Updating an existing training course for digital freelancers by researching and adapting it for a new market
The British Council has been working in Iraq since 1940 and every year they connect with thousands of Iraqi students, teachers, artists, entrepreneurs, academics, and policymakers. The focus of their work is on providing opportunities for young people to become more civically engaged and economically productive.
In 2021, LearnJam worked with the British Council in Palestine to develop an English course for digital freelancers and an accompanying train-the-trainer course in collaboration with Gaza Sky Geeks, a local tech hub offering English classes to technically skilled graduates. Later that year, the British Council approached LearnJam to consider how these courses might also reach and benefit prospective digital freelancers in Iraq.
Years of conflict, sanctions, political and economic instability mean that young Iraqis today face major challenges in both education and employment. Iraq has one of the youngest populations in the world, with nearly half of the population under 19 years old and about a third between 15 and 29 years old, with a youth unemployment rate of approximately 36%. This project arose from a sense that emerging technologies and digital freelancing opportunities, particularly since Covid-19, could go some way towards alleviating the challenge of high youth unemployment in Iraq.
Through this project, we aimed to assess the transferability and adaptability for the Iraqi context of the English for Freelancers course that had proven a success in Palestine. As there are significant differences between the Iraqi and the Palestinian contexts, we knew that the design and implementation of the English for Freelancers courses would need to be quite different. For example, sanctions imposed on Iraq in recent decades had led to stalled progress in education, including English language curricula, methodology and the use of educational technology.
We began this new project with an initial stage of research that focused on the needs of learners, facilitators and trainers for learners in Iraq versus those in Palestine. We wanted to find answers to the following questions:
- What English language and communication skills are Iraqi learners generally lacking to compete in the global freelance market? How do these skills vary across and within cities in Iraq?
- What pedagogical skills and resources could trainers employ in improving the adequacy and effectiveness of their teaching? How can existing or future initiatives and programmes better support the trainers’ needs?
From an employer’s perspective, what knowledge and skills do learners in Iraq need to achieve in each course level if they are to be successful candidates for freelancing jobs? How do these skills compare and contrast with the Palestinian context?
Once these areas had been clarified, we could go on to address the key practical questions for this project:
- What changes needed to be made to the existing English for Freelancers course for both learners and trainers to better meet the needs of the Iraqi context?
- How could the existing English for Freelancers content and delivery be updated and improved for Iraq and yet still be applicable to the Palestinian context?
One major highlight of this project was the delivery of a face-to-face element in the Iraqi version of the English for Freelancers course. This hadn’t been possible in our earlier project in Palestine due to Covid-19 restrictions limiting travel opportunities for trainers to attend in person.
The project’s purpose also aligned very closely with LearnJam’s. We found it very meaningful to work on a course that aims to support learners who are underserved by their national education system (due to ongoing conflict and educational disruption, Iraqi learners in general have few opportunities to study and use English beyond secondary school level). The focus on digital freelancing skills also potentially opens up more employment opportunities for young Iraqis.
Perhaps most significantly, through the initial research phase we gained insights into the Iraqi context which turned out to be critical to the design and implementation of the revised course. If we had only taken the original course from Palestine and tried to apply this directly to the Iraqi context, it wouldn’t have worked. For example, the course in Palestine used a freelancing platform which isn’t accessible in Iraq. The level of English in Iraqi graduates is also generally lower, so they needed a pre-course language test, which wasn’t part of the Palestinian course. Similarly, the Iraq course also needed some baseline introductory content about digital freelancing, whereas there was already generally higher awareness in Palestine of what this was.
The first cohort of learners has now completed the course across Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul and we look forward to hearing how their English freelancing journey continues.
- From our evaluation of the existing Palestinian course content and delivery, plus our research into the needs of learners and trainers in Iraq, we succeeded in creating one updated version of all content that’s now live in the EdApp platform for everyone to use.
- The blended “train-the-trainer” course is now tailored to the needs of trainers in Iraq and in Palestine. As part of that process, we’ve gained valuable experience in how to do the same if one day the English for Freelancers course is adapted to further new contexts.
- As part of the Iraq course updates, more support was made available in the form of explanatory documents to any tech hub partners working on this course. By developing this additional support, the ultimate result was better support for all tech hubs, wherever they are located.