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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 20:00 GMT
Respecting sensitivities abroad
Gillian Gibbons
The foreign secretary said Gillian Gibbons made an innocent mistake
British teacher Gillian Gibbons - jailed for insulting Islam after allowing pupils in her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad - has been described as making an "innocent mistake".

Her plight raises the question of what kind of training and preparation is available to anyone wanting to teach abroad.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language or TEFL courses are some of the most popular, and a simple internet search will throw up a plethora of providers.

The British Council has teaching centres in 48 countries around the world including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Egypt.

Head of teacher recruitment Janet Tufnell says: "We tell our teachers to respect the culture of the country."

DOS AND DON'TS ABROAD
Do respect the culture
Do be aware of classroom etiquette
Don't forget your research

"Managers would brief new teachers about the cultural context and any areas that we wouldn't go into in the classroom - for instance religion and politics or a picture of a man and woman together may not be acceptable in some countries", she added.

VSO is an international development charity which looks for skilled people to volunteer abroad.

The charity has sent over 33,000 volunteers to developing countries - including Islamic nations - since 1958.

It provides a four-week training programme to anyone posted abroad.

The training covers cultural awareness - obvious visible differences and subtle ones as well. VSO also encourages recruits to do their own research about the country to which they are travelling.

Spokeswoman Neera Dhingra said, "cultural sensitivity is important in anyone considering working in another country and all our volunteers are briefed on the country they will be working in, including cultural norms."

Find out about educational parameters, find out about etiquette and gestures
Jenny Johnson
Head of Cactus TEFL

Cactus TEFL, part of Cactus, a language training company, provides a database of hundreds of courses around the world.

Its head Jenny Johnson said: "We advise people to talk to embassies and ministries of education, find out about educational parameters, find out about etiquette and gestures."

Ms Johnson believes the preparation of teachers going to work abroad must be taken on by the industry. "Teachers need a lot of advice about what to expect," she said.

SEE ALSO
Pupil defends Sudan row teacher
28 Nov 07 |  Africa
What can't be named Muhammad?
28 Nov 07 |  Magazine

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