Since its humble beginnings in 1948, the British Council in Bahrain has built a remarkable reputation for connecting generations of people with learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK, as well as helping to foster cultural relations between the two countries. Through programmes and events in the areas of education, English, arts and society, it has changed the lives of thousands of students, helping them to learn English, study in the UK, showcase their talents and improve their skills.
“The single-sentence summary of our organisation is that we’re here to build friendly knowledge and understanding,” says Richard. “Our main focus where we do that here in Bahrain is in the education sector, whether it’s working with the Ministry of Education on teacher development or helping to facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between UK and Bahraini higher education institutions.”
New at the helm in Bahrain, Richard was previously director of the British Council in Barcelona for three and a half years. Having also lived and worked in Riyadh, he had a good sense of what to expect before arriving. “I’ve always had a very positive impression of Bahrain and it’s one of my favourite countries to visit in the Gulf region,” he says.
As a world leader in teaching English, the British Council works directly with the public, offering English courses at its teaching centres, as well as online. “We have a very successful English language teaching operation here, particularly for young learners,” Richard says. With a broad and diverse staff of 75, 39 of whom are Bahraini, the British Council takes an in-house approach to language teaching. “When we talk to parents and students and ask them why they come here, what everybody really wants is to be able to use the language. Sometimes in schools it can be taught as a slightly more academic subject with lots of meaty grammar,” explains Richard. “We try to avoid that. Our focus is much more on can you actually use this grammar?”
The British Council also strives to contribute to the development of Bahraini society. With the Kingdom identifying in its Vision 2030 that it aims to move towards being a Knowledge Economy, the British Council has been working with schools to develop the skills of young people in subjects such as science, technology and engineering through various workshops run by British experts. Richard hails the success of such efforts that have given young learners the chance to connect and access a wider global world. “This is the kind of story that we want, where we can open a sort of cultural window and inspire people in directions that will ultimately benefit the country.”
Its work in society also extends to empowering those who are often marginalised, such as its residency art programme ‘Art- Abled’ for young people with disabilities. Now in its fourth year, the project has been a huge success. “It’s a really positive story because it’s a great opportunity for individual development for those children with disabilities. Our programme helps them explore their talents by providing art therapy training.”
When speaking about his ambitions for his tenure, Richard says he would like to see the British Council teach more young children. “I think parents are sometimes reluctant to send their kids to do extra English, thinking they’ll be exhausted,” he says. “But one of the things that I’m most proud of is that we’re able to strike that balance between something that’s fun and motivating for the children, but which is also genuinely useful in improving their language skills.”
Being a teacher himself, Richard is clearly passionate about his profession and the value of teachers as role models. And although slightly beyond what he admits he’s able to achieve, he adds, “If I was able to wave a magic wand and change things, one of the things I would ask for is that being a teacher is universally seen as being an inspiring, positive leader for the next generation of young people and the kind of job that everyone should want to have.”
Watch out for exhibitions, public events and competitions coming up on www.britishcouncil. bh/en.