This blog was first posted on the British Council Senegal website in advance of the 2017 Language and Development Conference.
Whilst suspicious of the global drive towards EMI, I believe strongly and passionately that the English language, and the good teaching of it, has a major role to play in helping achieve the SDGs. But for this to happen, major and immediate surgery is required.
As a field, ELT prides itself on its communicative approach, and whilst this may be a mainstay of well-appointed ELT classrooms overseen by experienced, skilled practitioners, for millions of English teachers around the world, this is not the case. In these classrooms, talk and chalk is the norm, ‘textbook’ and ‘curriculum’ are considered synonyms, and exams are a frequent and unhelpful intrusion into learning. The result of this is the creation of English Zombies – students who have decent enough receptive skills and so understand what is going on, and who can produce broadly grammatically accurate utterances – but who are unable to communicate effectively in a dynamic world.
We also need to be bolder in the kind of content which we include in textbooks. It is crucial that we challenge the conservative nature of education ministries and international publishers. Students need textbooks and learning materials which properly address the key issues enshrined in SDG 4.7, such as human rights, gender equality, a culture of peace and non-violence, and cultural diversity. We must equip them with the linguistic tools to be able to discuss them. We should not run away from these issues, but embrace them – responsibly – within the safe space of the language learning classroom.
Considering this landscape, I advocate an “ELT For All” approach which can unlock the emancipatory potential of English, making it an effective agent of social change. We not only need to support English teachers in all situations in accessing good training, we must also be bolder in the material creation process.