International and Central Asian Collaboration Generates Innovative Enrichment Curriculum

What happens when you bring together international and Central Asian educators to create an academic enrichment programme for talented students?
 
“There is a kind of magic that can happen when an international collaboration works,” said mathematics curriculum expert Naseem Jaffer. This was evident in the partnership between Jaffer, who has 30 years of experience in teaching, curriculum design, teacher training and upgrading math skills among underprivileged students in the United States, and newly trained mathematics teacher Bunyod Tusmatov of Tajikistan.
 
The two worked together to fine-tune the mathematics curriculum that Jaffer designed for the University of Central Asia (UCA) Summer Camp. The camp is currently underway in Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan, with 76 Grade 10 students from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
 
“I don’t believe anyone is bad at math. You just have to tailor programmes to fit the different ways that people learn,” said Jaffer. “Tusmatov highlighted the pedagogy and gaps in Central Asia curricula, so I could ensure that the programme met the needs of Summer Camp participants.”
 
For Tusmatov, working with Jaffer was an enriching experience. In addition to ensuring that internationally required topics such as probability, graphing and word problems were included to fill curriculum gaps, Jaffer added participatory activities, not typically used in Central Asian classrooms, to help students apply mathematical concepts to real world situations. With training from Jaffer, including detailed teaching plans, Tusmatov was well prepared to teach the innovative curriculum.
 
Mathematics teacher Bunyod Tusmatov of Tajikistan assists a student during a Summer Camp math class.
 
Tusmatov has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Mathematics from Earlham College in the United States and also studied at United World Colleges in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. After working as a Financial Analyst in the United States, Bunyod returned to Tajikistan, where he is an Assistant Project Manager at RISK Tajikistan and a SAT math instructor at American Councils in Dushanbe.
 
When asked why he wanted to teach at the UCA Summer Camp, Tusmatov replied, “I live in Central Asia and I really want to contribute to the development of the region.” 
 
His advice for his students is simple: “Practice mathematics every day”.
 
The English curriculum for the UCA Summer Camp was developed by an expert English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher from Canada. The curriculum addresses skill and pedagogical gaps, focusing on writing skills and opportunities for students to express their ideas. To allow for the variability that exists in schools across Central Asia, the curriculum accommodates a range of English-language ability, with built-in opportunities for advanced students to help their peers. It is being delivered by an international team of four teachers; one from Canada, one from USA, one from France and one from Tajikistan.
 
With the personal motto of “Study, study, study”, English teacher Victoria Ivanenko from Tajikistan is serious about education. Ivanenko graduated from the Department of Linguistics, Faculty of English Language at Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe. She has taught English since 2004, at the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, the Aga Khan Humanities Project and currently at UCA’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, where she is certified to teach Business English, Academic English, TOEFL and Conversational English.
 
Summer Camp English teacher Victoria Ivanenko of Tajikistan leads a grammar lesson.
 
Ivanenko has ambitious goals for her Summer Camp students; “I hope to share knowledge on academic essays, tips on how to deal with difficult texts and new vocabulary. Most of all, I want them to understand that learning English can be fun.”
 
English teacher Tristan Cardwell of Canada brings first-hand experience in international learning to Summer Camp participants. After receiving her degree in International Development and Environmental Studies from McGill University, Cardwell volunteered for a women's empowerment organisation in Tanzania, taught English in Taiwan and explored New Zealand. As a Seasonal Trips Facilitator for the Canadian social enterprise, Me to We, she accompanied student volunteer groups on trips to Nicaragua and Ecuador to work on building projects with local communities.
 
Cardwell recently graduated from the Teaching ESL Certificate Programme at the English Language Institute of Seneca College, after discovering her passion for teaching ESL in Taiwan. She joined the UCA Summer Camp teaching team, “excited by the opportunity to combine my passion for teaching with my background in international development.” 
 
English teacher Tristan Cardwell of Canada provides one-on-one support during a Summer Camp English class.
 
"Bringing together experienced and new international and Central Asian educators, we have been able to deliver a rigorous and participatory curriculum to our Summer Camp participants, while also building the capacity of committed young teachers,” said Dr Ariff Kachra, UCA Dean of Academic Affairs.
 
The UCA Summer Camp will run until 7 July 2015. The Camp combines academic sessions in math and English with other learning opportunities, including sessions to enhance success with university applications and activities such as sports, drama, debates and field trips, to practice English-language skills and share experiences. 
 

Designed for Learning

To ensure international rigour and relevance for Central Asia, the international curriculum developers for the UCA Summer Camp met with 30 Central Asian students to assess academic skills and challenges. The students expressed awareness of the need to improve their English language skills to maximise future options, and opportunities were found to upgrade writing and reading comprehension and the ability to express themselves in nuanced English. While students were skilled at solving mathematical problems, there was an opportunity to upgrade their ability to apply math to real-life situations and problem solving.

The resultant curriculum has a greater focus on English than math and highlights applied skills. English topics include grammar, vocabulary, reading strategies and essay writing. Math covers topics such as algebra, probability, graphing, and rational and radical expressions. Other activities are linked to academic objectives, such as the application of mathematical concepts (calculations of force and angles of kicks) during sports, movies with academic themes, and art and science activities. Sessions on enhancing university applications highlight skills and concepts covered in the curriculum. Excursions provide unstructured time for participants to explore places and ideas, share experiences, and reflect on what they are learning.

“The combination of structured and unstructured learning provides unique opportunities to put academic learning in an applied context. Summer Camp students are being exposed to a core UCA value of ensuring our students are not only well educated but also job-ready; skilled and able to apply academic learning in practice-based contexts” said Dr Ariff Kachra, UCA Dean of Academic Affairs.

Dr Ariff Kachra, Dean of Academic Affairs speaking to student on the importance of English immersion

The curriculum is delivered by five trained teachers, with the support of ten counselors. Team members, most of whom are recent university graduates mature enough to serve as mentors, are committed to the Camp mission and model respectful, non-hierarchical relationships. The staff-student ratio is one is to four, creating opportunities for personalised learning and mentoring relationships.

“Another core UCA value is our commitment to Central Asia,” said Kachra. “Summer Camp students are from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and sessions are completely integrated, so students from different countries live, learn, play, eat and explore together.  The result is amazing!  At UCA, Central Asian students from different regions focus on their similarities rather than their differences.”

 

Visit UCA Summer Camp web page

 


 

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