Global forces, diverse solutions: Implementing primary foreign language policies worldwide


Organizer: Janet ENEVER, University of Reading


This colloquium addresses contemporary questions related to policy initiatives for the recent introduction of foreign languages at primary level across many regions of the world, drawing on findings from research in schools, interviews with teachers and policy makers, together with evidence from policy document analysis.


Since the early years of the twenty-first century policy decisions to introduce foreign languages at primary level have grown exponentially worldwide, with data showing that across Europe in 2014, for example, approximately 80 per cent of all primary school children were learning English (Eurydice, 2017). Despite almost a generation of concerted implementation efforts in many regions of the world, gaps remain in our understandings of how to achieve effective implementation – both at the level of policy design and classroom implementation. In these three papers the colloquium will set out the key concerns, highlighting also contexts where considerable progress has now been made.


In the first paper (Enever) draws on evidence of global forces to discuss how socio-historical and political factors play a part in the design of national primary foreign language policies, illustrated through an analysis of developments in three different regions of the world. The second paper narrows the focus to consider national policy in the largest European country (Germany), a context where each federal state has autonomy over their education policy (Wilden & Porsch). The paper draws on empirical evidence to critically discuss three central themes for all primary foreign language programmes: the age factor, transition across school phases and teacher education provision. The final paper of the colloquium broadens out the perspective again to address major areas of concern in contemporary education policy-making today relevant for primary foreign languages (Hayes). Concerns regarding equitable education provision for all socio-economic groups in society, together with a consideration of factors which contribute to successful primary foreign language learning are critically examined with reference to a number of contexts worldwide.


Paper 1: Global educational reform: Moving foreign languages down the educational escalator.

Janet ENEVER (University of Reading, UK)


This talk explores patterns of primary English language policy implementation across the world, analysing these with reference to the particular local histories and current politics of three regions, at both national and supranational levels of governance. The paper draws on the theoretical frame of historical materialism to consider the impact of global forces on key economic regions of the world todaySouth Asia, Europe, and Latin America— contexts where substantial growth in the provision of primary English is currently evident. In each instance, examples are selected for specific features which highlight recent attempts to overcome major challenges in the provision of teacher expertise. Data collected from interviews and questionnaires with language education policymakers, teachers, school 2 principals, and parents, together with classroom observation data, provides evidence for a critical examination of the particular role that politicians, parents and wider society play in influencing provision of early start programmes at the local level.


Paper 2: Issues in German primary foreign language policy. A perspective from different stakeholders

Eva WILDEN (University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany) &Raphaela PORSCH (University of Muenster, Germany)


This talk will address three current issues in German primary foreign language policy: 1) an early vs. late start in primary foreign language education, 2) the transition from primary to secondary education and 3) primary foreign language teacher education. First, the general context and history of German primary foreign language education will be introduced (see e.g. Wilden & Porsch, 2016). Second, the three current issues of primary foreign language policy in the German context will be critically discussed (Enever, 2018; Piske, 2017). In doing so the perspectives of different stakeholders (Porsch & Wilden, 2017) will be considered, such as policy makers, education administrators, primary and secondary teachers, pupils as well as unions (e.g. GEW, 2018). A special focus will be on empirical findings relevant to these three issues. The talk will conclude by discussing implications for the implementation of primary foreign language education as well as language policy-making in Germany and beyond.


Paper 3: How to turn policy into successful practice: factors promoting effective foreign language education for young learners in global contexts

David HAYES (Brock University, Canada)


This talk considers the complexity of factors involved in developing foreign language educational policy which fosters successful practice in state educational systems. It examines both those factors which underpin a successful education system in general (such as equitable provision for all socio-economic groups within the society) as well as factors which affect language teaching policy and practice for young learners in particular (such as a curriculum which offers teachers and children opportunities to engage in meaningful language use). The importance of policies which are appropriate to their educational and socio-cultural context is emphasized, as is the need for realistic objectives for young children’s early engagement with learning a foreign language. The status and training of highly skilled foreign language teachers for young learners is also accorded due weight. The talk is illustrated throughout by reference to experience of foreign language education in a range of contexts worldwide.



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