Harrogate online 2014

1. English and Economic Development: Myth or Reality?

I listened to David Graddol last when he spoke at TESOL conference on 27 March 2014 at Portland, Oregon, USA. Listening to David today, I realised that his TESOL speech was a prelude to his present plenary at IATEFL 2014. When I started listening to him this afternoon, I was delighted to note that he had got a nice platform to elucidate one of the megatrends about which he had referred to at the TESOL 2014 Conference. On that day David explored how demographic and economic trends in the 21st century were affecting Global English and language policies worldwide.
The theme of David’s speech was “Does the learning of English bring economic benefit?” Looking at him on the screen of my computer, I wondered, “Is he a linguist or an economist?” It was amazing to note how an applied linguist could handle the issues connected with the economic development so academically and effortlessly. The lucidity of his presentation, the felicity of his expression and the depth of his vision made me exclaim, ‘You are great, David’!
During the hour long session, David critically explored the idea that ‘English brings economic benefits’. He raised the question, ‘Is the economic rationale just disguising a new kind of linguistic imperialism? Or does it genuinely bring benefits to those investing in English?’
Citing specific examples, David explored critically the role English has been playing in different sectors of the economy, especially the growing services economy. He analysed the implications of this emerging phenomenon for educational policy and he did it quite dispassionately and convincingly. You may disagree with his perspective, but you cannot dispute his prediction. He was drawing our attention to a global phenomenon that has been shaping the course of English language teaching throughout the globe.
David’s forte is his extensive as well as intensive research in ELT in three countries, India, China and Brazil. I was amazed to note his repeated reference to the developing economy of these three countries.
The relationship between English and the economy, corporate values based on economic efficiency, the role of the Call Centres, the supply chain, the Dependency ratio…. David dealt with all these issues quite dexterously without being pedantic. Economics was always a dreaded subject for me during my school days. On listening to David today, I wished I had an Economics teacher like David who could discuss economic theories, terminology and issues in such a lucid manner. What David says impresses you infinitely, but how he says convinces you permanently. The logic of his argument, the evidences on which he bases his argument and the language in which he presents his arguments and draws his conclusions create a lasting impression on his audience.
Global English is indebted to the business enterprise. The Virginia Company took English to America and the East India Company brought English to India. It is indeed a coincidence that the Director of the English Company is now predicting and outlining the future of English! The simultaneous expansion of English in the West and the East was due to the economic history of mankind and the present expansion of English is due the pressure of the emerging global economy.
David’s plenary attended by 2500 delegates assembled at Harrogate, UK and watched by thousands of virtual delegates has given us enough food for thought. Like all of you, I too look forward to listening to him once again as early as possible. “English Next, Brazil” will be published soon this year, David announced, what about “David Next”?

2. How assessment influences the classroom teaching and learning of English: A Talk at IATEFL 2014

Hornby scholars attending ELT courses in the Universities of the United Kingdom are a privileged, gifted and a highly motivated group of teachers having a rich and varied experience of English language teaching in diverse contexts. The talk on “How assessment influences classroom teaching and learning of English at IATEFL, Harrogate on 2 April gave a me a chance to listen to a few Hornby scholars who wanted to investigate how English language learning is assessed in schools in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With the help of a power point presentation, they discussed the influence of assessment on classroom teaching and learning and explored the possibility of using assessment as a tool for learning English. The talk was based on the actual classroom experience of the presenters in their specific contexts. It was nice listening to them unfolding the mismatch between the curriculum goal and the assessment goal affecting the ELT scenario of their countries.
As soon as the talk started, Simon posed four pertinent questions: (1) Curriculum and Assessment: a (mis)match? (2) Why this inconsistency? (3) What are the effects of inconsistency on teachers and learners? (4)Why is assessment ?
The New National Curriculum 2007 of Venezuela proclaims that communication is the ultimate goal of the English Curriculum: “To use oral and written language as a means for communication with the rest of the world….”, the said NNC 2007 announces. This goal is similar to the goals for English language learning in countries which were represented by the members making the presentation. But this goal of the curriculum does not match with the goal of assessment followed in these countries.
Why is this inconsistency? Abayneh from Ethiopia was very straightforward in articulating his point of view. The curriculum is not aligned with the educational needs of the country and its culture. Learning is a one way transmission of knowledge in his country, Abaneh declared. The teacher is a sage on the stage and the language is viewed as a body of knowledge to be transmitted to the students by the teacher. In Ethiopia, students hardly ask questions in the class, he lamented. The assessment takes into account discrete elements of grammar and vocabulary, not the communicative competence of the learners. The curriculum is in the clouds and it does not reflect the
cultural reality of the country, Abaneh declared very emphatically.
Dame Diop who is studying in the University of Lancaster stated that assessment should inform classroom teaching and learning, but the existing system of assessment puts the English teachers in a dilemma.
The bleak ELT scenario looming large in the horizon suddenly changed when Deepa Ellepola from Sri Lanka started narrating the present ELT scenario of her country. She spoke about the ‘English as a life skill programme’ of Sri Lanka. It was nice listening to her when she spoke about the innovative ELT scenario of her country. The “Massive awareness programme” launched in Sri Lanka has a very positive impact on the teaching-learning of English in her country, Dame stated. The slogan “ SPEAK ENGLISH OUR WAY” is innovative indeed.
Continuous assessment should be an integral part of the teaching learning process and it should be inconsonance with the objectives of the curriculum, said the speaker summing up the main points of the talk.
The talk was quite informative and interesting. While listening to the talk, I felt like travelling across 10 countries in 3 continents in 45 minutes! An exciting experience, indeed.

3. Parental attitudes to English:4 An interview with Debanjan Chakrabarti at IATEFL, 2014

It was a nice experience listening to Dr. Debanjan Chakrabarti, British Council’s Head of Research & Publications for India. Debanjan is at Harrogate to attend the IATEFL 2014 and in an interview on 2 April at Harrogate he talked about the research he was going to s present on parental attitudes to English in Assam, India . You can see more at: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-02/interview-debanjan-chakrabati-0#sthash.ZW3HnUsE.dpuf
“The public perception about English Medium Instruction and what parents want”. Is there a conflict between the two in the State of Assam, India? Well, the preliminary data collected by the three researchers of the British Council, India is likely to throw a new light on a highly debatable topic that has far reaching implications for the future of ELT in India. The policy makers, teachers and the other stakeholders of ELT are seriously handicapped by the absence of sufficient empirical data related to parents’ attitude to English Medium instruction in India and this study will surely help us to understand the issue quite dispassionately.
To the popular imagination in India, English stands for upward social mobility and economic growth. Well, is it a make belief story spread by the educated middle class of India or is it the general aspiration of the Indian masses who are the deprived and marginalized section of the Indian society?
The research initiated by Debanjan and his two colleagues at the British Council is a Qualitative as well as a Quantitative research and it is at the pilot stage at the moment. But the little data that they have collected is quite significant. Parents are putting a lot of efforts to send their children to good private schools where the children have an access to English Medium Instruction. It was really interesting to know that if there are three children in a family, the brightest one was most likely to be admitted to a private school where he has access to English..
During the interview, Debanjan stated that parents do acknowledge the importance of English, but so far as their priority is concerned, Assamese ( the mother tongue of the pupils) and Mathematics are rated as more important than English. Parents don’t think that English is the most important subject, but they do expect that their children should have access to English.
The parents of the first generation learners of English are more discerning, more pragmatic and more vocal. They are no more ready to be the victims of the great English Divide. Let’s wait eagerly for the findings of Debanjan’s research study.
While I was listening to Debanjan’s interview sitting in my air-conditioned room in the IT capital of India, I was transported to a small village of Sonitpur, Assam where we had gone for an in-service teacher training programme in the nineties. While interacting with the owner of a tea stall where we had gone for a cup of tea in the evening, I asked him quite casually why he had sent his son to one of the English medium private schools of a nearby town. ‘Your son won’t get mid-day meal there’ I told him. Quick came the reply in Assamese “Mid-day meal or no mid day meal, my son needs English’. I was taken aback, I must admit. Was it ‘aspiration’ or ‘desperation’? I don’t know what the son of that tea stall owner is doing  to day. Is he selling tea just as his father was selling that day or is he working in the IT capital of India?

PS. Midday meal is a Govt of India scheme under which the children attending the Govt. primary schools are supplied free meals during school hours. It’s a full meal cooked and served hot to the children under the supervision of a teacher.

4. What do you say after ‘Hello’? Successful networking techniques: A Report on the Workshop at IATEFL 2014

Bary Tomalin’s workshop ‘What do you say after “Hello”? Successful networking techniques’ at the conference was one of the most successful workshops of the IATEFL 2014 held at Harrogate. I liked it very much for personal as well as academic reasons.
1. One day, I happened to meet one of my Professors of English in UK in a party. After the customary ‘hi’, ‘how are you’ etc. I asked him rather casually, “Have you been to India, XXX”?. “Oh yes, about ten years back, the first and the last”, he replied very firmly. “ Why the last? Do visit again when I go back.” I wanted to keep the conversation going. “Well, I remember my first encounter with a Professor in Delhi who had come to receive me at the Delhi airport. While we were going to the city by taxi, the Professor first asked me about my son, then about my daughter. Ah me, I was frightened. I felt like jumping out of the taxi. I knew that the guy would ask me about my wife next.” We had a hearty laugh (!) followed by another refilling. An intercultural shock.
2. She was blonde and blue-eyed. “Hi, nice to meet you. You’re from Nottinghamshire, I suppose?” “Oh No, I’m from Kent, the garden of England.” The blue-eyed girl was visibly upset. An intercultural embarrassment!
Bary Tomalin is the author of Key Business Skills, Harper Collins 2012 and the coauthor of Cross-Cultural Communication, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. He teaches Cultural Awareness at the London Academy of Diplomacy. He was, therefore, the most competent person to conduct the workshop which aimed at developing the participants’ sensitivity to the teaching of English for intercultural communication.
How can we teach our students to interact in English with people coming from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds? What are the strategies required for using English effectively without embarrassing or hurting the sensitivity of the listeners? Bary’s workshop had the answer as it prompted the participants to practise the skill of networking in a very lively and absorbing way. Bary pointed out how good listening techniques, effective interviewing techniques, and the ability to show empathy in a foreign language are some of the strategies essential for good networking.
As the details of the workshop are available on Harrogate online I am not reproducing what Bary said and did during the workshop. Please click: iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-02/what-do-you-say-after-hello-successfull-networking-technique.
The classification of listeners into four categories, non-listener. marginal listener, judgmental listeners and active listeners was quite interesting. Don’t forget ‘FACE’ if you want to succeed in networking. Face stands for: Focus, Acknowledge, Clarify and Empathize.
Linguistic knowledge and socio-cultural knowledge are equally important in any verbal communication. Bary tells his audience, “Teach expressions to accompany each word.”
The issue of intercultural communication in English is a very complex issue and therefore, it should be an integral part of a curriculum for teaching English as a foreign or a global language.
Those who are interested in effective presentations across international and cultural boundaries would benefit immensely from Bary’s workshop. I wish Bary could be invited for a plenary talk during the next IATEFL conference at Manchester next year.
‘What to say’,’ how to say’, ‘when to say’ and ‘what NOT to say’ are equally important for a purposeful social networking. “Building the relationship and business follows as day follows night.”
Whether you are a novice or an accomplished speaker, Bary’s workshop will certainly improve your ability to engage your listener. I fully agree with Bary when he says, ‘Don’t be interesting, be interested ’.This is the ‘mantra’ for a successful networking.

5.The Death of a Teacher and the birth of a Facilitator, a Manager and an admirer. Why are we afraid of Dr. Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud?

It is really amazing to note that the global English language teaching community in general and the teachers of English as a Foreign language in particular have started a crusade against a researcher who came into limelight with his “Hole in the Wall” project initially started at a slum near New Delhi, the capital of India. Dr. Sugata Mitra, a highly innovative and unassuming professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, UK, has successfully demonstrated that even without any direct input from a teacher and without the supervision and formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they are curious, motivated and left to themselves. Dr. Mitra has termed this kind of education, “minimally invasive education.”
The beginning of the project was quite simple. About 15 years back, Dr. Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall in a slum near New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected computer, with a hidden camera filming the area and left the place to find out the responses of the kids of that slum . To their utter amazement, they saw that the kids were playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.
The findings of his experiment prompted Dr. Mitra to undertake similar experiments in Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh,far away from Delhi and then to other countries including the UK. He got the same result both in the developing and the developed countries ( In the UK, of course, it was not a ‘Whole in the Wall’, rather it was a ‘Whole inside the Wall’, as Dr. Mitra humorously pointed out in his IATEFL plenary talk at Harrogate 2014).
What’s so great about ‘The Hole in the Wall Project’? Why are teachers afraid of the minimally invasive education and the Self organized learning environment (SOLE) project propagated by Dr. Mitra? According to Dr. Mitra, his wish was “to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together”. He wants to build a School in the Cloud, where “children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online.”
When I listened to Dr. Mitra’s plenary talk at IATEFL 2014 on 5th April 2014 and the subsequent ‘Question and Answer session’ held on 19 April 2014, I did not find anything dangerous for the English language teaching community involved in teaching English across the globe. Dr. Mitra did not ignore the existence of schools or teachers. He wanted to redefine the concept of teachers and teaching. The traditional notion of teachers as ‘knowledge-givers’ is going to be obsolete. They can be facilitators and managers, not the village school masters of Oliver Goldsmiths famous poem, The Village School Master! To quote from Dr. Mitra’s observations during the Question Answer session, “The teacher is no longer someone imparting information/knowledge. Mainly because we’ve managed to create an environment where uni-directional export of information is not required. We should be proud of that, that children can find out things for themselves. Should there be someone around? Of course, to encourage them, to admire them, to ask them questions.”
The dearth of qualified teachers is a global phenomenon and therefore, we have to find out an effective alternative. If the internet can provide it, why should we grudge? Why are we afraid of our identity as teachers?
There is going to be a paradigm shift in ELT and as ELT practitioners we should accept it gracefully. Those who want to know more about Dr. Mitra may visit the following: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-05/plenary-sugata-mitra. http://www.theschoolinthecloud.org. http://www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com. http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/…/iate…
Dr Sugata Mitra never claims that we do not need schools. He says that they need to change. The schools and the teachers will have to change, Dr. Mitra asserts, because learners are changing and will demand change. If we don’t change ourselves, we will be obsolete. That’s the grim truth and it frightens us as we are too deeply rooted in our tradition. The Teacher as a Prophet, the Teacher as the provider of knowledge, the Teacher as the dispenser and the manipulator of truth!


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