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Review of  The Politics of Language Education


Reviewer: Irena Gyulazyan
Book Title: The Politics of Language Education
Book Author: J. Charles Alderson
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 21.785

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Review:
EDITOR: J. Charles Alderson
TITLE: The Politics of Language Education
SUBTITLE: Individuals and Institutions
SERIES TITLE: New Perspectives on Language and Education
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2009

Irena Gyulazyan, Department of English Language Programs, American University of
Armenia

INTRODUCTION

Being the result of negotiations between different individual agents,
educational policies are affected by individual attitudes and motivations
(Gvirtz 2006). The contributions in ''The Politics of Language Education:
Individuals and Institutions'' edited by Charles Alderson offer eye-opening
insights into the role of individuals and institutions in language education
policy developments and implementation. A key concern throughout this volume is
the negative effect of influential stakeholders and various interest groups on
language education in different contexts. Each chapter explores ongoing
questions in language policy and education and presents one or two case studies
to further support the arguments for the importance of adopting a wider analysis
of the individual's role in language education.

SUMMARY

In the first chapter, ''Setting the Scene'', Alderson provides context for the
following chapters by exploring the language education literature and various
theories in relevant disciplines like psychology, management and intercultural
communication. He argues that the present perspectives on language education
macropolitics take no account of individuals' exercise of power and authority in
the formulation and implementation of language education policies. Alderson
formulates the need for understanding the complex relationship between the macro
and micropolicies in language education and the ways by which individual
micropolicies affect policy processes at different levels.

In the second chapter, ''Professional Advice vs. Political Imperatives'', Davies
discusses the existing clash between the professional and the political, and
gives an account of two case studies which exemplify the conceptualization of
political power in educational administration. The two studies, one located in
Nepal and the other in West Africa, show the policymakers in their policy-making
roles and their ways of influencing policy processes and limiting the role of
professionals. In both situations discussed, professional consultants were
forced to admit that language education involves a great amount of politics and
ideologies and had to acknowledge the centrality of individual attitudes and
beliefs in the formulation of language education policies.

The third chapter, ''Micropolitical Issues in ELT Project Implementation'' by
Hunter provides a description of aid development ELT projects and analyses the
affective factors involved in projectisation. He emphasizes the importance of a
political psychology standpoint in analysing and evaluating the role of
consultants and various stakeholders. Hunter's vision of the policy-making role
of influential stakeholders is consonant with the findings of studies presented
in this volume and recognizes the effect of micropolitical dynamics in
interpreting and implementing language education policies.

Chapter 4 ''The Politics of ELT Projects in China'' by Kerr illustrates how
changing policy contexts leads to policy dilemmas. The chapter begins by
providing the socio-historical context for the case study carried out by the
author on the politics of UK-funded English Language Teaching projects in China.
Kerr examines the gaps in policy interpretations by different agencies of policy
governance and the effect of these on the micropolitics of the interaction and
communication between and among project participants and their host
institutions. This is clearly illustrated in the way political and policy
changes in the UK are reflected on the politics of the recipient institutions in
China, resulting first in the promotion of political and professional agendas of
the ELT Specialists based in China, and later in the disappearance of the ELT
projects and the dispersion of ELT Specialists from the Chinese educational
system. The chapter supports Ball's view that policies are texts that ''are
decoded in complex ways through actors' interpretations and meanings in relation
to their history, experiences, skills, resources and contexts'' (2000, p. 1831).

The chapter ''Teaching Immigrants the Language of the Host Community: Two Object
Lessons in the Need for Continuous Policy Development'' by Little and Simpson
explores the impact of immigration policies on language education policy in
general, and language pedagogy and practice in particular in a region with a
large number of refugees and migrants. The chapter gives an account of two
programs: English language courses for adults with refugee status and English
language support for non-English/Irish-speaking pupils. Both programs were
developed as emergency means to cope with the issue of immigrant integration in
Ireland. However, according to Little and Simpson both programs were conducted
in a policy vacuum leading to deficiencies in policy development and
implementation which illustrates that policies cannot be implemented in
isolation since they are largely affected by individual and institutional
circumstances.

Chapter 6, ''The Commercialisation of Language Provision at University,'' by
Fulcher, begins by describing the main developmental trends in language
education in UK universities in the recent years and goes on to locate TESOL and
EAP activities in this setting. Fulcher presents survey research on the role of
TESOL/EAP provision within the UK Higher Education setting from the perception
of those directly engaged in TESOL/EAP activities. According to the findings
based on professional and institutional perceptions, TESOL and EAP activities
are mainly seen as income generators within their respective institutions. Thus,
as a result of commercialisation, language teaching has become isolated from
research and scholarship, and language provision is often regarded as a
'subdegree' academic activity. Fulcher suggests ways by which TESOL/EAP units
may achieve higher academic status within their respective institutions by
reviewing their academic profiles and encouraging staff to inform their teaching
practices with research.

Chapter 7 ''The Role of Micropolitics in Multinational, High-Stakes Language
Assessment Systems'' by Crossey examines the direct relationship between the
macro- and micro-political levels in educational policy development initiatives,
this time focusing on the language education
characteristics of a wider supranational context. The author presents a case
study of the attempts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member states to
standardise assessment within the Organisation by developing standardised
language proficiency tests. The initiative however comes to serve the personal
and political objectives of specific interest groups and once again we see
educational policies trapped in a circle of various macro- and micro-political
objectives. The author concludes that education policies and practices are
always situated in relation to individual agendas and motivations, and any
policy is initiated and implemented in a macrocosm of political and personal
agendas. Therefore, these agendas whether implicit or explicit should be taken
into account for the ultimate success of any educational initiative.

Chapter 8 ''Challenges and Constraints in Language Test Development'' explores the
role of a language test developer in a challenging multifaceted context of test
development with its tensions and limitations. The chapter describes the way
professional practice is influenced and guided by organisational and individual
micropolitics with the test developer being forced to interact and compromise
with the interests of various stakeholders. The professional skills of a test
developer are shown in settings with a variety of system and resource
constraints. Buck presents his own view of professional ethical standards by
discussing the ethical dilemmas faced by language testing professionals.

Chapter 9, ''The Politics of Examination Reform in Central Europe'', examines the
significant impact of politics on the efforts to reform state school-leaving
certification examinations in two European countries which at the time were
going through educational reforms. The chapter provides the context for the two
case studies by describing the educational systems of the two European
countries, Slovenia and Hungary, and the need for educational reforms according
to international recommendations called for by political changes in the two
countries. The first study reports on the implementation process of the
examination reform in languages in primary and secondary schools in Slovenia. It
analyzes the breakdown in the implementation of innovative national examinations
due to lack of research and training, and as a result of the influence exercised
by individual stakeholders. The Hungarian project gives an account of the
achievements in developing an innovative English school-leaving examination
model which, however, did not result in successful implementation of the model
but had to undergo changes predominantly motivated by the influential
stakeholders' hidden agendas. The main problems identified in these two studies
are reminiscent of those encountered in examination reform attempts reported by
Zachariah (1993).

Chapter 10, ''Language Educational Policies within a European Framework'', by
Figueras provides an overview of the latest language policy and language
education initiatives by the European Union and the Council of Europe,
highlighting how the potential of various projects and programs is being
undermined by a lack of transparency. The chapter examines deficiencies in
dissemination issues. It raises an awareness of the crucial role of individual
micropolitics provoked and fostered by the characteristics of European
macropolitics. Figueras provides actual examples of how individuals and
institutions in member states embrace the Council of Europe educational goals,
and analyzes the dynamics of the communication within and among educational
communities. Figueras discusses the sustainability issue in relation to various
European projects, such as DIALANG, CEFTRAIN and Speakeasy, by pointing to the
deficiencies which in fact result in the incoherent use of final products. The
author discusses the need in the subsequent steps in the dissemination of
European policies and products, and the way in which educational resources can
be made more transparent and available.

The final contribution, by Alderson, ''The Micropolitics of Research and
Publication'', explores the moral dimensions of discussing and publishing
accounts of 'the negative' in language education by presenting a case study of
the author's attempts at publishing four case studies on the role of politics in
language testing. The chapter concludes the volume by calling for critical
self-reflection on the part of language education that would allow us to see the
true picture of language education and recognize practices motivated by
political and personal agendas of influential stakeholders. Alderson argues that
the present solely positive and optimistic approach to describing and discussing
various language education projects and developments does not allow for
highlighting and critiquing the negative consequences of individual behaviour
leading to failure of projects in different settings and situations.

EVALUATION

This volume views and discusses language education against the background of
educational micropolitics since ''policies and educational practices are always
situated in relation to wider issues of power, access, opportunity, inequality
and, at times, discrimination and disadvantage'' (May & Hornberger 2008, p. v).
It presents a thought-provoking collection of studies from a wide range of
social and political contexts that focus on the necessity of recognizing the
role of individuals and institutions, and addressing and where possible
remedying the negative effects of the advancement of individual micropolitical
agendas.

As such, this volume is of particular interest to specialists in language
education and language policy, critical linguists, applied linguists, and
language educators. With its eye-opening insights into the micropolitical
dynamics of language education, it is also intended for policymakers and
educational administrators since it identifies and describes in a comprehensive
way the potential negative effects of micropolitics that result in deficiencies
in policy development and implementation. Thus, the attention of policy makers
is drawn to the influence patterns of various stakeholders and policy
implementators on policy processes at different levels.

Scholars and educators are called upon to question and critique educational
policies and practices that are motivated by political and personal agendas of
individual stakeholders or specific interest groups. In addition, by
foregrounding the micropolitical aspect of language education this collection of
studies exemplifies new potential topics for research in language education and
is, therefore, of significant interest to researchers and graduate students.

REFERENCES

Ball, S. (2000). Sociology of Education: Major Themes. Vol. IV, Politics and
Policies. London and New York: Routledge Falmer.
Gvirtz, S. (2006). Micro-politics and the Examination of Curricular Practices:
The Case of School Notebooks. In Benavot A. & Braslavsky, C.: School Knowledge
in Comparative and Historical Perspective. Changing Curricula in Primary and
Secondary Education. 155-172.
May, S. and Hornberger, N. H. (eds.) (2008). Encyclopedia of Language and
Education, 2nd edition, volume 1, Language policy and political issues in
education, New York, Springer Science+Business Media LLC.
Zachariah, M. (1993). Examination Reform in Traditional Universities: A Few
Steps forward, Many Steps Back. Higher Education 26 (1):115-46.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Irena Gyulazyan currently teaches English at the Department of English Language Programs at the American University of Armenia and serves as an IELTS examiner at the British Council. Her main research interests include language education, language testing and assessment, and course evaluation.

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