On the Road with Gary in… Russia

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I was back in Russia last month, traveling from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, and to two cities I hadn’t visited before: Perm and Volgograd. Though Ekaterinburg is a booming city, unfortunately it’s still known best internationally for being the place where Tsar Nicolas II was assassinated, along with other members of the Romanov family — except perhaps not Anastasia, right? Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) had an impressive Motherland Calls statue — as big as the Statue of Liberty! — commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.

I was there mainly to give two different workshops related to the ‘Cambridge for Schools’ programme. I spoke first about materials such as Kid’s Box and the Fun for… and Storyfun series. These materials prepare pupils for Cambridge English: Young Learners (YLE) Starters, Movers and Flyers Tests, for which every child receives a certificate rewarding his or her individual ability. They get one to five University of Cambridge shields for each part of the test depending on how well they do in each language skill.

I also spoke about the Complete, Objective, Trainer and new Compact series, which prepare school-aged children or young adults and adults for either the main suite Cambridge English exams or for Cambridge Key, Preliminary, and First ‘for Schools’ exams from CEFR A2 to B2.

Because yes, now there’s a choice. What’s the difference? Not much, really. The ‘for Schools’ exams follow exactly the same format as their main suite equivalents with the same task types, testing focus and level of questions. And they lead to exactly the same internationally recognised Cambridge certificate. But — and doesn’t it of course make sense!? — the materials and exams reflect the interests and experiences of school-aged children and are based on familiar topics and situations to give learners and candidates confidence and motivation to use their English in everyday, familiar-to-them situations.

Imagine, for example, a 10 or 14 year-old being required to write or speak about what would be their ideal job? First of all, they may never have thought about it. Secondly, they also might not have or be interested in having the necessary lexis (i.e. salary, benefits, perks, health-care insurance, etc.). But if they were asked to write or speak about, say, their ideal birthday party or birthday gift, then of course they could.

It reminds me of the controversy in the US several years (decades?) ago when standardized IQ tests were questioned as being biased and unfair. They were criticized for not being culturally sensitive to the different backgrounds and experiences of especially minority children because they contained cultural references that reduced their validity. Well, with ‘Cambridge for Schools’ exams and materials that won’t happen!

Don’t you think that materials and exams should reflect the age level and interests of the learners and candidates? I’m looking forward to seeing your votes in the above poll and to reading and replying to any comments or information you send about ‘Cambridge for Schools’ developments in your country.

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