Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Workshop on Tuesday: Lo Bianco, A closer look at making and shaping language education policies and practices

In the workshop Lo Bianco guided the participants (which were merry and many!) to take a closer look at what the language education policies and practices actually consist of.

As he had introduced yesterday in his plenary, he suggest that language policies should be seen as done on three different levels:

1. A textual legal-political element, policy makers, conducted with the instruments of law and administration.

2. A discursive argumentative-rhetorical element, citizen-centred, conducted in debate, argument and persuasion;

3. A performance dimension, in the hands (or mouths) of teachers, >> linguistic choices, shaping the communicative fortunes of learners. (What actually is going on?)

In other words, we would get a better understanding of language policy and planning by seeing it as three types of activity.

1. Things that look like a law or regulation (top down)
2. Middle level: Public discourse, which can enforce or undermine the 1
3. Often unnoticed: Performative behaviour – e.g. how teachers make language policy and planning

In the workshop Lo Bianco concentrated on giving examples of the last two: public discourses and performative behaviour. Mainly because especially the third one is often unnoticed , and research tends to focus on the first one especially.

By going through examples from Australia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, the United States we got a good view on how language education policy is done by politicians, media people, educators etc. and one of the main messages were that language policies in education and society come into existence through and the role of teachers and teaching.

Here are some examples (in short) that Lo Bianco gave on what talks, discourses and action that take place around language policy and planning. Even though they are not about legislation or official statements coming ‘from above’, they have a huge effect on how people think about languages, use languages and have access to languages.

AUSTRALIA: Socio-political context: What has happened during each era of prime ministers?
Varying from Australianism, cultural multiculturalism, class multiculturalism, Asia-literacy, Anglo-nationalism etc. in rather short period of time.

National debates in which language questions have featured: Should languagess ‘reflect’ the nation, or help ‘remake’ the nation?, Indigenous affairs (‘closing the gap’, rights, assimilation etc), British connections and American ties (what kind of English), Asian geography and commerce (FL teaching), Multiculturalism (what languages and why)

Five phases of language policy:
Australia has a strong tradition of getting along with multiple languages, eg. invented community interpreting!

SOUTH EAST ASIA: Rejecting English in 1956 Restoring it in 2002
For example Singapore: 1956 Unnatural to Teach in English 2002 Internationally Excellent Education in English

There has been huge changes around English in a rather short period of time!

Following these examples, there were many very, very interesting examples of what kind of a role has English language got in some countries, why and how it has gained a status that is pretty unbelievable for at least me to understand. (Yes, English, great, but is really the road to prosperity and happiness?)

For example, some minority groups in the district are are against their children being taught in the mother tongue and have demanded that their children should be taught in English instead. They think that their children will not get a competitive edge without English…
This is understandable when taken into account how they have seen teaching/the school failing with their children again and again.

[More about English and “very effective language planning around English” later..
“To Be Continued”]

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