"Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?" (review)
- FYI, a review of a title for which the announcement was posted on this
list as message #160. (Fwd from the Linguist list)... DZO
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
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.
I. MINORITY LANGUAGES IN ENGLISH-DOMINANT STATES
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.
II. LANGUAGE IN POST COLONIAL STATES
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).
III. MANAGING AND EXPLOITING LANGUAGE CONFLICT
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
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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"
>not only on
> FYI (reposted from Linguist list):
> * Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?
> * Language Policies in Education: Critical Issues
> 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
> 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
> Medium of instruction policies in education have considerable impact
> the school performance of students and the daily work of teachers,but also on
> various forms of social and economic (in)equality....