The Pax Populi English Tutoring (PET) program, is the first initiative out of “Pax Labs.” In a word, for the last academic year, we have been working with tutors in the United States and Korea to help students in Afghanistan to learn English via Skype.
BackgroundIn late 2009 we at Pax Populi began developing a plan to reach out to people in Afghanistan by offering tutoring services via Skype. It took several months to identify the best organizations with which to work and to make the needed arrangements in the United States and Afghanistan, but by September 2010 we were able to launch the Pax Populi English Tutoring program (PET) on a pilot project basis. Pax Populiâ€™s initial partners were Bentley Universityâ€™s Service-Learning Center based in Waltham, MA and the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Bentleyâ€™s Service-Learning Center gives qualified Bentley students one college credit for approved community service programs done in connection with other courses. In the case of PET, the community served consisted in students in Afghanistan, something unprecedented for the Service Learning Center. Pax Populiâ€™s other partner in this has been SOLA. SOLA is a remarkable school headed by the extraordinary man, Ted Achilles, who in April 2011 was the recipient of the Pax Populi Peacemaker Award (See http://bit.ly/kGSlwq). Many SOLA students hope to study abroad, usually in the United States. They are serious students and strongly motivated to advance their language skills.
In addition to these two organizations, another crucial element in establishing the program was bringing on Mr. Jeffrey Jorge as the PET program coordinator. Jeff is a University of Pennsylvania graduate and a highly skilled English as a Second Language (ESL) based in Seoul, South Korea. As anyone familiar with South Korea can attest, this country is probably one of the best and most demanding places to be an ESL teacher due to the intense thirst for education among Koreans as well as a nationwide zeal to learn English. Jeffâ€™s experience as an ESL teacher has been a great asset to the programâ€™s development.
We launched the PET program in September 2010 with five Bentley students and Jeff Jorge serving not only as the coordinator, but as a tutor as well. Given the difference in time zones, it was a little tricky getting the logistics right. In most cases, Bentley students would hold their tutoring sessions between 10:30 PM and 9:00 AM. Tutors typically hold one-on-one tutoring sessions that last one to two hours each. The Afghan students are given reading and/or writing assignments prior to the session and then spend their session communicating with each other online. If the internet connections are good, the sessions will be conducted with Skype video calls. If the connections are poor, the session will use audio only, and in some cases, when internet connections are particularly poor, the sessions will be conducted using instant-messaging or email. In most cases, the tutors and students are matched by gender. Our tutors reported seeing significant progress in their students over the course of a semester.
Is This Peacemaking?
PET is certainly a form of peacemaking because not only Americans helping Afghans to advance their education, which is crucial for helping Afghanistan to grow and stabilize itself, both tutors and students are learning about each other culture and developing an authentic understanding about each other and heartfelt concern for the other. PET is helping to forge bridges of understanding and friendship where before the was much ignorance and suspicion.
Making progressDuring the first two semesters (from September 2010 to May 2011) the program grew in size and quality: For the first semester we had five Bentley students as well as two based in Korea and one in California. In the second semester we had eight Bentley tutors as well as a ninth who served as a project coordinator, five ESL teachers based in South Korea (including the program coordinator) and one tutor based in California.
We also made progress in advancing the curriculum and our delivery methods. Some of the technologies we employed include the following:
â€¢ Wikispaces wiki to post common information for participants, including a feedback form
â€¢ Tumblr.com blog for lesson plans;
â€¢ Google docs to create an online feedback form that could be automatically compiled and analyzed.
â€¢ PDF electronic documents that both tutors and students could refer to in real time;
â€¢ Instant messaging and email
Not only were these tools available online for all the participants to use, but they were all available for free or for minimal costs. This allowed us to deliver our services without major costs to the parent organization, Applied Ethics, Inc.
The feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive from both the American tutors and their Afghan students. Not only have the Afghans praised their tutors for all they learned, but several of the tutors said they got more out of the experience than they could ever give as a teacher. Several said that had formed friendships that they expected would continue into the future.
No longer a Pilot Project, but Still in Pax Labs
We learned a lot during the nine-month pilot program. We are now ready to share this news with the public and remove the â€œpilot projectâ€ designator, although we still consider the program to be in â€œbetaâ€ and a Pax Labs project. We will continue working on developing PET in many ways.
We want to take this opportunity to thank the Bentley University the Service-Learning Center and the School of Leadership, Afghanistan for supporting us during the first year of this pilot project. Thanks to their participation, we have made considerable progress. We look forward to continuing to advance this work in the months and years ahead.
For more information on this, please see the following link for an article that appeared in Bostinnovation.com: http://bit.ly/if4kWq. Be sure to take a look at the video that appears at the end.