posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany
Almost 25 years ago, A.P.R. Howatt (1984: 274) described the interrelation of foreign language education and socioeconomic development in the mid-twentieth century in the following way: “Though economic factors facilitate investment in educational development, they do not motivate it, or determine which direction it will take.”
The overall situation has changed dramatically since then. In the new International Handbook of English Language Teaching, Michael Breen (2007: 1071-1072) points out that “[…] governments have mobilized standards of achievement and competencies in education, systems for the accountability of educators, and the new positivism of evidence-based practices. Such measures have been put in place on the basis of two unproven assumptions: that whatever teachers achieved before is no longer adequate and that the bureaucratic surveillance of teachers’ work will improve their students’ performance. More overt consequences […] have been the ‘re-skilling’ of highly experienced teachers into managers and an escalating exodus from the profession. The reason most often given by teachers for their decision to leave is the intensification of workloads entailed in regular testing of students and related accounting and reporting processes. More covertly, assessing a teacher’s worth primarily in relation to national benchmarks of the outcomes of learning include the displacement of teachers’ broader educational aims and the complex interpersonal process of enabling learning to occur.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that the foreign language classroom is not an assembly line on which intercultural communicative competence is fabricated in a rapid ‘plan-do-check’-way (at the least cost). It really is heartbreaking to see how education is increasingly transformed into an economic enterprise by external stakeholders, how commercially exploitable competences and skills are turned into commodities, and how the principles of lean production are applied to schools, leaving very little room for internal change agents to develop what might be called a holistic learning culture (aimed at sustained individual development) in the classroom.
Howatt, A.P.R. (1984), A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Michael Breen (2007), “Appropriating Uncertainty: ELT Professional Development in the New Century.” In: Cummins, Jim & Davison, Chris (2007). International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Part II. New York: Springer, 1067-1084.