The British Council Award for the Effective Transfer of English Language Skills
This award, open to not-for-profit organisations worldwide, is given for the effective transfer of English-language skills and knowledge which directly contribute to sustainable development.
The Winner: The EuroEd Foundation
Anca Colibaba, director of EuroEd which annually teaches English to 1,000 Romanians, works 52-55 hours a week. Up to 40 hours is for EuroEd, the rest is university teaching. "I feel physically tired sometimes," she says, "but I find my work very rewarding and I feel responsible towards everybody who works here or is a client of our services."
About half EuroEd's staff have one or even two other jobs, generally in state schools. "People need to work a lot in our part of the world to make ends meet," Dr Colibaba remarks.
Two jobs mean overwork and other disadvantages, but advantages, too, apart from EuroEd's relatively generous pay. Many teachers find it an oasis of student-centred learning, providing encouragement and meeting needs which still rigid and formalised state schools cannot meet. A EuroEd student commented: "This course made me feel important and valued as a human being."
EuroEd is based in Iasi, a city of 450,000 people near Romania's north-east border. Once the capital, it is the home of the oldest Romanian university and the centre of an impoverished farming region where unemployment is high, foreign investment low, and learning English is an avenue of hope.
There are EuroEd offshoots in two very poor neighbouring towns, Barlad and Falticeni,. Dr Colibaba writes: "We identified local teachers akin in spirit with our vision and together we have built a tradition of high quality language courses offered at low prices with a scholarship system for needy students. The Barlad branch of EuroEd has one of the highest rates of success in the Cambridge examinations."
Even in Communist times, English was the language which Romanians wanted to learn. It carried the promise of western democracy and standards of living. Despite this subversive sub-text, decision-makers (whose children wanted to learn English) began to promote it if only to empower the working class to fight imperialism. Nevertheless, when the Communist regime fell, Romania had only half as many teachers of English as of Russian. It was difficult to get your child into an English class.
In 1991/2 a training event backed by the Romanian government, the British Council and the Soros Foundation for an Open Society led three teachers to propose what was first called International House. It was one of the first private educational enterprises in Eastern Europe. It was to be open to experiment and change and contribute to the reform of civic society. About 20 teachers, mainly women, joined in.
Dr Colibaba recalls that, for the first three years, it was such hard going it seemed almost hopeless. They lacked money, premises, equipment, local-authority support. However, they recruited adolescent learners including some from orphanages. The British Council and the Soros Foundation came in with cash and expertise; and, in 1995, enthusiastic teachers, trained at home and abroad, taught English to 500 students.
The EuroEd Foundation now has a comfortable, well-equipped, five-storey building - open from 8am to 8pm - where, besides language courses, it runs an English-medium school and a kindergarten. Seven in ten of its English students are business and professional people and state employees paying course fees in full. Half the rest have low incomes and often qualify for reduced fees. Most of the other half are handicapped, unemployed or children from institutions. They pay nothing. Dr Colibaba says that teachers from villages find the course fees - typically ten dollars for six days - within their means.
Former students now work for Microsoft and other multinationals. Cezar Vrinceanu, who won a scholarship to a Swedish university, turned down attractive job offers to return to work for EuroEd. It is, he says, an ideal working place for people who want to change our world through education.
EuroEd has spread out beyond English teaching, applying its student-centred approach to Romanian and other studies including librarianship, public administration, even Japanese. It has spread out far beyond Romania. In 1995 it was asked to train 115 English teachers in Moldova, whose border is only ten miles from Iasi. Dr Colibaba recalls: "I remember the difficulties we encountered - cold schools, electricity cuts, no teaching materials. But these were all forgotten when the enthusiasm, the gratitude of trainee-teachers and their outstanding results followed."
Some of the trainees wrote the first English coursebooks produced in Moldova after the fall of the Iron Curtain. EuroEd went on to train teachers from 37 Moldovan schools in applying EuroEd techniques to a range of subjects and to school management. Then it won contracts to send trainers to Serbia, Central Asia and as far as Thailand.
Last year, EuroEd set up a Centre for European Integration, to focus on, among other things, disadvantaged communities, human rights, inter-ethnic relationships. With help from the European Union, it also set up the Regional Centre for Education and Communication, to train managers and teachers.
The Judges say
The foundation's commitment to high quality educational standards and the achievement of EC requirements for European integration are central to its success. We were impressed by the way EuroEd has met the challenges of a transitional post-communist environment and has quickly expanded its teaching and language centre building projects. The foundation presents an inspiring model to Romanians, showing how they can achieve the highest standards in management and services, and helping to enhance Romania's self-confidence as a European nation. The fact that it has expanded its programmes to include work in many other emerging countries is testament to the sustainability of its operations and to the widespread contribution it is making to improve management and education practices. We particularly commend the commitment of 15% of the foundation's teaching to the disadvantaged, and important feature of its policies. It is a great pleasure to celebrate EuroEd as the first Eastern European country to receive one of the Worldaware Business Awards.