Plenary by Harry Kuchah

This plenary talk looks at the challenges of teaching in underprivileged contexts.

About the session

ELT in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future directions

Michael West first used the expression 'difficult circumstances' in 1960 to refer to English language classrooms 'consisting of over 30 pupils (more usually 40 or even 50), congested on benches ... accommodated in an unsuitably shaped room, ill-graded, with a teacher who perhaps does not speak English well or very fluently, working in a hot climate' (p.1). Since then, the number of pupils learning English around the world has grown exponentially, especially in developing countries where the movement for Education for All has led to increased enrolments at primary level without a concomitant increase in resources. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, this has exacerbated existing challenges to classroom practice such as over-crowded and multigrade classrooms, lack of textbooks, lack of libraries, poor exposure to the English language usage, lack of financial and material resources and other cultural constraints. Despite these challenges, the dominant discourse on ELT methodology promoted in such contexts is still being largely generated in ideal (North) contexts and sometimes resisted by local practitioners as not sufficiently appropriate for their challenging local realities. Studies examining language teaching policy and practice in developing countries reveal incompatibilities between MoE policies and actual classroom practices of teachers and bring into perspective calls from several ELT professionals and researchers for the development of contextually appropriate forms of ELT pedagogy in underprivileged contexts. In this presentation, I draw from my experiences of teaching very large classes (over 200 teenagers and 100 children) in under-resourced contexts in Cameroon and go on to examine the pragmatic responses of teachers in otherwise difficult circumstances. Then I make a case for an ELT methodology which takes on board both learner and teacher agency and suggest ways in which teaching English in such circumstances may benefit from a bottom-up enhancement approach to teacher development and the dissemination of good practice.

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