What Are We Learning About Learning English at ALA – and Why Does It Matter?

August 31st, 2018

Margaret Meagher, ALA's Vice President of Partnerships and Impact, outlines the significance of the Academy's English for Excellence program – and the positive results of the program, reflected in a recent case study.

'On average, 40% of students in each ALA cohort are non-Anglophone students, and a subset of 7-10% of each cohort require intensive English programming to improve their skills.'

We are thrilled to be welcoming our eleventh cohort of students enrolling at African Leadership Academy (ALA) this month. They will join the members of the tenth class who are launching into their final year on campus, and follow in the footsteps of the 800+ young leaders before them who have graduated from ALA and already moved on to the next phases of their leadership and life journey. Like all of the cohorts before them, the ALA Entry Class of 2018 will exemplify the rich diversity of Africa. Within this newly-arriving group of around 120 young people, we will find exceptional young men and young women from dozens of African countries.

ALA students participate in a rigorous two-year residential Diploma program where they learn the foundations of entrepreneurial leadership. To do this, they develop a purpose and vision for their leadership path and pursue opportunities to implement this vision that is focused on developing solutions to problems in their communities.

Why does the question of language matter? It is imperative for ALA to identify high-potential, socially-committed youth from all walks of life across the Continent in order to achieve its pan-African mission. This includes diversity across socioeconomic, gender, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic categories. ALA is committed to ensuring that these diverse differences, including language, are assets and not barriers for participation in our program. Yet it is not feasible to deliver our program in multiple languages – English is the primary medium of instruction at ALA and is the global lingua franca against a backdrop of linguistic diversity in Africa. On average, 40% of students in each ALA cohort are non-Anglophone students, and a subset of 7-10% of each cohort require intensive English programming to improve their skills.

Over our first decade ALA has experimented with various approaches to improving English proficiency skills to try to find the right ‘fit’ for our needs. The unique nature of our program has required us to evolve our program design over time, as we try to find the most effective approach to ensuring English proficiency is one tool amongst many for our students to leverage on their entrepreneurial leadership and life journey, rather than an end goal in and of itself.

Our current program, which we call English for Excellence (E4E), was founded in 2015 by Jake Galloway; it uses a project-based learning approach and runs in parallel with core courses and electives.

Jake Galloway in an E4E class

With three cohorts of students experiencing the E4E program approach, we paused to conduct a case study (available to download and read below) to analyse the history of English instruction at ALA, and take a more detailed look at the current program. Results of the study reveal great gains as a result of E4E among participants, including correlations between participation in the E4E program and improvements in student confidence, articulation, leadership skills, ownership of the learning process, academic performance, and opportunities within and beyond ALA.

Indeed, results to date indicate that ALA’s English language learners and E4E students transition to and through comparable universities at rates indistinguishable from their Anglophone counterparts, suggesting that while students enter ALA with a broad range of English language skills, they leave the program on equal footing.

While we recognise that there is always room for additional research, improvement and learning, individual examples of our E4E students’ English gains were a compelling highlight in recent ALA graduation theses.

Our recent case study also suggests that ALA’s E4E program is a successful model in a developing-world context, and that a similarly structured and comprehensive approach to learning languages could be applied in similar contexts with finite resources – timely learning as we advance plans for the Anzisha Education Accelerator.



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This is an article from the ALA Journey Journal – the blog that tracks our 50 year journey to develop 6000 leaders. Visit the Journal here.


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