Werklund instructors train English teachers at Mongolian University

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where what you’d planned for or anticipated, didn’t happen? And you had to quickly pivot away from your intended plans and adapt to a new strategy? Well, that’s exactly where Werklund's Greg Tweedie and Murray Peglar found themselves this past summer in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The team members from the Werklund School of Education’s International Foundations Program (IFP) were on a visit to the Mongolia National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS), where they were helping medical professionals there upgrade their English language skills. Tweedie, IFP’s academic program coordinator, had some experience with the development of a linguistic corpus (a large compendium) of nursing vocabulary during his tenure at the University of Calgary in Qatar. It seemed a natural fit for him and the IFP to lead in assisting doctors, nurses, dentists and traditional healers in advancing their ability to communicate in English, since English is the common language of the medical profession. Tweedie and Peglar, an IFP program instructor, were each in the central Asian nation for three weeks at different times, as part of a joint project with the Cumming School of Medicine. The project focuses on collaboration for medical curricula reform, faculty development and exploration of joint research activities. Pivoting from training instructors teaching medicine to training English-language teachers MNUMS has its own English department though, so while the IFP team was sent to train the instructors teaching medicine, they quickly realized that a more appropriate opportunity would be to work with the academics in the English department. Peglar and Tweedie focused on building the capacity of their Mongolian counterparts to strengthen the English-language skills program overall, so that the Mongolian English instructors could continue to develop their own medical faculty in an ongoing manner. As the ancient proverb goes, 'give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats every day.' “This seemed to be a more effective resource for the instructors in the long term,” says Peglar. “And now, it’s what we hope to build on if the project continues, as we have a wealth of learning from IFP’s new forays into adjunct support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) instruction.” Changes and pace of development in Mongolian capital is breathtaking Both Peglar and Tweedie say they have learned some very valuable lessons about IFP’s initial visits to Mongolia. While some of what they’ve learned is universal, much of it has to do with the country itself. The Mongolian economy has grown by almost 20 per cent for many of the last 10 years, and the changes to the capital city are staggering. “The pace of Mongolia’s development is breathtaking," says Tweedie. “Everywhere in Ulaanbaatar, there are building cranes, traffic jams, branded stores, the sound of jackhammers tearing up streets, and coffee bistros springing up overnight.” Peglar, who last visited Mongolia a decade ago, agrees and says the country has changed dramatically. “The layout of Ulaanbaatar was familiar, but the buildings and infrastructure seem to have popped up at an impossible speed,” he says. “Skyscrapers with LED screens, technology stores, and high-end retail are now all ubiquitous, whereas 10 years ago, it was difficult to find a restaurant.” Opportunity is plenty for education sector with mindful international exchange Tweedie says that Mongolia, and Central Asia as a whole, present enormous opportunities for the education sector. “These Central Asian countries may be off the beaten path of educational programming, but the University of Calgary has a unique opportunity to be on the ground floor of a rapidly developing market," says Tweedie. That said, Peglar cautions that when entering into international education endeavours, the challenge is to not simply transplant a program, but rather to find the place where everyone benefits from the exchange, which can take time. “One of the biggest lessons I learned from our partners in Cumming was that international development takes several attempts before we know enough to be able to help effectively," says Peglar.