by an international panel of judges) is taken over by the website which relieves the teachers of any work: all they have to do is encourage students to write in English. The ESSC can be done as a class activity or done privately at home, especially where students get enthusiastic about expressing their thoughts in the target language on any topic. There are a lot of exercises available too to help language teachers make use of the activity.

The material on the website www.zu.ac.ae/facets shows where this writing activity originates. It is also the best website for seeing the potential of the project. The Facets material (in fact an anthology of short stories produced with sponsorship as a result of a recent run of the competition) shows the use of nicknames to provide anonymity so entrants can express themselves freely, a feature that is important in the Arab World, as many of the writers are female.

As an international project, the ESSC has also been run for several years in Japan with high school students. With translation of the short stories, there is a rich source of teaching material as well as displayable material to show how good the students are.

So why not try the ESSC for your language students? For more information, contact pjhassall@gmail.com or kcollins@wanadoo.fr if you want to give it a try.

After teaching in Saudi Arabia, UK, and Singapore, Ken Collins acquired extensive ESOL teaching experience. The last part of his working career was in Dubai where he eventually became Head of the Centre for ESL at the University of Dubai until 2007. He was also Middle East consultant for EAQUALS (Evaluation & Accreditation of Quality Language Services). He now is Project Co-ordinator for the Extremely Short Story Competition in Europe and resides in Southwest France. 

Technology in teaching – digital natives vs digital immigrants

It was only five years ago that I was teaching English in South Italy using a blackboard and chalk. I never used to wear black to school; to do so would mean to go home covered in patches of white powder.

It was quite a luxury to start teaching in London with a white-board and dry-erase pens; so you can imagine my amazement the first time I encountered an interactive whiteboard. As I sat watching the demonstration, the colours; the lights; the sounds; things whizzing around the board, I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to do that”. On the contrary, after I had used an IWB a couple of times, I wondered how I had ever lived without it. The chalk days seemed like a hundred years ago.

Finally – no more need for my infantile, unrecognisable drawings of vegetables

Nowadays, in my classroom, the IWB is always switched on. That doesn’t mean it’s always the focus of the action, but it does mean I can use it any time I need to show a visual. Finally – no more need for my infantile, unrecognisable drawings of vegetables (have you any idea how hard it is to draw “aubergine” with chalk?), thanks to Google images.

I am also a big fan of the timer on teachitworld.com, the phonetic chart at teachingenglish.org.uk, and looking at new language in context at corpus.byu.edu. Is it too obvious to mention YouTube and the limitless language one short video clip can generate?

As Director of Studies at Twin English Language Centre in South East London, I set out on a mission to introduce IWBs into our classrooms. It wasn’t at all easy. Firstly, I had to persuade the Finance Director that this was an investment worth making. Secondly, there were choices to be made; interactive projectors or interactive whiteboards, Smart board; Promethean; Epson; or other, which classrooms to start with, which wall to put it on… the list goes on.

For our students, technology isn’t something to be evaluated and appraised; it’s the way they live their lives

Thirdly, the teachers had to be trained, and, in some cases, persuaded to incorporate the technology into their lessons. The variety of reactions to the IWBs was fascinating.

In a recent lesson on inventions, I asked students to identify in what ways the classroom would have been different ten years ago. They immediately identified the IWB as a recent addition.

I am increasingly realising that our students are “digital natives” while we, the older generation of EFL teachers and managers, are “digital immigrants”. For our students, technology isn’t something to be evaluated and appraised; it’s the way they live their lives, they don’t know any different. For us, it’s something we need to fast come to grips with if we want to continue to engage, motivate, and indeed, teach our students.

Sarah Morse is the Principal of Twin English Centres’ English school in London, UK.