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English, What Next? Perspectives;
Approaches; Attitudes
by Neil McBeath
- 3

Unfortunately, a very, very small group of enthusiasts for CLIL, based almost entirely in small countries in Western Europe, have reinforced each other's claims by publishing cross-referential papers. I referred to this in 2009, pointing out that Smit and Dalton Puffer (2007b) cited papers from Dalton-Puffer and Nikula (2007), while both cited papers from two "core collections" - Dalton-Puffer and Smit (2007a); Marsh and Wolff (2007). At TESOL Arabia in 2009, I took issue with a book by Marsh; Mehisto and Frigols (2008) but what I had not realized was that Marsh was at the same TESOL Arabia Conference, presenting both a plenary (Marsh 2009a) and a workshop (Marsh 2009b) and within two weeks he would be at the IATEFL Conference in Cardiff, speaking in The 2009 CLIL Debate (Marsh 2009c). And who was on the panel with him? Graddol and Mehisto. You see what I mean about a very, very small group of enthusiasts?

Graddol also places great emphasis on the growth of English for Young Learners (EYL), pointing out that the age at which children begin to learn English has been steadily deceasing. He is on firmer ground here, for there has been an exponential growth in EYL since the 1970s. In those days, remember, the forerunner of CELTA and DELTA was the Royal Society of Arts Certificate in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language to ADULTS (my emphasis). Children did not get a look in.

Things have moved forward since then, and while critics like Phillipson (1992; 2003; 2006a; 2006b; 2008a; 2008b) may ascribe this to the black hand of linguistic imperialism, even Graddol admits that it is "driven primarily by parental and governmental demand" (P. 112).

Parents around the globe have an inchoate belief in what Mantero and Backer (2011) describe as "the advantages of learning a dominant language", and in many countries, language policy is partly dictated by the demands of the electorate. In 1944, when the British government passed the Butler Education Act, it was still possible to divide children at the age of eleven, stating openly that only a small minority were intelligent enough to merit a special curriculum and enhanced facilities. Very few governments would dare to be so blunt today.

As a result, governments frequently claim to have given universal access to language learning, even when there is evidence that this is not the case. Graddol offers a map from 2002 (P. 88) which suggests that English is taught in 80% of the primary schools in Austria, Norway and Spain, although it is available to no more than 20% of the same cohort in Belgium, and in Germany – which is, of course, far larger than all the other four countries combined.

The Times of India (16/1/2010), moreover, reports that, nationwide, only 23.5% of children in class 1 could "read capital letters", although in the state of Kerala, 85% could do so. Strangely, "in class V the all-India average of students who can read sentences is 25.7 per cent, by class VIII it goes up to 60.2 per cent." The paper draws no conclusion from these figures, but the discrepancy might result from a number of factors. Firstly, the weaker students might drop out. Secondly, poorer students might be forced out of school to earn a living as illegal child workers. Thirdly, the syllabus might be more engaging at the secondary level, and finally, secondary school teachers might be of a higher caliber than those in primary school.

On that last point, I offer as evidence the following e-mail, which was sent to the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group only last month, 4th February 2011:-

"I am an educator working in India and at the moment I am traveling inside the eastern most tip of India, Nagaland. I have been touring this place for the past 5 years where insurgency and extortion is almost a way of life. Though I have been trying to bring in values of tolerance and academic exchanges here, every visit leaves me stunned as to just how much needs to be done. At one of the training sessions many of the teachers actually practiced the opening lines of Hard Times. They wanted one simple factual answer, set tasks like that and expected only ONE correct answer. When I gave handouts which were open-ended and had tasks which generated exchanges they were shocked! They said this is so confusing. You haven't set the tasks properly! I decided to show them a clip from The Dead Poets' Society later on and have a discussion with them on teaching methods. Gradually these teachers began opening up, but I realize that they are going to practice the same methods of drilling in facts when they get back! The teachers blame lack of school management support, the management blames the parents and thus it goes on."

This is a grim picture, but it is no worse than Hu's (2008) account of the differentials that apply between schools in China. This study of four different schools found that while two had permanent English teaching staff and extra-curricula activities, one other school had only two temporary teachers of English, and the last had no teachers at all. Nor did the head teacher have any plans to implement what was official government policy, and this is deeply significant in a country where, as McGregor (2010) explains, the Communist Party still controls every aspect of public life.

Hu describes the fourth school as a "village school", and despite the glitz of Shanghai's skyscrapers, the majority of the Chinese population still lives in villages. Graddol, I feel, places far too much emphasis on the challenge that Chinese poses to the dominance of English, primarily because he measures language importance in terms of numbers of speakers. Graddol, however, is a linguist. He is not an economist or a political thinker.

A counter argument to Graddol could come from Gladwell (2008) and Hartford (2006). Gladwell suggests that dynamic transformations are frequently the result of particular types of circumstances. In the case of China, these circumstances aligned after the death of Mao Zedong. The Party leaders who succeeded him had endured the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) which had literally reduced the rural population to starvation and, in some instances, cannibalism (Dikotter 2010). That trauma was followed by The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) which convulsed the cities and halted industrial production.

After the fall of the ultra-Maoist Gang of Four, the urban youth who had been exiled to the country to learn from the peasants returned to the cities, but they came with a different attitude. "Most city youths, young or old, developed a strong contempt for the peasants after they had settled down among them. Mao, of course, had expected the opposite reaction" (Jung Chang 2004; 512). The city youths were the first entrepreneurs; the innovators who began the economic transformation of China into a booming, Communist Party regulated, economy.

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