[lg policy] Latest research into English language learning in India and China (fwd)

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Tue Jun 2 19:41:25 UTC 2009

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 22 May 2009 15:26:18 -0400
From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: [lg policy] Latest research into English language learning in India and

Friday May 22nd 2009

The British Council's invitation to Max de Lotbinière, editor of the
Guardian Weekly's Learning English section, to hear its latest
research into English language learning in India and China was a
double edged offer – he had to decide between two global powerhouses
of English Language Teaching

Friday May 22nd 2009

Delegates drawn from across the UK ELT sector were invited to the
British Council's central London headquarters yesterday to learn how
English language learning and teaching are developing in India and
China. The only problem was that new research from each country was
delivered simultaneously during a series of parallel sessions.

As someone who hasn't mastered the trick of being in two places at the
same time, getting the most out of this event was going to be a
challenge and my plans to "flit" between the two came unstuck early
on. I decide to start out with India and a presentation from Maya
Manon, director of the Teacher Foundation in Bangalore, but I found it
very difficult to tear myself away from the seemingly overwhelming
prospect of delivering effective English lessons to nearly 300 million
school-age children. By the time I did, the session on China was on
its final question.

So what did I learn? The morning started with an introduction from the
British Council's Chief Executive, Martin Davidson, who set out the
challenges. In a world where over a billion people are currently
learning English, native-speakers are losing their status as guardians
of the language and dispensers of pedagogical expertise. English is
now a "commodity language" he said, freed from its ties to groups of
speakers or countries, and that is a much more complex environment for
the British Council and UK ELT to operate and succeed in.

If that sobered the audience of assorted English langauage schools,
publishers and testers, the next presentation, before we were asked to
follow the day's separate sessions, from David Graddol, a researcher
and writer on global English, served up more food for thought about
the complexity of India and China's language learning markets.

Graddol started by pinpointing the start of China's push to raise
English language skills levels: the introduction in 2001 of English
teaching from year three of primary school. That major policy decision
prompted other Asian countries to follow suit and now millions of
children across the region are moving up to secondary school having
made a start on their English.  The result should be that, by the time
they reach higher education, they will be able to study in English and
market their skills in the global economy.

The reality in China, said Gaddol, is that progress in English has
been patchy because of the mixed abilities of teachers. China has
rapidly expanded its higher education sector to absorb rising numbers
of secondary school leavers, but the country's demographics are
changing and number of school-age children is expected to go into
decline. So China needs to increase its teaching capacity in the short
term, but looking ahead, the number of active learners will not grow

Contrast that with India whose children account for 15% of the global
primary-age population (compared to 12% in China) according Graddol.
India's population is set to grow steadily and there is overwhelming
demand from parents for their children to learn English and gain
access to the economic benefits it is perceived to offer. But India's
education system is already struggling and will need to recruit and
train massive numbers of English language teachers to meet current
demand and keep up with a rising school-age population.

The risk for both countries, said Graddol, is that uneven provision of
ELT could open up a "massive social divide". Current levels of teacher
training will keep urban schools adequately staffed but there will not
be enough skilled teachers to serve poorer and rural communities where
children will fall further behind their city counterparts.

Graddol's solution is to engage in a thorough reassessment of current
"ELT orthodoxies" and develop new approaches to teaching and
methodolgy that respond to limited resources and the complex
multilingual contexts that children are learning in.

My time at the event ran out, so I was not able to hear responses from
the assembled ELT sector, but the Council has published the results of
its market research into demand for English language services in both
countries. On the Learning English pages we report on the sale of Wall
Street Institutes successful chain of EFL schools in China to Pearson.


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