The English Language Teaching classroom is not an isolated social vacuum but an institutional global(ised) space. Therefore, my talk centres on the coloniality of our beliefs and practices in ELT. While many argue that colonialism is a thing of the past, the discourses and practices associated with it continue to shape most, if not all, facets of the ELT profession. We refer to this condition as the coloniality of ELT where the practice of ELT is by itself deeply embedded within the structures and logics of (global) coloniality. Although I also problematise the many ways this lens is mobilised in teaching and research, I argue that attempts at transforming the ELT classroom must contend with its embeddedness within conditions of coloniality.
Keywords: ELT, language beliefs, coloniality, decolonization
Why do we need to decolonize language beliefs and ideologies in English Language Teaching (ELT), and what does decolonizing entail? These are two intertwined questions which will be addressed in this paper. For the first one, it is because core language beliefs and ideologies which circulate in the field remain deeply colonial. For the second question, it entails more than just problematizing such beliefs and ideologies. We need to take control of the processes and infrastructures of knowledge production which perpetuate such beliefs and ideologies in the first place.
In practically all academic disciplines, especially in the social sciences and humanities, we have in recent years seen a “surge of decolonial debates” (Moghli & Kadiwal, 2021, p. 11). In the interrelated fields of applied linguistics and sociolinguistics and, more specifically, English Language Teaching (ELT), this is a much welcome development. More than three decades ago, Pennycook (1989) asserted that “ELT theories and practices that emanate from the former colonial powers still carry traces of those colonial histories” (p. 19). However, for most of the past three decades, the centrality of colonial questions has somehow been glossed over by work which focuses on celebrating English language users’ agency, creativity and so-called postcolonial resistance. While such agentive, creative and/or resistive use of English shows us that we are not “cultural dupes or passive puppets of an ideological order, or cogs in a mechanistic universe” (Morrison and Lui, 2000, p. 472), how it has been conceptualized is problematic. Agency has been overemphasized and decontextualized from the structure within which it (agency) is operationalized. The dominant academic rhetoric has been something like this: ‘It is true that there remain structures of domination in today’s world, but you see, speakers of English have also exercised their agency over these structures.’ The scholarly work then surfaces these instantiations of agency and sets aside the continuing conditions of domination and social inequality within which such agency is mobilized. This is the reason why, for some scholars, colonialism is a thing of the past or is now a side issue (Sibayan & Gonzalez, 1996; Manarpaac, 2008).
But “coloniality survives colonialism” (Maldonado-Torres, 2007, p. 243). As a political and economic system of domination which characterizes particular periods of history, colonialism may indeed be a thing of the past. However, it “is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience” (p. 243). We refer to this condition as the coloniality of everyday life today. In the teaching of English, what is very much alive is a body of knowledge and network of practices which remain quintessentially colonial in nature (Moncada, 2007).
For example, the construct of the native speaker continues to mobilize the policies, practices and materials of many scholars and teachers today (Rubdy, 2015; Kiczkowiak & Lowe, 2021). Much has been written about the destructive impact of native-speakerism in the profession – the belief in the superiority of ‘native speakers’ in all aspects of teaching and learning (Holliday, 2006) – on the lives and identities of teachers and students whose first language is not American or British English. Just one case in point: many textbooks around the world “emphasize the image of the native speaker (man, white, heterosexual) in a superior relation or position to other interactants in dialogues” (Soto-Molina & Méndez, 2020, p. 13) which “consolidate[s] certain deficient practices, prejudices and stereotypes while at the same time strengthening or weakening local or national awareness”. Similarly, there have been calls to recognize the multilingual make up of English language classrooms, and thus a ‘multilingual ELT’ (Tupas & Renandya, 2020; Cummins, 2009), yet language teaching methods, beliefs and attitudes remain firmly monolingualist in nature. That is, there remains a deep-rooted predilection towards rejecting or devaluing the role of multilingual and multicultural resources in English language classrooms because they purportedly affect the learning of English negatively. Despite all the critical work of scholars (Kumaravadivelu, 2016), the English language classroom essentially remains a colonial space where English-Only ideologies and practices thrive.
In this paper, I focus on mapping ways of decolonizing language beliefs and ideologies in ELT. In doing so, however, I align myself with Kumaravadivelu’s (2016) contention that “Seldom in the annals of an academic discipline have so many people toiled so hard, for so long, and achieved so little in their avowed attempt at disrupting the insidious structure of inequality in their chosen profession” (p. 82). He also refers to continuing practices and ideologies in the English teaching profession which perpetuate monolingualism and native speakerism in all aspects of the profession, including hiring practices and the production of knowledge, despite intense and concerted intellectual elaboration on these harmful professional, teaching and learning orthodoxies. A decolonial option, Kumaravadivelu continues, “demands action” because “(w)ithout action, the discourse is reduced to banality” (p. 82). Thus, in this paper, I would like to share a particular action – a concrete, ‘ordinary’ project of decoloniality – which aims to highlight the centrality of engagement with deep-rooted language beliefs in teacher training. This is a Sociolinguistics in English Education (SEED) project, a certificate course for English language teachers and administrators which helps teachers earn Continuing Professional Development points for the renewal of their professional license. Such a seemingly ordinary or mundane project, if mobilized through a decolonial lens, allows us to link intellectual elaboration with different forms of structural inequities in the profession. In the end, a decolonizing approach to critiquing and transforming language beliefs and ideologies demands ‘action’ (e.g., the SEED project) which is embedded in intersecting structures of power in the profession. To put it another way, decolonizing language beliefs and ideologies in ELT does not simply involve reviewing, revising and overhauling curricula; it involves confronting systemic inequalities of knowledge production as well as unequal access to such transformative curricula in the first place. Elements of epistemic decolonization, knowledge activism and social justice are entangled in the conceptualization and implementation of a decolonizing ELT project. But first, let us examine how a decolonizing agenda in ELT has come about in the field.
CONCEPTUAL SHIFTS DUE TO GLOBALIZATION
The globalization and spread of English have resulted in its diversification. Several conceptual lenses have emerged to make sense of this sociolinguistic transformation of the language. ‘World English’ (Rajagopalan, 2004; Crystal, 2004) characterizes English as having taken on a linguistic and cultural character which consolidates the influences of people using the language from different parts of the world. ‘English as an International Language’ (Smith, 1976; McKay, 2002), on the other hand, conceptualizes English as a conduit through which the different cultures of its speakers flow. The language no longer carries the culture of its so-called native speakers, but the cultures of its culturally diverse speakers.
‘World Englishes’ (WE) (Llamson, 1969; Kachru, 1992) does not only assert that English is no longer singular but multiple, but also that these multiple Englishes are expressions of cultural identities and postcolonial liberation. More importantly perhaps, it has provided evidence of the systematic nature of national differences in the use of English, thus we have many Englishes such as Philippine English, Singapore English, Malaysian English, and so on. ‘English as a Lingua Franca’ (ELF) (Jenkins, 2007; Seidlhofer, 2008), on the other hand, argues that as a result of globalization, the language has served as a communication tool between speakers in global or cross-national settings whose first languages or mother tongues are different from each other. ‘Global Englishes’ (Galloway and Rose, 2015) covers the range of Englishes from nation-based (WE) to non-nation-based varieties (ELF). Thus, it “is an umbrella and a more inclusive term that encompasses recognized English varieties and ELF” (Fang & Ren, 2018, p. 385).
‘Translingual practices’ (Canagarajah, 2012) argues that realities on the ground surface linguistic practices of speakers which break down the so-called artificial boundaries between languages and language varieties. What the speakers have at their disposal are unified communicative repertoires through which they are able to establish intercultural and interpersonal interactions. What this means is that the English language is embedded in (and indistinguishable from) these communicative repertoires, thus we need to focus on the “pluricentricity of ongoing negotiated English” (Pennycook, 2008, p. 30.3, italics supplied). Lastly, ‘Unequal Englishes’ (UE) puts the spotlight on power and inequalities between speakers of Englishes, arguing that while English has diversified into different Englishes as a result of globalization, some remain more valued than others (Tupas, 2015; Salonga, 2015). Many speakers of English have been mocked and even discriminated against at home, in school and in the workplace, among many other contexts of use.
While these varying sociolinguistic lenses give us different angles from which to appraise the globalization and spread of English, we should emphasize that they are all grounded in the assumption that English has diversified and such diversification has systematic implications for the linguistic and cultural transformation of English. Thus, collectively these ways of apprehending the diversification of English have resulted in various attempts to reconceptualize the teaching of English. In my review of the literature on the impact of scholarly work on the Englishes of the world on the ELT profession (Tupas, 2018), I have found three key routes to such reconceptualization, and one of these routes – transforming language beliefs and ideologies – is what frames the decolonizing agenda of SEED.
THREE ROUTES TO RECONCEPTUALIZING ELT
The first route revolves around the question about ‘what English to teach’ (Bernardo & Madrunio, 2015; Schaetzel et al., 2010). If various international, national and sub-national iterations of English language use have been empirically found to be linguistically and culturally legitimate, with their own logics of use, what happens then to ‘Standard English’ as the ideal teaching and learning norm in the classroom? What is the role of localized Englishes in the teaching of ‘English’? Should we continue to aim for standardized norms and rules in the use of English, or should we replace them with the norms and rules of localized Englishes? Much has been written to track noteworthy attempts to respond to this question about what English to teach, but the reality of Unequal Englishes has made it difficult to transform ELT through this route because assessment practices, along with global institutions of testing and textbook production, have by and large remained committed to promoting ‘native speaker’ norms as the ideals of teaching and learning (Soto-Molina & Méndez, 2020).
The second route revolves around the question of ‘how to teach English’ (Tupas & Renandya, 2020; Cummins, 2009). The multilingual character of English is one of the key assumptions of work around this question, while another related one is the multilingual character of the users of English themselves. In other words, no matter what one’s political and ideological stance is towards the legitimacy of (a) pluralized English or Englishes, the fact remains that in most of the English classrooms around the world, the contexts and participants are multilingual and multicultural (Tupas & Renandya, 2020; Cummins, 2009). Colonial language teaching methods from audiolingual to communication language teaching have practically denied the positive contributions of multilingualism to effective teaching and learning (Kumaravadivelu, 2003). However, with the unrelenting push of some scholarly work towards embracing and mobilizing multilingualism in schools, pedagogies of English as an International Language have been envisioned, mobilized and examined through multilingual and multicultural lenses (Marlina and Giri, 2014; McKay, 2002). The use of mother tongues and ‘non-standard’ Englishes to teach ‘English’ has been explored and debated extensively (Wheeler, 2010; Sato, 1989). Contrastive or bidialectal strategies which, for example, encourage noticing or language awareness of structural differences between two Englishes or between English and the students’ mother tongue(s), have been proven effective in the teaching and learning of English in the classroom (Lu, 2022; Wheeler, 2010).
The third route is what this chapter is most concerned about although, as we will soon find out, it also implicates the earlier questions. It seeks to address the question about ‘how to think about English’ which is fundamentally interested in transforming deep-rooted beliefs and ideologies about English and multilingualism. There are deep (although not necessarily straightforward) links between language beliefs and language teaching practices, thus, to mobilize a decolonizing agenda in ELT, it is imperative to map out the ideological structure of the system of beliefs which underpin our policies and practices. Such a system, as will be explicated below, concerns the monolingualist and deficit ideology in ELT. ‘What English to teach’ and ‘how to teach English’ are difficult to address because teachers and other stakeholders’ deep-rooted beliefs are not treated as a fundamental challenge to transforming language education. It is possible, for example, to implement policies which promote and celebrate multilingualism, but if teachers’ beliefs about it are not aligned with the supposedly transformative agenda of such policies, classroom practices would remain unreceptive to additive and constructive pedagogies which take as their core the importance of teachers’ and students’ diverse linguistic and cultural resources for effective and justice-based learning. In my work on secondary classrooms in Singapore, some of which has been presented elsewhere (Tupas, 2021b; Tupas and Weninger, 2020), I observed that many teachers had well-meaning intentions to legitimize Singlish as a pedagogical tool. They use Singlish structures and lexicon to contrast with those of the school-sanctioned standard variety for the purpose of language awareness but in the end the Singlish examples are mocked or devalued. Contrastive analysis, one of the ways to teach grammar and writing by drawing on knowledge of pupils’ first language(s) and language variety/ies (Wheeler, 2010; Lu, 2022), is deployed by some teachers I observed to devalue, rather than affirm, linguistic and cultural diversity.
Therefore, in decolonizing ELT, this paper contends that beliefs and ideologies should be at the core of the transformation. Expósito and Favela (2003) argue, first of all, that “…only teachers that reflect critically on their practices—that are aware of the political and cultural nature of their work—can effectively meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students” (p. 89). However, critical reflection on our practices assumes clarity of our political commitments, including clarity of the system of beliefs which underpin our work. Thus, this explains why we need to start with how to think about English now, rather than what English to teach and how to teach it. This is aligned with Trueba and Bartolomé’s (2000) contention that “the need for clarity of political beliefs, practices, and commitments is as important as the actual pedagogical strategies used in instruction” (p. 278; also Gorski, 2016).
THE COLONIALITY OF LANGUAGE BELIEFS IN ELT
According to Kumaravadivelu (2003), attempts at transforming ELT based on our sociolinguistic knowledge about the globalization and spread of English are not enough. This is because most of these attempts are grounded in the simple view of English as undergoing internal changes referred to as nativization. In other words, English is undergoing changes to its linguistic, semantic, lexical and pragmatic system because of cultural globalization, thus the agenda for transformation should be based on these grounds of nativization, which is also referred to in some works as indigenization or localization (Mufwene, 1994; Yano, 2001). For Kumaravadivelu (2003), however, we need to bring the project of transformation to the level of decolonization which is not merely concerned with the internal changes of English but, more importantly, with social and economic structures and conditions which govern the logic of English language use, teaching and learning today. At the centre of change, in other words, is the role of power in the production of knowledge, in the making of institutional and national policies, and in the determination of pedagogical practices which are deemed legitimate by both educational institutions and the state (Manan, 2018; Valdez, 2011). Teaching and learning materials such as textbooks, for example, are “signs of neo-colonial practices” (Soto-Molina & Méndez, 2020, p. 14) if they continue to promote traditional native speaker norms and overwrite linguistic and cultural diversity, but infusing new cultural content into these materials as a decolonial strategy is ineffective if it fails to consider the transnational infrastructure of power — constituted by, for example, global assessment institutions, development aid, and publishing corporations — which controls the production of knowledge (Tupas & Tabiola, 2017; Valdez, 2011). Therefore, decolonization, not nativization, should govern our transformative agenda in ELT because it means engaging in “a fairly complex process of taking control of the principles and practices of planning, learning, and teaching English” (Kumaravadivelu, 2003, p. 140, italics supplied).
Thus, as we will see later in the paper, while transforming ELT should begin with epistemic decolonization (Posholi, 2020) focused on deconstructing language beliefs and ideologies and replacing them with more culturally sensitive ones drawn from multicultural and multilingual realities, taking control of the production of knowledge requires more than just replacing one body of knowledge with another (Tupas, 2021a). Let us now proceed with unpacking some of the key language beliefs which circulate in our profession.
Circulating Language Beliefs
If you do not speak English, you are not smart. One of the major projects of colonialism was to devalue or erase indigenous identities, histories and cultures, and establish educational and social systems which valorized the colonizers’ cultures and languages. In the case of the colonial rule of the United States and the United Kingdom, education through the English language was imposed as a way to ‘civilize’ the so-called ‘barbaric’ subjugated peoples (Constantino, 1970; Martin, 2010). As a result, English has taken on values which are associated with being civilized, educated and smart. Local languages have been vilified as useless and backward. Anecdotal and data-driven narratives of subjects of (neo) colonialism consistently show that people indeed associate English with being smart, confident and trustworthy (Lai, 2007; Shah, 2019).
I am a non-native teacher of English. This is a statement which has taken on the status of a social fact. Who can argue against the ‘fact’ that if English is not my first language or mother tongue, then I am a ‘non-native’ speaker or teacher of English? However, it was colonial power itself which also positioned ‘non-native’ speakers as ‘non-native’ perpetually working towards the ideal speech of American or British speakers but would never achieve it (Tupas, 2022; Phillipson, 1992). Thus, if we describe ourselves as ‘non-native’ speakers or teachers, our identity is a colonially imposed one. It is an identity which becomes meaningful only for what it is not – ‘I am not a native teacher of English’. Consequently, we become recipients of many material and cultural consequences of being defined as non-native, including being discriminated against in hiring processes (‘Only native speakers can apply’), such that if hired we are by default paid far less than our so-called native counterparts or assigned work which is more labour intensive (Canagarajah, 1999). There is, for example, an alternative way to frame ourselves as English teachers or speakers – ‘I am a multilingual teacher of English’. This statement highlights who we are or what we ‘have’, and that is being multilingual. More importantly, it highlights our desire to self-identify with our multilingualism as having positive or constructive contributions to our teaching, learning or use of English.
Local languages are not allowed in the English classroom. This is another powerful but unfortunate belief which circulates in our profession, both in practice and scholarship (Cummins, 2009; Manan et al., 2020). This is based on the assumption that local languages are undesirable and have negative consequences on the learning of English. A related statement here is, ‘L1 interferes in the learning of English’. Notice the use of the word ‘interfere’. The L1 (first language) is negatively framed and is a burden to English language teaching and learning. This is what Wee (2014) refers as the ‘interference argument’. As teachers, however, we do have choices in how to frame the role of the L1 in language learning. It can ‘shape’, ‘influence’ or ‘facilitate’ the learning of English. In fact, research has empirically proven that multilingual resources, including the use of L1 and unsanctioned varieties of English in the classroom, can be strategically or judicially used to improve the teaching and learning of English (Luke, 2022; Walter & Dekker, 2011; Buchs & Maradan, 2021). Such research provides ample evidence that shows that local languages indeed can increase the chances of pupils in doing better academically, both in English language classrooms and other classrooms such as Mathematics and Science.
Language Beliefs as Colonial Ideology
These are but a few dominant language beliefs which circulate in the ELT profession. The statements may appear to be discrete expressions of these beliefs, but they are in fact statements which constitute a historically assembled body of colonial knowledge framed coherently within the matrix of monolingualist and deficit language ideology. When we refer to an ideology, we mean it as “a framework of thought constructed and held by members of a society to justify or rationalize an existing social order” (Bartolomé, 2004, p. 97). Particular language beliefs in ELT, therefore, such as those articulated through the circulating statements above, make up one broad ideology or framework of thought which mobilizes ELT theories and practices. To give one specific example: Manan (2018) explains how the monolingualist and deficit language ideology underpins the decision-making trajectories of educators, especially those in leadership positions. They use coercive power to justify, rationalize and reinforce the coloniality of ELT practices and beliefs.
The Sociolinguistics in English Education (SEED) Project
The preceding sections have made the case for examining language beliefs and ideologies in ELT as core to addressing the coloniality of the field. Therefore, SEED was envisioned as a teacher professional development initiative centred on transforming teachers’ beliefs and ideologies. This would open spaces for them to also question and explore alternative practices and approaches in the classroom which address different forms of inequities as a result of the mobilization of a monolingualist and deficit language ideology. Such a focus on ideological transformation in language teacher education is also justified on the grounds that, as Trueba and Bartolomé (2000), Bartolomé (2000), Tupas (2018) and Expósito and Favela (2003) assert, clarity of political and ideological commitment among teachers is as important as pedagogical approaches in teacher training and development. In the succeeding paragraphs, I will detail and narrate some key considerations in the conceptualization and implementation of SEED through a decolonizing lens. In the process of doing so, I will highlight and discuss the challenges to implementing a decolonizing project. As in the case of any instantiation of a decolonizing act, SEED was always in danger of being treated as decontextualized and unhinged from structures of inequalities within which it was supposed to operate. The challenge was – and continues to be — how to mobilize and concretize a decolonizing agenda through a specific undertaking such as SEED without losing the activist and political character of the agenda. I must say this is a dangerous but needed move since I am making the project completely vulnerable to criticism especially because decolonization as a concept is complex and nuanced, and cannot be pinned down to a particular concrete undertaking. In recent years, decolonizing designs, strategies and practices have been criticized as tokenism and lip service – simply a spate of “fashionable” perspectives on education (Høiskar, 2022, p. 172):
The term “decolonization” has become ubiquitous, but how are we to ensure that it is more than just a label without real substance, or a fashionable buzzword to which we merely pay lip service? (The Global Education Network, 2021, p. 190)
SEED is aware of this persistent academic criticism, thus the way forward was to mobilize decolonization, first, as an act “to open up for a chance to critically revisit curricula and teaching practices” (Høiskar, 2022, p. 172), “ensuring that curriculum design, content and delivery are truly inclusive and do not always elevate just one voice, one experience, one way of being in the world” (The Global Education Network, 2021, p. 190); but second, to aim “to understand and disentangle power relations and structures” which are responsible in the first place for the continuing delivery of educational content proven to be harmful to students of marginalized and minoritized background. SEED treads carefully on and between these two broad aims of a decolonizing project in education. It is an on-going struggle but confronting the challenges head on should be one small step towards opening new spaces for rethinking what we assume and do in our profession. As professionals engaged in the practicalities of our everyday work, we also need examples of how broad, abstract concepts can or may work within the messiness of everyday life even with the danger of oversimplification or reductionism.
SEED was conceptualized primarily as a project of unpacking and transforming core beliefs and ideologies in ELT which govern how we think and do things in the field. This is part of what may be described as epistemic decolonization which “refers to the redemption of worldviews and theories and ways of knowing that are not rooted in, nor oriented around Euro-American theory” (Kessi et al., 2020, p. 274). This is what I have attempted to do in the earlier sections of the chapter. This requires thinking otherwise (Foucault, 1992), to “turn away from the norm, from expected or authorized thinking” (Homes & Grant, 2007, p. 1). A focus on language beliefs and ideologies is to think otherwise since it aims to deconstruct authorized understandings of dominant concepts and practices such as native-speakerism, English-Only, Standard English, correct grammar, and even bilingualism and multilingualism. SEED was thus going to be organized around these concepts and practices, rather than the typical focus of language teacher development on teaching strategies or the ‘how to’ of teaching and learning.
The decolonizing vision of SEED was presented to the Ateneo Centre for English Language Teaching (ACELT) in Manila, one of the key institutions dedicated to English language teacher education in the Philippines. An important feature of this negotiation, however, was the collaborative nature of SEED. ACELT and its expert teachers would need to be deeply involved in the design and implementation of the project as they have been working very closely with teachers from different parts of the Philippines. Epistemic decolonization requires that those involved are willing to collectively mobilize shared knowledge and expertise, but one which is drawn from the complexities of the local context and configurations of power among the stakeholders. The result of the negotiated syllabus was content which was critical but organized around what shared knowledge and expertise determined to be appropriate for and needed by target student-participants.
SEED was also going to be a six two-hour-session certificate course for Filipino teachers of English in all levels of formal education, literacy teachers in non-formal education, school principals and administrators, and anyone involved in educational policy-making and implementation. It was offered for Filipino teachers of English in the Philippines or abroad for the first time in 2021, but also ran for the second time in 2022. One of the student-participants in 2021 also offered to host SEED for her colleagues in a university as well, and this run was also completed in early 2022. Given the success of these three iterations of the project, it is highly likely that it will be offered in many years to come, or localized for the specific needs of particular institutions in the country.
SEED is taught mainly through synchronous online sessions, and even if we return to F2F classrooms, it will mostly likely essentially remain online, with space for adapting to F2F if specific conditions demand it. These sessions are recorded and made available for students who are
unable to attend synchronously. Every session features worksheets and case studies for class and group discussion with the aim of surfacing and interrogating real-world examples of the interrelations between language, politics and education. For SEED 2022, the main requirement was for student-participants to organize webinars and talks which target their own colleagues and communities on themes relevant to the course. Thinking otherwise, the following themes organize the conduct of the certificate course.
|Week 1: Understanding Linguistic Difference||This session discusses the notion of linguistic difference and how it is linked with social variables such as social class, ethnicity and gender. The session also explains why it is important for all stakeholders of education should learn about linguistic difference.|
|Week 2: Unpacking Basic Concepts in Teaching and Learning||This session unpacks the limits of basic concepts in teaching and learning through the lens of linguistic difference. These concepts include, but are not limited to, standard/non-standard, correct/wrong grammar, language/dialect, and native/non-native|
|Week 3: Exploring the Impact of Linguistic Difference||This session explores the impact of linguistic difference on people, especially teachers and learners. It further explores how the way linguistic difference is valued impacts the lives of teachers and learners, including teacher effectiveness and learner achievement.|
|Week 4: Configuring the Globalization of English||This session critically examines the phenomenon of the globalization of English and its impact on the structures and functions of the language. It discusses how local cultures and social relations shape how the English language is used, thus resulting in many Englishes.|
|Week 5: Mapping Multilingual ELT
|This session defines Multilingual ELT and explains the role of multilingualism in the teaching and learning of English. In this session, ‘translingualism’ is also introduced to help us make sense of the overlapping languages and language varieties in the classroom.|
|Week 6: Exploring Pedagogies of Transformation||This session brings together key concepts and arguments in the course and explores ways by which teaching and learning of English can be transformed to benefit teachers and learners. In this session, students are expected to provide innovative solutions to classroom problems.|
As mentioned in the preceding section, thinking otherwise as a practice of epistemic decolonization needs to delink from but also re-engage with an infrastructure of knowledge production which is essentially responsible for the dissemination and utilization of knowledge within specific educational systems. In the case of SEED, how is it possible for research-informed knowledge in sociolinguistics to be communicated to a target audience who move about within specific configurations of work and knowledge of production? In the literature on appliable research and knowledge, the typical route is knowledge transfer or knowledge dissemination. For Gillies (2015), however, this assumes a rather passive way of moving knowledge from one platform to another. There is no “active processing” (p. 280) involved. “The object – in this case ‘research knowledge’ – is not acted upon in any way but is merely the subject of movement: it is moved from one sphere to another, from one group to another” (p. 280). SEED, therefore, has to be viewed as a platform of persuasion – thus politics — where thinking otherwise is mobilized as research-informed leading to transformative practice. In our case, it is the decolonizing agenda. This is what is referred to by Gillies (2015) as knowledge activism where knowledge – generated through thinking otherwise – “is to be treated to become politically significant” (p. 282).
However, the movement of knowledge across different spheres does not happen on a decontextualized platform. It implicates a complex institutional and geopolitical infrastructure which should then be critically negotiated in order for knowledge activism to start moving. In fact, overcoming inequities in knowledge production is part of what constitutes knowledge activism. The first consideration is critical institutional engagement. Our target participants all operate within formal educational institutions, thus in order for the certificate course to be accessible, we need to work within institutions of power. This action is what many may refer to as the complicity of scholars, but for Daza (2012) complicity is ‘infiltration’ if one gains access to workings of power in order to initiate change. One way we accomplished this was by going through the process of getting accreditation for the certificate course as a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course which would help the participants earn CPD points leading to the renewal of their teachers’ license with the Philippines’ Professional Regulatory Commission. The collaborative work with ACELT proved to be crucial here because they have institutional knowledge of the accreditation culture in the Philippines. In the end, SEED received accreditation and earned 10 CPD points (out of 15) for participants working towards renewing their teaching licenses.
Another way is to work within conditions of knowledge production using online infrastructures. Much has been written about unequal access to technologies of learning (Ojetunde et al., 2021; Devkota, 2021; Jantjies, 2020). The SEED syllabus, therefore, cannot function efficiently with a one-size-fits-all approach to learning (Carter & Fewster, 2013). It has to address problems of online connectivity and uneven workload among the participants who come from institutions of varied labour demands and regulations. Thus, participation in the certificate course could be accomplished through attendance in synchronous sessions, access to asynchronous recorded sessions with written outputs, orally recorded responses to written tasks and collaborative projects leading towards the conduct of talks or webinars targeting the participants’ own communities of learning and teaching. Contextualized learning experiences (Koh, 2021) do not just offer individualized and cultural solutions to diversifying learning. In fact, they also address material or structural inequalities in educational provision through online use of technology (Stanistreet, 2021; Devkota, 2021).
As we can see, knowledge activism must address fundamental structural inequalities to work well. It goes without saying that while epistemic decolonization begins with thinking otherwise, knowledge activism mobilizes knowledge transformation. But this is possible only if structural inequalities are addressed. Of course, such inequalities are massive and implicate a totality of systemic social injustices which go beyond educational concerns, and thus cannot be solved simply by one mundane decolonizing project such as a certificate course for continuing professional development. But we should think of this differently – that mundane everyday decolonial attempts at transforming education are ongoing struggles and never futile, but we should dig deeper into how such attempts can only be successful if material and structural considerations are treated as core challenges. We see here again that decolonizing language beliefs and ideologies, for example in the context of online teacher education, is implicated in broader conditions of power and social and educational inequality.
Other than epistemic decolonization and knowledge activism, social justice concerns were also critical to how we conceptualized the SEED project. Once again, I am keenly aware of the enormously demanding nature of social justice (e.g., Rosa & Flores, 2021; Osborn, 2006) thus talking about it in the context of one seemingly insignificant teacher training course may be interpreted as trivializing its lofty ideals. But we should also think of this differently, and rather ask how a social justice lens can help us mobilize a decolonizing agenda through a particular project. Despite recent talk about social justice, according to Hytten and Bettez (2011), “it is often unclear in any practical terms what we mean when we invoke a vision of social justice or how this influences such issues as program development, curricula, practicum opportunities, educational philosophy, social vision, and activist work” (p. 8). Talking about it through SEED will certainly not be sufficient, but it will nevertheless provide us ordinary teachers with questions to ask and reflect on our own assumptions and practices. Indeed, how is decolonizing beliefs and ideologies in ELT, in both epistemic and structural terms, link with social justice concerns?
First of all, when we speak of social justice, we speak of ameliorating the lives of people who have been subjected to different forms of marginalization and discrimination. It refers to “full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (Bell, 1997, p. 3). This means reconstituting unequal social relations, and then creating spaces and opportunities for these groups of people to access society’s symbolic and material resources, as well as reclaim all that was lost from them as they went through processes of minoritization and marginalization. In the case of the SEED project, the social justice component is significant largely due to socio-economic disparities among participants and their institutions. The material conditions within which many teachers operate to live their everyday lives prevent them from accessing quality and transformative educational content. In other words, will they be able to afford to attend the certificate course if they have to pay a certain amount of money as tuition fee? We have recently seen critical work on how teacher education especially during and because of the pandemic has been reenvisioned or sharpened to focus on incorporating content which will serve as guides to implement decolonizing projects (Hill, 2020), but students’ and teachers’ access to such content is usually not tackled at all. Who has access to such content and who does not? Are there possibilities for some teachers who cannot afford to pay fees to access training or continuing professional development courses?
Therefore, in offering SEED as a joint project, ACELT and I negotiated on the best possible terms for participants to join the certificate course. This has led to ACELT sourcing for 20 partially-funded scholarships to 20 deserving participants. Financial need was a key criterion of the selection of these 20 applicants. On top of this, I negotiated with ACELT to offer the certificate course at the lowest possible CPD workshop fees in exchange for me offering all my services for free. This helped bring down the fees to their minimum (with minimal ones needed to fund ACELT’s online platform and other services). In the end, 37 participants completed SEED 2021, a relatively high number according to ACELT records as average enrolment would hover around 15-20 students. What this demonstrates is that a decolonizing agenda requires that those engaged in it must be critically aware of their subject positions and privilege (Soler, 2019), but also must act on them (Harrison, 2019). One of such acts is to let go of whatever academic privilege one has in articulating and mobilizing a potentially transformative action.
This chapter is about decolonizing language beliefs and ideologies in ELT. However, as I have hopefully shown, this does not merely involve critically reflecting on harmful concepts and practices in the field, and then revising or overhauling our curricula or classroom practices. Through SEED, we have found that a decolonizing agenda begins with thinking otherwise, but in order for it to work, structural and material conditions and challenges must be addressed as well. SEED as an attempt at epistemic decolonization is structurally implicated in unequally distributed opportunities to access the certificate course in the first place, and addressing these involves democratizing access through diversifying modes of teaching, learning and assessment through online technology, as well as unpacking and then letting go of our own institutional and social privileges to enable some participants to enrol in the course with the least possible impact on their material conditions.
“Decolonization,” according to Canagarajah (2022), “is risky business” (p. 1). It “is sobering to recognize that radical thought paradigms are always entangled in diverse market forces, political regimes, and ideological discourses” (p. 2). Thus, it is imperative “to explore how progressive linguistic paradigms have to negotiate these entanglements in an ongoing manner to always reposition themselves strategically and maintain their critical edge” (p. 2). However, research has also found that one reason why transformative concepts in sociolinguistics and education do not get implemented successfully is not because teachers do not understand how these concepts work, but because provision of these in teacher training and development typically lacks concrete, tangible examples (Godley et al., 2006; Wheeler, 2016). Therefore, this chapter as mentioned many times over in the earlier sections, treads on dangerous grounds because it aims to operationalize a huge concept through one particular initiative. It is dangerous because the possibility of reducing or trivializing decolonization is palpable through this route. However, this chapter in the end is born out of a practical need: to decolonize language beliefs and ideologies through concrete and operationalizable means, and take control of ELT and fashion it the way we want it and as appropriate for our own respective contexts.
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Dr Ruanni TUPAS is Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Institute of Education, University College London. He taught for 10 years at the Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore. He was Programme Leader of the MA in Applied Linguistics programme at the National Institute of Education (Singapore) before he joined the UCL Institute of Education in 2019 where he teaches the graduate programmes of both TESOL and Applied Linguistics. He is currently an Associate Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.