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September 1995 - Issue No. #20 (p.11)


by Steve Flinders

The UK-based International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) established a Global Issues SIG in April 1994. This article introduces the SIG and its aims.

"But what can I do?" Environmental deterioration, human rights abuse, development policy failure, war: we all ask the question and we are all, in some sense, frustrated by the poverty of the answers that we are provided with.

Well, now there is one thing you can do and that is to join the new IATEFL SIG - the Global Issues Special Interest Group which, thanks largely to the efforts of Alan Maley, officially came into existence at the IATEFL conference in York in April. It's true that joining another SIG will not solve the world's problems overnight but in time we feel optimistic that this could have an important impact on our work and on our relationship to the major problems which confront us all.

For this SIG is potentially different to many of the others: indeed, Special Interest Group is really a misnomer. Phonology, video and management are truly special interests. The global issues of peace, the environment, human rights and development and the concern to develop educational programmes which address these issues can be of relevance and interest to anyone involved in EFL teaching, teacher training, administration or administration or materials development. The Japan Association for Language Teachers (JALT) formed a Global Issues SIG in 1991. It is now one of their largest.

The short meeting in York which gave birth to IATEFL's GI-SIG was not short on ideas. Some people said that the conference and by implication IATEFL was too Eurocentric: there's one issue for debate. One suggested that IATEFL could help channel books from the developed to the developing world with IATEFL representatives in different countries clarifying what materials were really needed and the GI-SIG organizing a charitable collection during the annual conference to pay for the freight charges. The SIG could also build up a database of information about materials relevant to global issues and could help teachers and learners get in touch with organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace for information about their campaigns. As Veronica Focseneanu of Romania wrote about Global Issues in a recent IATEFL newsletter: "We are first interested in teaching language as a vehicle of communication. Yet what we communicate is as important if not even more."

You may be right to think that the raison d'etre of the new SIG is as yet not altogether clear. The JALT SIG has its own statement of aims which our committee will look at before drafting a statement for discussion at the first GI-SIG meeting in October. For now, if you're interested in reading more about the background to the SIG, read Alan Maley's call to action in the Nov'94 IATEFL Newsletter.

On the practical side, a small number of individuals have agreed to steer the SIG through its first year until the IATEFL'96 conference at Keele. There are plans for two newsletters this year so please contact the IATEFL GI-SIG if you have a contribution to make. The first SIG event will be a Global Issues SIG Day in York Saturday 14 October, 2995. Margot Brown of the Centre for Global Education at the University College of Ripon & York has kindly agreed to help.

The first SIG newsletter will contain a complete list of members to date. To join, contact the IATEFL GI-SIG web page with your name, address and telephone number. Even if your name is already on our list, please write Simon about your interests within the Global Issues umbrella. You'll have the chance tojoin the SIG formally when you renew.

The EFL profession is a rich global network of cultural and educational expertise. There are all kinds of ways in which it can inform and act in order to try and avert some of the dangers confronting the human race and the planet. If you feel there is any validity in this idea, please offer your support to IATEFL's newest Special Interest Group.


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