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Review of  Policy and Politics in Global Primary English

Reviewer: Dung My Tran
Book Title: Policy and Politics in Global Primary English
Book Author: Janet Enever
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 30.674

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The book “Policy and Politics in Global Primary English” written by Janet Enever talks about policies regarding teaching English in primary schools in various countries in the world, as well as the political aspects that influence those policies. The book is divided into two parts. Part I, composed of Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4, mentions the background of how English education in primary schools has flourished and the common belief that knowing English will help children later earn good jobs in the global economy. Part II, including Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8, focuses on the broad social and political contexts that influence the teaching policies.

Chapter 1 addresses the global trend of studying and teaching English, and the reasons why children should start learning English early. Since the 1900s, global trading has become widespread. Countries want to communicate for business; therefore, the demand for learning English has increased. Moreover, in order to find jobs in the time of global trading, knowing English is crucial. Thus, parents want their children to start learning English early so they can get jobs when they grow up. Many countries, under the pressure of global trading and parents, have issued various policies of teaching English at primary schools. In the chapter, these policies are examined based on the framework of Robertson and Dale (2000), which asserts that there are connections among the state, the economy and the civil society. These three aspects have to agree over rules and regulations so that the state can exist. Additionally, many countries issue policies so children can start learning English early because of several reasons. First, children have the linguistic advantage. For example, they can notice words (Yelland, Pollard and Mercuri, 1993; Bialystock, 1987) and other aspects of linguistics such as grammar or spelling (Swain and Lapkin, 1991). Second, children have a cognitive advantage. Children’s brains are elastic and flexible, that’s why they can learn another language better than adults.

Chapter 2 mentions the policies of teaching English in primary schools in different contexts. The first context is India. It has thousands of languages and Hindi is the first official language while English is the second one. Two specific regions in India, Tamil Nadu and Delhi are investigated in this chapter, and it is shown that the quality of teachers and facilities aren’t high in both regions. Also, in these regions, efforts have been exerted to limit the number of private schools so state schools can thrive. The second context is Europe. In Spain, there have been many bilingual schools since the mid-1900s. In Madrid, bilingual primary schools have also increased to 353, which is 46% of all primary schools within the states. However, many issues have arisen in Madrid, such as the inequality of educational opportunities among children in different parts of the region and the inappropriate assessment of the Common European Framework of Reference. Regarding both India and Madrid, policy makers and educators are still very optimistic about the English education at primary schools, yet, there is a lack of research on the effectiveness of these programs.

Chapter 3 focuses on the policies of teaching English before primary schools. In European countries such as Italy, Portugal and Poland, most parents and teachers want children to study English in kindergarten. They think the culture of English-speaking countries is worth studying and English will bring the children an economic advantage despite the fact that children can learn very little at this age. In Shanghai, China, some kindergartens only teach Putonghua, the official language, because of the national policy “one nation, one language.” However, other schools want children to speak more than one language, so they take advantage of the state policy which declares that 20 percent of teaching time can be allocated to satisfy local preferences. In this case, a disagreement exists between the state and the civil society.

Chapter 4 details the evidence of the benefits of teaching English at primary schools, specifically in Italy, Sweden and Poland. These countries vastly differ in geography, history and politics; yet, they all adopt the policy of teaching English since primary school. This leads to many gains, such as children will develop positive attitudes and great motivation in learning English, be able to create different identities, gain more knowledge about languages and develop the awareness of various cultures. In this case, considering the framework of Robertson and Dale (2000), the civil society and the state share some similar ideas. Parents, thinking that English will benefit their children in the future, want the best education policy for them. At the same time, policy makers hope to get support for the next election and provide the next generations with language skills so they can thrive in the global market. As a result, policies regarding teaching English at primary schools are implemented.

Chapter 5 reveals the six soft policies in Europe that lead to the policy of teaching English at primary schools. The first policy is the establishment of the European Center for Modern Languages in which 32 countries join. This center holds workshops and programs to help teachers boost their English teaching skills and guide English language learners in Europe. The second policy is the creation of the Common European Framework of Reference. This framework is used to assess the learner’s competencies in European languages. The third policy is the start of the European Language Portfolio, which is designed to help learners record the process of learning another language. The forth policy is the Action Plan 2004-06. Specifically, the European Commission wants the ministries of education to start teaching at least two foreign languages in kindergartens and primary schools by 2006. The fifth policy is Eurydice, another program that develops education in foreign languages in Europe. The final policy is the Lifelong Learning Program 2007-2013. This program allows teachers and students to study abroad in European countries to improve their proficiency in foreign languages and network with each other. Some of these policies are investigated in Germany and Slovenia, and their implementations are found to be different. Since Germany is a big country and has many German speakers, some states resist teaching a foreign language at primary schools. Meanwhile, Slovenia is a smaller country where authority belongs to the central government, so it’s easy to reach an agreement over the policy of teaching foreign languages at primary schools.

Chapter 6 mentions the assessment of foreign languages, specifically how Vietnam and Uruguay use the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to evaluate English learners’ proficiency. The CEFR emphasizes oral communication and reflects a communicative approach in teaching foreign languages. It divides learners into three categories, basic users at level A1 and A2, independent users at level B1 and B2 and proficient users at level C1 and C2. The CEFR can be applied in any context; however, it is thought to fit the Western countries better. When the CEFR was implemented in Vietnam, Dudzik and Nguyen (2015) and Hung (2015) shared the idea that the framework isn’t culturally appropriate and there should be a separate CEFR for Asian countries. In Uruguay, the CEFR is adapted to the country’s context. For example, the assessment criteria are designed to reflect those in the CEFR, but two different tests are created, the English Adaptive Assessment and the Cambridge English Young Learners Tests – Starters, Movers and Flyers to fit different kinds of students. In general, the fact that both countries adopt the CEFR shows their attempts to catch up with the global trend.

Chapter 7 shows the politics of English education, specifically how the policies of teaching English in primary schools are affected by the funding from international organizations such as the World Bank (WB), the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Take Chile as an example, their policy regarding teaching English at primary schools has been significantly influenced by the financial support of WB and private companies. In 2010, Chile joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); since then, the idea that English can develop their economy has been strengthened. Another example is Colombia. It receives funds from OECD, who then evaluates the country via the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). To come up with the reports for evaluation, Colombian teachers have to measure and record almost everything. Generally, in both countries, teachers have to satisfy the policies and try to find ways to make them benefit the students despite the fact that some policies can be inappropriate.

Chapter 8 addresses some conditions to create an equitable and high quality education in English in primary schools. First, generalist teachers in charge of the whole curriculum are the most suitable for teaching English. They should know about the development of children’s languages, use effective methods to teach children at primary schools and have high English proficiency, especially in oral skills. They should also be trained for three to five years about how to teach English before actually teaching and should participate in professional development. Next, if a new policy is to be implemented, it needs to be planned and evaluated by school principals and teachers at primary schools. There should be a plan to manage financial resources for the policy as well. For the curriculum to be successful, school principals, staff and parents have to support and take part in it. The curriculum should cover specific areas, allow students to make progress over the years, and be based on themes. Furthermore, there is a need for diverse materials for teaching and a team to develop materials. Also, the class size should be limited so individual attention can be given to students. Children at primary schools shouldn’t be assessed by high-stake tests such as those based on the CEFR. Moreover, some communication between primary and secondary schools needs to be established so children can continue their English study without having to learn from the beginning when they start a new level of education. Finally, to make sure children receive equal educational opportunities, there should be free primary education and some control over primary private schools.


This book provides abundant background information on the policies of teaching English language at primary schools. Many parts of the world are examined,such as Europe including Italy, Spain and Poland, Asia including India, Vietnam and China, and South America including Colombia and Uruguay. This can help readers form a big picture of how policies regarding primary English education are applied globally. Moreover, the writer provides a framework that enable readers to understand more about the politics of teaching English at primary schools. The framework emphasizes the relationship among the state, the economy and the civil society, from which it can be concluded that the policies regarding teaching English at primary schools are sometimes political. For example, if a government receives financial support from organizations such as WB or IMF, they need to issue policies concerning teaching English at primary schools that can satisfy the requirements of these organizations. The policies may not be conducive to the effectiveness of teaching and learning, but they still have to be carried out or else the funds might be cut. In addition, parents have a great power over the implementation of the English policy. Since many of them think that knowing English will help their children to find jobs in the global market, they create demand for the teaching of English, which forces policy makers to conduct policies to provide that education.

Although the organization of the book isn’t always logical, the simple language makes the book an easy-read. Besides, this book doesn’t require readers to have much background information before reading it. It is suitable for anyone interested in the current situation of English education in primary schools all over the world.


Bialystock, E. (1987). Development of word concept by bilingual children. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 9, 133-140.

Dudzik, D. L., & Nguyen, Q. T. N. (2015). Vietnam: Building English competency in preparation for ASEAN 2015. In R. Stroupe & K. Kimura (Eds.), ASEAN integration and the role of English language teaching (pp. 41-71). Phnom Penh: IDF Education. Retrievied 18 October 2017 from

Hung, N. N. (2015). Vietnam’s National Foreign Language 2020 Project: Challenges, opportunities, and solutions. In T. W. Bigalke & S. Sharbawi (Eds.), English for ASEAN integration: Policies and practices in the region (pp. 62-64). Brunei Darussalam: Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

Robertson, S. L., & Dale, R. (2000). Globalizing education policy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (1991). Additive bilingualism and French immersion education: The roles of language proficiency and literacy. In A. Reynolds (Ed.), Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and second language learning. The McGill Conference in Honor of Wallace E. Lambert (pp. 203-216). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Yelland, G., Pollard, J., & Mercuri, A. (1993). The metalinguistic benefits of limited contact with a second language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 14, 423-444.
Dung (Davy) Tran is currently a PhD student in Applied Linguistics, Northern Arizona University. She's also teaching ESL in the Program in Intensive English as a graduate teaching assistant. Her research interests are corpus linguistics and ESL curriculum design.