Welcome to the English as a School Subject Project!

Welcome to the English as a School Subject Project!

As the globally accepted language for inter-community communication, English as a school subject is prioritised in many countries across the globe and is considered to be a key 21st century skill. However, while there is an increasing desire for primary schools to teach English as part of the local curriculum, providing effective teaching in the 21st century is a major challenge for state primary schools, even when they are not affected by a major global pandemic.

In many countries that are designated as needing official development assistance (ODA) by the OECD, there are increasing calls to ensure that English language teaching is locally relevant and contextually appropriate. More and more children, including the youngest pupils, are being taught additional languages, with English being the most prominent. It is not unusual for children in state primary schools globally to be taught English from Year 1 (5/6 years old), although more commonly, children begin to learn from 7/8 years old (Year 3).
While many believe that it is better not to offer English at primary level than to teach it badly, the reality is that English teaching continues in many difficult contexts in an attempt to prepare children to be able to participate in the global 21st century community. Although it is expected that teachers of English in primary schools should be proficient in English and should have a good working knowledge of the language, in many parts of the world, this expectation is unrealistic. Teachers need specific guidance to reach adequately acceptable levels of instruction with limited language proficiency. In resource-poor contexts, teachers who are tasked with delivering early English language learning also typically lack skills in pedagogy, making it very difficult for them to meet these expectations.

This has created what might be called a ‘wicked’ problem, which, to date, has hardly been addressed: how can English learning be successful in contexts where it is (unwittingly) set up to fail?

A common attitude is to ignore the problem or to assume that nothing can be done to improve the situation of these teachers and their students. Our project takes the opposite view. Over the years, we have been encouraged by teachers who teach English with enthusiasm, creativity, and effect, with very little training and few resources.

In addition, there is little recognition of the successful pedagogies used by teachers teaching English as a school subject in difficult circumstances. It has been suggested that English language teaching as a profession could learn a good deal from the pedagogical expertise of teachers in these contexts. Examples of such approaches include teachers sharing their own language learning stories and positioning learning English as a skill over which learners have some control, approaches which demonstrate teachers drawing on their own funds of knowledge to motivate and inspire learners. In addition, highlighting the benefits of adopting a translanguaging approach to teaching English will help to inform good practice. Acknowledging and celebrating the innovative ways in which these teachers overcome the difficulties of performing ELT to develop culturally relevant and effective pedagogies is one way in which a decolonizing approach can be promoted.

This collaborative project, funded by the British Council, is working with teachers and children to explore local classroom practices and to understand how effective teaching is locally constructed by teachers and children and the affordances such practices bring to teaching English as a school subject. We are working with teachers in Mexico, Malawi, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan to gather evidence of ‘what works’ in English language teaching in resource poor contexts. The research team are working closely with teachers and children to co-produce the research data and findings and working in innovative ways to collaborate across contexts to share good practice, in both the teaching practices and the research processes, particularly in involving children.

Ultimately, in addition to research reports and publications, the findings will be disseminated as professional outputs. From the video-recorded classroom data, short, dynamic videos of teachers’ classroom practices will be professionally edited and made widely available to teachers globally. We will also develop a teacher education training module, based on classroom videos and interviews, for pre-service teacher education. This will be piloted by partners in the project, disseminated widely and made freely available through the British Council.

We invite you to join us as our research project continues – feel free to follow our blog or on Twitter as we update our progress with the research.