EDITOR: J. Charles Alderson TITLE: The Politics of Language Education SUBTITLE: Individuals and Institutions SERIES TITLE: New Perspectives on Language and Education PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2009
Irena Gyulazyan, Department of English Language Programs, American University of Armenia
Being the result of negotiations between different individual agents, educational policies are affected by individual attitudes and motivations (Gvirtz 2006). The contributions in ''The Politics of Language Education: Individuals and Institutions'' edited by Charles Alderson offer eye-opening insights into the role of individuals and institutions in language education policy developments and implementation. A key concern throughout this volume is the negative effect of influential stakeholders and various interest groups on language education in different contexts. Each chapter explores ongoing questions in language policy and education and presents one or two case studies to further support the arguments for the importance of adopting a wider analysis of the individual's role in language education.
In the first chapter, ''Setting the Scene'', Alderson provides context for the following chapters by exploring the language education literature and various theories in relevant disciplines like psychology, management and intercultural communication. He argues that the present perspectives on language education macropolitics take no account of individuals' exercise of power and authority in the formulation and implementation of language education policies. Alderson formulates the need for understanding the complex relationship between the macro and micropolicies in language education and the ways by which individual micropolicies affect policy processes at different levels.
In the second chapter, ''Professional Advice vs. Political Imperatives'', Davies discusses the existing clash between the professional and the political, and gives an account of two case studies which exemplify the conceptualization of political power in educational administration. The two studies, one located in Nepal and the other in West Africa, show the policymakers in their policy-making roles and their ways of influencing policy processes and limiting the role of professionals. In both situations discussed, professional consultants were forced to admit that language education involves a great amount of politics and ideologies and had to acknowledge the centrality of individual attitudes and beliefs in the formulation of language education policies.
The third chapter, ''Micropolitical Issues in ELT Project Implementation'' by Hunter provides a description of aid development ELT projects and analyses the affective factors involved in projectisation. He emphasizes the importance of a political psychology standpoint in analysing and evaluating the role of consultants and various stakeholders. Hunter's vision of the policy-making role of influential stakeholders is consonant with the findings of studies presented in this volume and recognizes the effect of micropolitical dynamics in interpreting and implementing language education policies.
Chapter 4 ''The Politics of ELT Projects in China'' by Kerr illustrates how changing policy contexts leads to policy dilemmas. The chapter begins by providing the socio-historical context for the case study carried out by the author on the politics of UK-funded English Language Teaching projects in China. Kerr examines the gaps in policy interpretations by different agencies of policy governance and the effect of these on the micropolitics of the interaction and communication between and among project participants and their host institutions. This is clearly illustrated in the way political and policy changes in the UK are reflected on the politics of the recipient institutions in China, resulting first in the promotion of political and professional agendas of the ELT Specialists based in China, and later in the disappearance of the ELT projects and the dispersion of ELT Specialists from the Chinese educational system. The chapter supports Ball's view that policies are texts that ''are decoded in complex ways through actors' interpretations and meanings in relation to their history, experiences, skills, resources and contexts'' (2000, p. 1831).
The chapter ''Teaching Immigrants the Language of the Host Community: Two Object Lessons in the Need for Continuous Policy Development'' by Little and Simpson explores the impact of immigration policies on language education policy in general, and language pedagogy and practice in particular in a region with a large number of refugees and migrants. The chapter gives an account of two programs: English language courses for adults with refugee status and English language support for non-English/Irish-speaking pupils. Both programs were developed as emergency means to cope with the issue of immigrant integration in Ireland. However, according to Little and Simpson both programs were conducted in a policy vacuum leading to deficiencies in policy development and implementation which illustrates that policies cannot be implemented in isolation since they are largely affected by individual and institutional circumstances.
Chapter 6, ''The Commercialisation of Language Provision at University,'' by Fulcher, begins by describing the main developmental trends in language education in UK universities in the recent years and goes on to locate TESOL and EAP activities in this setting. Fulcher presents survey research on the role of TESOL/EAP provision within the UK Higher Education setting from the perception of those directly engaged in TESOL/EAP activities. According to the findings based on professional and institutional perceptions, TESOL and EAP activities are mainly seen as income generators within their respective institutions. Thus, as a result of commercialisation, language teaching has become isolated from research and scholarship, and language provision is often regarded as a 'subdegree' academic activity. Fulcher suggests ways by which TESOL/EAP units may achieve higher academic status within their respective institutions by reviewing their academic profiles and encouraging staff to inform their teaching practices with research.
Chapter 7 ''The Role of Micropolitics in Multinational, High-Stakes Language Assessment Systems'' by Crossey examines the direct relationship between the macro- and micro-political levels in educational policy development initiatives, this time focusing on the language education characteristics of a wider supranational context. The author presents a case study of the attempts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member states to standardise assessment within the Organisation by developing standardised language proficiency tests. The initiative however comes to serve the personal and political objectives of specific interest groups and once again we see educational policies trapped in a circle of various macro- and micro-political objectives. The author concludes that education policies and practices are always situated in relation to individual agendas and motivations, and any policy is initiated and implemented in a macrocosm of political and personal agendas. Therefore, these agendas whether implicit or explicit should be taken into account for the ultimate success of any educational initiative.
Chapter 8 ''Challenges and Constraints in Language Test Development'' explores the role of a language test developer in a challenging multifaceted context of test development with its tensions and limitations. The chapter describes the way professional practice is influenced and guided by organisational and individual micropolitics with the test developer being forced to interact and compromise with the interests of various stakeholders. The professional skills of a test developer are shown in settings with a variety of system and resource constraints. Buck presents his own view of professional ethical standards by discussing the ethical dilemmas faced by language testing professionals.
Chapter 9, ''The Politics of Examination Reform in Central Europe'', examines the significant impact of politics on the efforts to reform state school-leaving certification examinations in two European countries which at the time were going through educational reforms. The chapter provides the context for the two case studies by describing the educational systems of the two European countries, Slovenia and Hungary, and the need for educational reforms according to international recommendations called for by political changes in the two countries. The first study reports on the implementation process of the examination reform in languages in primary and secondary schools in Slovenia. It analyzes the breakdown in the implementation of innovative national examinations due to lack of research and training, and as a result of the influence exercised by individual stakeholders. The Hungarian project gives an account of the achievements in developing an innovative English school-leaving examination model which, however, did not result in successful implementation of the model but had to undergo changes predominantly motivated by the influential stakeholders' hidden agendas. The main problems identified in these two studies are reminiscent of those encountered in examination reform attempts reported by Zachariah (1993).
Chapter 10, ''Language Educational Policies within a European Framework'', by Figueras provides an overview of the latest language policy and language education initiatives by the European Union and the Council of Europe, highlighting how the potential of various projects and programs is being undermined by a lack of transparency. The chapter examines deficiencies in dissemination issues. It raises an awareness of the crucial role of individual micropolitics provoked and fostered by the characteristics of European macropolitics. Figueras provides actual examples of how individuals and institutions in member states embrace the Council of Europe educational goals, and analyzes the dynamics of the communication within and among educational communities. Figueras discusses the sustainability issue in relation to various European projects, such as DIALANG, CEFTRAIN and Speakeasy, by pointing to the deficiencies which in fact result in the incoherent use of final products. The author discusses the need in the subsequent steps in the dissemination of European policies and products, and the way in which educational resources can be made more transparent and available.
The final contribution, by Alderson, ''The Micropolitics of Research and Publication'', explores the moral dimensions of discussing and publishing accounts of 'the negative' in language education by presenting a case study of the author's attempts at publishing four case studies on the role of politics in language testing. The chapter concludes the volume by calling for critical self-reflection on the part of language education that would allow us to see the true picture of language education and recognize practices motivated by political and personal agendas of influential stakeholders. Alderson argues that the present solely positive and optimistic approach to describing and discussing various language education projects and developments does not allow for highlighting and critiquing the negative consequences of individual behaviour leading to failure of projects in different settings and situations.
This volume views and discusses language education against the background of educational micropolitics since ''policies and educational practices are always situated in relation to wider issues of power, access, opportunity, inequality and, at times, discrimination and disadvantage'' (May & Hornberger 2008, p. v). It presents a thought-provoking collection of studies from a wide range of social and political contexts that focus on the necessity of recognizing the role of individuals and institutions, and addressing and where possible remedying the negative effects of the advancement of individual micropolitical agendas.
As such, this volume is of particular interest to specialists in language education and language policy, critical linguists, applied linguists, and language educators. With its eye-opening insights into the micropolitical dynamics of language education, it is also intended for policymakers and educational administrators since it identifies and describes in a comprehensive way the potential negative effects of micropolitics that result in deficiencies in policy development and implementation. Thus, the attention of policy makers is drawn to the influence patterns of various stakeholders and policy implementators on policy processes at different levels.
Scholars and educators are called upon to question and critique educational policies and practices that are motivated by political and personal agendas of individual stakeholders or specific interest groups. In addition, by foregrounding the micropolitical aspect of language education this collection of studies exemplifies new potential topics for research in language education and is, therefore, of significant interest to researchers and graduate students.
Ball, S. (2000). Sociology of Education: Major Themes. Vol. IV, Politics and Policies. London and New York: Routledge Falmer. Gvirtz, S. (2006). Micro-politics and the Examination of Curricular Practices: The Case of School Notebooks. In Benavot A. & Braslavsky, C.: School Knowledge in Comparative and Historical Perspective. Changing Curricula in Primary and Secondary Education. 155-172. May, S. and Hornberger, N. H. (eds.) (2008). Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd edition, volume 1, Language policy and political issues in education, New York, Springer Science+Business Media LLC. Zachariah, M. (1993). Examination Reform in Traditional Universities: A Few Steps forward, Many Steps Back. Higher Education 26 (1):115-46.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Irena Gyulazyan currently teaches English at the Department of English
Language Programs at the American University of Armenia and serves as an
IELTS examiner at the British Council. Her main research interests include
language education, language testing and assessment, and course evaluation.