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TESOL Transformed; From Job to Career?
by Neal McBeath
- 3

Now – 21st Century

What is noticeable about the scenario I have outlined is its anglocentricity.

The students came to Britain. Large numbers of students still come to Britain, but in the last 35 years we have seen what The World Bank (2002) calls the “massification” of English teaching. In the 1970s, only the wealthy could afford to send their children on English courses overseas. This option is still only open to the wealthy, although in Britain it has allowed the private language school sector to flourish.

Elsewhere, however, the policy of teaching English to children from every social level in society has expanded beyond anything that could have been expected. In the Arab World, Kharma and Hajjaj (1989; 2) were once able to report that “There is very little motivation for learning the language…The attitude to English as a Foreign Language is…that it is a ‘school subject’ rather than a means of communication.”

Times have changed. Troudi (2009) and Habbash (2009) recently questioned the justification for using English as a language of instruction in Arab Gulf tertiary education, but this was a surprise development. The use of English as a medium of instruction had never appeared to be controversial.

Writing from the perspective of Saudi Arabia, Habbash (2009) offers a rather garbled argument that “increased reliance on English in the absence of empirical research will not best serve the future of Saudi English learners nor will it safeguard their Islamic values and cultural heritage”(pp. 96-97). On both counts, however, he would seem to be fighting a rearguard action.

In September 2004, English was introduced in Grade 6 of Saudi Arabian schools. This was a direct result of pressure from Saudi parents, who had seen that English was being taught in Primary Schools in other AGCC countries, and who were concerned that their own children should not be disadvantaged.

The decision to introduce English in Grade 6, however, was itself a compromise. The Saudi Ministry of Education had originally planned to introduce English in Grade 4.The religious authorities then mounted a concerted campaign to block this, claiming that Saudi tradition, Arab Culture and Islamic teachings would all be undermined.

In fact, research by Al Haq and Smadi (1996) had earlier concluded that in Saudi Arabia “learning English is neither an indication of westernization nor entails an imitation or admiration of Western cultural values.” The reliability of their findings, of course, is proved by the fact that the Saudi elite have always used private schools where their children are taught English. Such evidence, however, was not sufficient for the Saudi religious authorities, although Habbash appears to indicate that Saudi parents have not given up, referring to “a trend to lower the level of compulsory English to start at Grade 4 as well as to teach scientific subjects through the medium of English.” (Habbash, 2009; 96).

Elsewhere, as in central Europe, “knowledge of English has become a basic skill, comparable with the ability to drive a car or use a computer.”(The Economist 2004; 33). This is a deeply significant claim, because in central Europe, the last twenty years have seen the transformation of political attitudes to English. This is probably best summed up by Prendergast (2008; 2) when she indicates that in Slovakia, English “made the leap from lingua non grata to lingua franca.” Beyond Europe, of course, changing patterns of student migration began some ten years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Iranians stopped coming to Britain immediately after the Revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The Malaysian stopped coming at about the same time. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and almost immediately the fees charged to overseas students were raised. This was done on the completely unresearched grounds that British education was so good that it could charge what it liked.

It was a policy that backfired. I would suggest that it actually gave impetus to the expansion of tertiary education in the Arab Gulf, and Malaysia began to send its students to Australia.

This had two very different effects. Firstly, in economic terms, Australia benefited more than Britain when the “tiger economies” of South east Asia began to roar. Secondly, the Malaysians were exposed to a different variety of English, codified in the Macquarie Dictionary (1981).

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