Commonwealth Fellowship shares education skills and experience across the Communion

19 June 2015

Through the scheme, facilitated by the Anglican Alliance, Neelam Chughtai, a senior science teacher in Pakistan, Dilanthi Manuel, a college principal in Sri Lanka, and Martin Odidi, a diocesan education secretary in Nigeria, have spent seven weeks learning about the education system in the UK and sharing their own professional experiences.

Part of their time is spent in Church of England primary and secondary schools, so that the education leaders from around the Anglican Communion can share insights and experiences with their colleagues in the UK.

The Church of England Education Office, which runs schools for over 1 million children in England, worked with the Anglican Alliance to set up the school  placements and other professional visits.

The aim of the scheme, according to the Anglican Alliance, is to build capacity in Anglican education and in particular better to equip those running church education services to take on leadership, trainer and mentor roles. 

“I’ve learnt things about leadership, new techniques and new programmes. I’ve developed professional trust and self-confidence – my mind is filled with new information!” says Neelam.

The role of Anglican schools in Pakistan is very important, she comments. All large cities have Anglican schools and the Church also is delivering education in rural areas. The schools welcome pupils from all faith communities.

Neelam plans to talk with the educational board of her school to see about introducing some of the methods she has observed during the fellowship programme. Amongst other innovations, she hopes to improve further the quality of the education provided through changes to timetable and curriculum.

Anglican-affiliated Christian Mission Society (CMS) schools in Sri Lanka occupy a position of leadership in society, Delanthi remarks, welcoming pupils of Christian and other faiths. “We have provision for every faith and tolerance is high.”

This is a long-standing approach, not one developed during crisis, she adds, noting that CMS schools are looked up to for the values they impart.

Delanthi hopes to take her leadership skills to a new level as a result of the programme. “I’ve learned how to train a team to progress, not just for the leader to change but for all the members of a team to become agents of change.”

In his diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, most Anglican schools have been established more recently and do not have a longer-standing tradition such as those in Sri Lanka, says Martin. The recent insecurity also has been a concern to the schools. Now, post-election, however, Martin has high hopes. “I want to foresee the Anglican church schools becoming a major player.”

To that end he’s taking a three-faceted approach back with him from the UK: holding one-on-one conversations with school chairpersons to increase collaboration, making use of literacy and numeracy materials he encountered in the UK for primary-school aged children, and working with his school boards to promote greater inclusion of pupils from across society.

The three fellows have had a varied programme during their stay, with placements in primary and secondary schools balanced with courses on conflict resolution, gender and education, and visits to a range of UK agencies, governmental offices and diocesan education authorities.

For their seconary school placements the Fellows went to their companion links, living with families and joining in wider diocesan activities linked to their context in their home dioceses.

The group also met each week with a mentor to reflect on their experiences. “The sessions with the mentors were crucial,” remarks Delanthi. “We were able to debrief about the experiences of the week, seeing what we had learned and how to apply it in our own contexts, and then start the next week fresh.”

The learning has not only been one-directional.

Delanthi, for instance, introduced the Japanese workplace organisation method “5S” to her placement school colleagues, who were interested in how schools in Sri Lanka had used the system to make better use of limited resources and reduce wasted expenditure.

Neelam proposed a model for behavioural change that integrates three agents of change: teacher, parents and community, rather than working in isolation to address behaviour problems such as teenage smoking.

 All three fellows emphasise the importance of intercultural learning, for example, through linking schools in different countries and having visitors talk about their educational contexts.

“The children learn about schools in other contexts and become aware of their own good fortune and privilege,” reflects Martin. He says some of the children at his placement schools were shocked to learn that parents must pay for schooling in Nigeria and if they can’t afford it, the children can’t get an education. He had the sense that this was an eye-opener for the UK pupils that could lead to them taking their educational opportunities more seriously.

The intercultural make-up of the fellowship scheme was one of its strengths, the fellows conclude.

Being able to compare education systems was invaluable, says Neelam.

“We not only learnt things about the UK education system but we also learnt about Pakistan and Nigeria and even other systems that came up in discussion…in only a month,” agrees Delanthi.

Even dealing with day-to-day tasks and different customs in a foreign country was educational, the three fellows add.

Adjusting to the English weather, wearing different attire, eating strange foods, taking the train, shopping, going places alone, becoming comfortable making eye contact when this is a cultural no-no back home – all contributed to the learning experience and a growing feeling of independence.

“I am going home with new skills and also personal improvement and increased confidence,” affirms Martin.

Nicola Sylvester, Head of School Effectiveness at the Church of England Education Office, arranged the Fellows’ school placements as well as visits to diocesan education boards and to the Church of England Education Office. She met with the Fellows at the beginning and end of their stay.

 “The Fellows’ insights were especially helpful when discussing the time they spent in the schools in their link dioceses,” says Nicola. “Their contribution to the professional exchange was truly inspirational. We learned exactly what each of the placements offered in terms of leadership support for classroom teachers, pupil tracking and assessment and a secure Christian distinctiveness within a multi-cultural/multi-faith context”

 “It was such a privilege to be involved in the Anglican Communion work with this scheme to see the learning and development that takes place is a gift,” Nicola adds.

 Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, valued the time spent with the Fellows, both in mutual professional learning but also on visits to her home.

“It was a great pleasure to have Martin, Dilanthi and Neelam with us at the Anglican Alliance for seven weeks,” says Rachel. “We enjoyed the fellowship, valued hearing about their experiences in their own contexts and their fresh insights on education and life in the UK.”

“We are also very grateful to the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme for this opportunity and also to the Church of England Education Office and all the hosts in schools and other institutions.” 

“We will remain in close touch with the Fellows to learn how this time with the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme has impacted on their work and lives and how we might connect them to other Anglican educators to share their skills more widely,” Rachel adds.


Photo: Dilanthi Manuel, Neelam Chughtai, Martin Odidi, their mentor, Mary Crampsie, and Rachel Carnegie