The TESOL President’s Blog
TESOL International Association’s 50th year has been one of many ground-breaking events, including our first events in India (April), in Vietnam (August), in Mexico (November), and in Singapore (December), demonstrating our commitment to “Take TESOL to the World.” Of all those “fifty-firsts,” one of the most significant will take place on 26–27 February, at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Khartoum, in Sudan. There, history will be made, as the first Africa TESOL Conference will take place, with the theme of “ELT in Africa: Striving for Excellence and Visibility.”
As the Africa TESOL website points out: “there is lack of research studies as well as other scholarly and practical debates relating to pressing issues and needs of the TESOL community in the African continent.” To address these issues and needs, the conference organizers of the first Africa TESOL Conference hope that the conference will “serve as a stepping stone for providing an intellectual and grassroots platform for scholars and practitioners to share and discuss ideas in order to steer the African ELT wheel into the right direction.”
TESOL International Association will be well represented at the conference, with both plenary speakers being TESOL past presidents: Christine Coombe (2011–2012) and Deena Boraie (2013–2014), and one of the featured speakers being our current (outgoing) past president, Yilin Sun (2014–2015). Therefore, instead of sending any more representatives from the association, we decided instead to do something we are very rarely able to do, which is to support the conference directly, financially, in this case, to pay for the production of the conference bags. We took this unprecedented step partly because of the historic importance of the first Africa TESOL conference, but also because, at that time, no organization had come forward to help cover the costs of the conference, making TESOL the sole sponsor, initially. However, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Khartoum is now a cosponsor. This is also part of an idea that has grown in the last year, which is “Being There, Without Going There,” in which the association has been looking at ways of supporting events such as this one, even when it is not possible to be there in person.
The Association is grateful to Okon Effiong, the liaison officer for Africa TESOL, who worked with us to make the sponsorship arrangements, and who shared with us some of the developments that led to the creation of this new, regional body, the Africa English Language Teachers’ Consortium, to give Africa TESOL its full name. As Dr. Effiong recalls:
Africa TESOL was conceptualised back in Boston [at the] 2010 convention when the current president, Andy Curtis, along with David Nunan and Kathi Bailey, had a plenary on TESOL affiliates worldwide, and that happened to be my first TESOL International convention. At that time, Africa was represented by only four affiliates and that underrepresentation touched a nerve in me. This got me thinking and motivated me to get involved.
The idea of such a regional consortium moved from the personal to the professional through Okon’s 4 years of work on the association’s Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, twice as the chair. Okon, who has been the driving force behind the formation of TESOL Africa, has also been the chair of TESOL’s EFL Interest Section, coeditor of the EFL IS newsletter, Global Neighbors, and the president of Qatar TESOL. From the initial four TESOL affiliates in Africa, the number grew to eight, and there are currently twelve members: Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tunisia, Tanzania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Angola, Togo, Senegal, and South Sudan.
In terms of the more immediate goals of Africa TESOL, Okon said that these are “to come together and identify our common needs, share knowledge and resources and support member countries in raising awareness to the existence of the continental body.” The medium-term goals are, according to Okon, to “advance professionalism in the field of TESOL by sharing best practices with members” and to “host annual conventions in member countries on rotational basis to create a sense of belonging and ownership among affiliates of the regional body.” And for the long-term goals, Okon hopes that Africa TESOL will be able to
Improve the quality of research and teaching in Africa, provide outlets to publish findings from studies conducted in the continent, and raise awareness of the international community to the huge potential inherent in the continent in view of its large population that are seeking knowledge.
There are many challenges facing Africa TESOL, including a shortage of financial, technological and human resources, but, as the Africa TESOL website puts it: “The long awaited regional body that would create a united front for English language practitioners in Africa has finally become a reality.” We wish Africa TESOL all the very best with its first conference, and if you can help Africa TESOL to achieve its goals, please let us know, and we can put you in touch with the members of their steering committee.