English Language Program Broadens Education Advancement Opportunities
Nassau Community College + Al-Kafaàt Foundation
The students at Lebanon’s Al-Kafaàt Foundation Vocational Technical School (ITK) watch TV shows and movies in English and study the basics of grammar, but they lack strong conversational English-language skills. These students are following vocational education tracks that include interior design, architectural design, business, automotive mechanics, and electronics. Under such highly specialized studies, their technical baccalaureate examinations do not require a strong focus on languages. Only 6 percent of their exam score is based on the English section; therefore, many students can still pass the exam without succeeding in English. With the ever-growing focus on employability and greater access to higher education, language skills can open doors of opportunity. Through a Higher Education for Development (HED) Broader Middle East and North Africa-U.S. Community College Initiative partnership funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Nassau Community College (NCC) in New York and Al-Kafaàt administrators were able to exchange ideas and visit each other’s institutions, which led to the development of new curriculum for an English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
Through the ESL component of the HED-managed partnership, Sarah Owocki, Al-Kafaàt’s new ESL coordinator, and four Lebanese teachers are creating lesson plans with interactive, communicative methods for 350 ITK students. These students will be grouped by their technical focus and skill level to learn to read, speak and write in English four hours a week. “Some current ITK students want to go for Al-Kafaàt University in English but they are not leaving the [high] schools with the skills they needed,” said Owocki. The launch of a more rigorous English program at ITK with new teaching styles and textbooks will offer comprehensive lessons at the high school and vocational technical-level and eventually at the university level.
“Most of the students are already sold on the idea of English. A lot of the students use the Internet in English and watch movies in English. A lot their friends are in [courses] taught in English,” said Owocki. She deemed the students’ previous language exposure and enthusiasm for the pilot program as early signs of success as she worked to translate their eagerness into solid skills strengthening. Rosemary Ortlieb-Padgett, associate dean of International Student Affairs at NCC and the U.S. partnership director was amazed by the existing range of educational services the family-funded Al-Kafaàt Foundation offers to children and adults when she first visited Beirut, Lebanon. Al-Kafaàt can now add the ESL program to the list of offerings because of the new curriculum development.
Padgett credits the collaborative success to joint investments that included an early self-assessment of each campus’ strengths, faculty-to-faculty connections, communication, “willingness and open-mindedness,” and in-person visits. Padgett adds, “A contract is not a relationship. A relationship is built by people talking about things and compromising. That’s what we always did.” External to the long list of anticipated outputs related to the USAID-funded partnership, the partner institutions are planning a study abroad program for Arabic language at Al-Kafaàt and a student exchange program.