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"Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?" (review)

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  • Don Osborn
    FYI, a review of a title for which the announcement was posted on this list as message #160. (Fwd from the Linguist list)... DZO Date: 19-Apr-2005 From:
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 15, 2006
      FYI, a review of a title for which the announcement was posted on this
      list as message #160. (Fwd from the Linguist list)... DZO

      Date: 19-Apr-2005
      From: Thapelo Otlogetswe <Thapelo.Otlogetswe@...>
      Subject: Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?

      EDITORS: Tollefson, James W.; Tsui, Amy B. M.
      TITLE: Medium of Instruction Policies
      SUBTITLE: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?
      PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
      YEAR: 2004
      Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-2989.html

      Thapelo Otlogetswe, Information Technology Research Institute,
      University of Brighton, UK.


      The book is an edited collection of 14 papers by 16 authors who argue
      for the centrality of medium-of-instruction (MOI) policy in
      socio-political processes. MOI policy choices are presented not just
      as pedagogical options, but are defined by and define the social,
      political and economic participation, social equality and human rights
      of citizens. They empower and disempower different language groups and
      perpetuate the subjugation of the minority groups by the dominant ones
      (cf. Honey 1997). Its scope is broad with papers on experiences from
      every continent. The papers detail experiences from New Zealand,
      Wales, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, India,
      South Africa, Bolivia and Ecuador, Slovenia and post-colonial Africa.
      They dispel the dominant myth that linguistic pluralism is a root
      source of ethnic and national unrest, by defending the position that
      linguistic diversity empowers citizens to meaningfully participate
      politically, socially and economically.


      The book is divided into three major parts:

      Part one: Minority Languages in English Dominated States (Three Chapters)
      Part two: Language in Post-Colonial States (Six chapters)
      Part Three: Managing and Exploiting Language Conflict (Three Chapters)

      There are two other chapters by the editors which do not fall within
      the broader three classifications above; one at the beginning of the
      book, which serves as a useful introduction to the chapters, and
      another at the end of the book which summarizes the common themes
      across all chapters.

      In the first chapter the editors, Tollefson and Tsui, introduce the
      reader to the collection by offering a panoramic overview of the
      entire book, chapter by chapter. Each chapter is summarized by
      considering how it illustrates how state educational agendas mirror
      underlying political, social and economic agendas. In multilingual and
      multi-ethnic post-colonial states, for instance, the colonial language
      has been preferred over indigenous languages for its perceived ethnic
      and political neutrality to eschew ethnic and national upheavals. Such
      choices have favoured the elite educated in the colonial language and
      restricted political, economic and social participation of the rest of
      the population who lack the mastery of the foreign tongue. Thus the
      first chapter not only provides a summary of other chapters but also
      show how all the chapters in the book hang together.

      In the second chapter Stephen May traces how the indigenous Maori of
      New Zealand fought for their linguistic rights under the colonial
      domination of English speaking whites of European origin, the Pakeha.
      The Maori established Maori-medium schools outside the government
      educational system to revive and maintain the Maori language and
      culture. This led to the recognition of Maori as an official language
      in New Zealand in 1987 through the passing of the Maori Language Act.
      The Maori used the linguistic gains as a platform for greater autonomy
      and to challenge the inequalities inherent in the state educational
      system. May believes that the Maori struggle presents a useful model
      that could be adopted by other minority languages in the country.

      Dylan Jones and Marilyn Martin-Jones in the third chapter focus on the
      socio-political processes in the development of Welsh-medium and
      bilingual education in an English dominant environment. They show how
      in the 19th and 20th century Welsh was considered a stumbling block to
      moral progress and commercial prosperity. English-medium education was
      therefore seen as a desirable tool to combat Welsh backwardness and
      riotous mannerisms of the 1830 and 1840s. The Welsh, however resisted
      the English language dominance led be Welsh intellectuals,
      politicians, The Welsh Language Society and Welsh speaking parents.
      Welsh schools were established and the public sector institutions
      created employment opportunities for those educated in Welsh. In spite
      of all these progresses, the demand for English in higher education
      has meant that Welsh hasn't established itself at that level.

      Teresa McCarty provides a critical analysis of medium of instruction
      policy in the United States observing that though the US is
      linguistically and culturally pluralistic it remains English
      dominated. Throughout the history of America when linguistic diversity
      was considered non-threatening as in the creation of religious texts
      in native languages, it was state-supported but when it was considered
      destabilizing, the state went into "a full-fledged language panic" (p.
      79) and linguistic diversity was curtailed. McCarty therefore argues
      that decisions about language are rarely linguistically motivated but
      are about social class, power and control.

      In chapter five Amy Tsui discusses Hong Kong's language policies
      first, over the 150 years of British colonialism and later when Hong
      Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. She argues that the
      policies have always been guided by underlying political agendas
      although economic justifications were offered to the public. Although
      Cantonese is widely spoken, English is widely used as a medium of
      instruction in many schools since it is crucial for maintaining Hong
      Kong as a major financial and trading centre and it symbolizes
      prestige, power and wealth. This argument has been sustained
      regardless of the fact that research has shown that mother tongue
      education improved students' academic performance, motivation and
      confidence. She argues that the political agenda always supercedes all
      agendas whether they are economic, social or educational although
      these agendas will be used as public justification for policy.

      Anne Pakir offers a positive appraisal of Singapore's language policy
      model which she argues "represents an impressive case of a
      well-planned and effective implemented language-policy program" (p.
      117). With its English-knowing bilingualism of English and another
      official language in the country Singapore has attempted the language
      preservation of different linguistic groups and the empowerment of
      learners for a knowledge-based economy which has English as a dominant
      language. English is the first school language and the main medium of
      instruction in all national schools and is seen as politically
      neutral. Pupils select their second school language on the basis of
      their ethnic classification. The official ethnic languages, Malay,
      Chinese, Tamil, are supported, promoted and taught as second
      languages. Although minority languages are taught alongside English,
      English still remains dominant, raising identity issues and problems
      in the transference of traditional values.

      Sarah Kaur Gill traces the development of nationalism in Malaysia
      after independence through the establishment of Bahasa Malaysia as the
      official language and discusses the relegation of English, which
      played a dominant role before independence, to a second language
      status. English retained its official status for only 10 years after
      independence as Bahasa Malaysia replaced it in different sectors of
      the society in a process that lasted about 26 years. Bahasa Malaysia
      as an official language was crucial for enhancing feelings of
      nationalism and unity although the indigenous Malays formed 49.78% and
      there were other ethnic groups like Chinese (37.1%) and Indians
      (11.0%). The adoption of Bahasa Malaysia as an official language
      enhanced its status and gave Malaysia a unique national identity.
      However the dominance of Bahasa Malaysia impacted negatively on the
      comprehension of texts in English by undergraduates educated in Bahasa
      Malaysia. The government was therefore forced to revert to the use of
      English in science, engineering and medical courses in universities
      and colleges on the basis of economic and technological development
      justifications. This move was successfully opposed by the Malaysian
      intellectuals who retained Bahasa Malaysia in public schools at the
      expense of academic development of students, while private
      universities could teach in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. Malaysia
      has increasingly become receptive to the teaching in English not only
      in higher education but also at primary schools.

      In chapter 8, Iluminado Nical, Jerzy J. Smolicz and Margaret J.
      Secombe measure language attitudes of Philippines rural students,
      their parents and teachers, faced by the dominance of both Filipino
      and English. Their research is based in the island of Leyte.
      Pre-independence Philippines suffered American imposition rule with
      its compulsory education in English which excluded indigenous
      languages from schools, universities and most of public life. After
      independence Filipino which gained popularity, was adopted as a
      political compromise to defuse ethnic tensions and so that a foreign
      language like English could not be adopted as a national language.
      Bilingual education through Filipino and English disadvantaged
      minority learners who "faced a double linguistic barrier to learning"
      (p. 160). The Philippines continues to face tensions between Cebuano
      and Tagalog which could develop into a serious ethnic conflict. Nical,
      Smolicz and Secombe argue for linguistic diversity alongside the
      development of a national language.

      E. Annamalai points out that though India has about 200 languages,
      only 33 are used as the medium of instruction and 41 are made
      available for study in the school curriculum from which students must
      learn three. The three languages include either their mother tongue or
      a regional language, Hindi and English. English is considered
      ethnically neutrally, though it is not class neutral since it is a
      language of the elite. Making English the medium of higher education
      has heightened its demand and made it more prestigious. There is also
      no commitment from the government to change medium of instruction from
      English to Indian languages since it has been argued that the Indian
      languages have to develop first to handle technical terminology and
      textbooks have to be written before the languages could be used in
      schools. Annamalai argues that these conditions are unhelpful since a
      language develops in use and texts are easily produced when there is
      demand for them. Parental demand for English-medium of instruction put
      the government under pressure. Annamalai argues that the "solution to
      the problems of education through the medium of English is to teach
      English effectively while imparting education through the medium of
      Indian languages" (p. 191).

      Hassana Alidou presents a critical review of medium-of-instruction in
      post-colonial Africa. Although the continent is vast, she successfully
      shows striking similarities between francophone and anglophone Africa.
      She observes that colonial education was created to serve European
      economical and political interests. Colonial administrators used a
      common language for learners since they did not speak the same
      language. In former British colonies African languages and English
      were used transitionally as medium of instruction and English became a
      dominant language after the fourth grade and the only language in
      secondary school and higher education. In former French colonies, on
      the other hand, African languages were excluded completely from the
      education system in an attempt to civilize and assimilate African
      students into French culture. However in post-colonial Africa, in
      avoidance of ethnic wars, African governments ironically retained
      colonial languages which were viewed as neutral means of
      communication. Political independence did not lead to educational and
      economic independence. This created problems for learners resulting
      with higher levels of dropouts and lower levels of pass rate. Alidou
      finally argues that medium-of-instruction issue in Africa can only be
      resolved through courageous leadership that will seriously address
      "both Western and African-based linguistic, cultural and economic
      hegemony" (p. 213).

      Vic Webb argues that although South Africa has 11 official languages
      (9 Bantu languages, English and Afrikaans) which constitutionally are
      of equal status and esteem, English is used as the de facto official
      language because of its prestige and partly because of a lack of a
      clear policy of the implementation of the language policy that will
      see the other languages used in official public domains. English
      though having a smaller number of native speakers, it has prestige and
      it is politically, economically, and educationally dominant. On the
      other hand Bantu languages, although numerically in the majority, they
      lack prestige, economic and educational value. Afrikaans remains
      stigmatized as a symbol of apartheid. The constitutional pronouncement
      binds the national and provisional governments to use at least two
      official languages for the purposes of government. Webb's criticism is
      of the government's "escape clauses" which may allow the government to
      avoid the full and meaningful implementation of future policy. One of
      these escape clauses states that policies should take into "account
      usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances, and the balance
      of the needs and preferences of the population" (p. 220). While Webb
      has a positive view of language policy development in South Africa, he
      believes it is too soon to determine conclusively whether it is a
      failure or success.

      Kendall A. King and Carol Benson argue that the gap between official
      policy and daily practice in the implementation of the language policy
      in Bolivia and Ecuador can be traced to ideological and implementation
      challenges and resource constraints. Both countries experienced long
      Spanish colonial rule that marginalized indigenous people and their
      languages. They therefore argue for an educational system in mother
      tongue with Spanish being introduced gradually as a second language
      and that the mother tongue should be developed in parallel with
      Spanish throughout primary school. However they note that there is a
      lack of resources for and in indigenous languages. These include human
      and material resources. Untrained teachers and those who lack
      confidence in indigenous languages pose a great challenge to the
      teaching of indigenous languages. Ideological forces that could
      undermine the teaching of indigenous languages include expressed
      ideals which are not matched with actual actions on the ground. King
      and Benson are optimistic of the future of indigenous languages in
      Bolivia and Ecuador as more minority individuals take leadership roles
      in the society. Many indigenous languages also have written forms and
      are used in basic schooling.

      James Tollefson discusses the languages policies in Slovenia focusing
      on the tension between the process of integration and ethnolinguistic
      nationalism. He argues that between 1945-1980 language policies in
      Yugoslavia were characterized by great pluralism. This was central to
      the maintenance of a united state comprising Serbs, Croats, Moslems,
      Slovenes, Albanians, and Macedonians. Linguistic pluralism therefore
      maintained peace, stability and unity. However in the mid 1980s,
      Slobodan Molosevic imposed Serbian nationalism and blamed pluralism
      for a plethora of problems in Yugoslavia. The resistance of Serbian
      nationalism led to the independence of Slovenia which established
      Slovene as the official language but offered Italians and Hungarians a
      right to mother tongue education in Slovenia. Tollefson argues that
      the case of Yugoslavia illustrates that to avoid tensions dominant
      groups must deal with minorities fairly and embrace pluralism.

      In the final chapter James W. Tollefson and Amy B. Tsui reiterate the
      central theme of the whole book; that medium of instruction policies
      are not formed in isolation but rather in the context of complex
      political and social forces, changes in government and competition for
      resources. They summarize central themes across all chapters. These
      include amongst others, the gap between between official policy and
      everyday practice, limitations of resources to support minority
      language development, the relationship between ethnolinguistic
      diversity and social conflict and many others.


      Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? is a
      must-have text for all those working in sociolinguistics, language
      policy development, education research and I recommend it as critical
      reading for all education and linguistics students. It covers medium
      of instruction matters in amazing depth and scope than any book I have
      ever read on the subject. It is well written and the contributors have
      an impressive mastery of their subject.

      Having said that, there are weaknesses that must be pointed out.
      Although the book is divided into three main categories: Part one:
      Minority Languages in English Dominated States; Part two: Language in
      Post-Colonial States, and Part Three: Managing and Exploiting Language
      Conflict, these classifications are not helpful since there is
      considerable overlap between the classifications rendering them
      unhelpful and even misleading. This is partly because the
      classifications are not mutually exclusive. For instance papers that
      deal with Minority Languages in English Dominated States are found in
      a different section since states like India and South Africa have
      minority languages in an English dominated environment but are also
      post-colonial. Alidou's paper on medium-of-instruction in
      post-colonial Africa traces how African states have managed and
      exploited language conflict although it is not under Managing and
      Exploiting Language Conflict. This observation is true for other
      papers in the collection.

      What I found striking also is how different writers characterized a
      country which is the focus of their paper as multilingual (e.g. Indian
      with about 200 languages, South Africa with about 80 languages and the
      US with over 300 languages) and then proceeded to ignore the vast
      majority of other minority languages and their status in the country
      and instead focused either on those languages which had been declared
      official or those whose speakers rendered the loudest protestation.
      While most writers argue for mother-tongue education, most stayed
      clear of addressing how each child could be guaranteed learning in
      their mother tongue in highly multilingual communities. Watson has
      observed that "the poorest countries are amongst the most
      plurilingual, especially in Africa" (Watson 1999:06). How then can
      states facing the scourge of Aids and with pitiable economies
      guarantee mother tongue education to each child in a highly
      plurilingual community? Related to this matter is the lack of an
      economic justification of how states can sustain the implementation of
      mother-tongue education. While the collection of chapters argue that
      medium of instruction policies are better understood within the a
      socio-political and economic framework, the papers succeed in
      illustrating the socio-political parameters but fail in showing the
      economic ones.

      Having said that, I still consider Medium of Instruction Policies:
      Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? the best book on the subject of medium of
      instruction policy today.


      Honey, John (1997) Language is Power: The Story of Standard
      ENglish and its Enemies. London: Faber and Faber Limited

      Watson, Keith (1999) Language, Power, Development and
      Geographical Changes: conflicting pressures facing plurilingual
      societies. Compare, Vol. 29, No. 1.


      Thapelo Otlogetswe is a PhD student at the Information Technology
      Research Institute, University of Brighton, UK. His research is in the
      area of corpus lexicography focusing on how minority languages can
      build robust corpora for lexicographic research.

      --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, "Donald Z. Osborn"
      <dzo@...> wrote:
      > FYI (reposted from Linguist list):
      > * Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?
      > * Language Policies in Education: Critical Issues
      > DZO
      > Message 1: Medium of Instruction Policies: Tollefson, Tsui (Eds)
      > Date: 12-Oct-2004
      > From: Susan Barker <Susan.Barker@...>
      > Subject: Medium of Instruction Policies: Tollefson, Tsui (Eds)
      > Title: Medium of Instruction Policies
      > Subtitle: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?
      > Publication Year: 2004
      > Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
      > http://www.erlbaum.com/
      > Editor: James W. Tollefson
      > Editor: Amy B.M. Tsui
      > Hardback: ISBN: 0805842772 Pages: 312 Price: U.S. $ 69.95
      > Paperback: ISBN: 0805842780 Pages: 312 Price: U.S. $ 32.50
      > Abstract:
      > Medium of instruction policies in education have considerable impact
      not only on
      > the school performance of students and the daily work of teachers,
      but also on
      > various forms of social and economic (in)equality.
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