Should global English be for the people, not for profit? JOE HURST investigates

If Will Durant was correct in claiming that education is the transmission of Civilization, then we as speakers of English are in a truly favourable position. We may have returned many colonial territories since the height of the Empire, but in the conquering of a nation the most important territory for any colony is the mind. Through the echoes of a distant legacy and the omnipresent drip-feed of Western-centric ideologies, the vice like grip of English holds as tightly as ever on global mentality. Imperialism it seems is still alive and kicking.

The British Council currently holds the monopoly on the foreign education market, and its curious stance as a quango which receives only minimal Government funding (around 20% of its income), has led to some interesting developments in the distribution of English. The BC was originally established to aid the process of ‘internationalising education’ (British Council) and its position as a facilitator for overseas English tuition means the Council is required to be impartial in the promotion of services by third party providers.

However, since its cut in funding the Council has faced a series of accusations, the most serious of which being that the Council doesn’t aid the export of English, ‘it inhibits it’ (Elledge 2012). As noted by Neil Macintosh in an interview with Elledge (2012) the Council’s requirement to keep itself afloat by competing with the parties it is tasked with representing “is not a sustainable position”.

The result in many cases is not necessarily the best outcome for the learners. English proficiency nowadays is being pushed to the developing world as a vital commodity, but one that many can’t afford.  In Islamabad, for example, an IELTS English proficiency exam costs £125 sterling (IELTS) a price which for the fortunate may seem like a reasonable amount to pay. Bear in mind however, the average monthly salary in Pakistan equates to as little as £165 (International Labour organisation via BBC 2012), so few can afford to take the exam, let alone pay for the necessary private tutoring.

As a result the majority must rely on the substantially cheaper Government led institutions for English tuition. Hardly encouraging when considering that in a 2013 report, the British Council revealed that 94% of teachers “lack minimum standards for provision of quality English medium education” (McNicoll 2013). The same report also cited the quality of English in these schools “a cause for serious concern” (McNicoll 2013). It seems the effective teaching of English is the “preserve of the affluent” (Mustafa 2012).

As a result, in developing countries like Pakistan, English does not serve as a tool for development, it only works to further the hegemonic relations between those who can and can’t afford to learn it to an acceptable standard. The dichotomy of education standards is a movement fuelled by the lingering belief that English is not only beneficial, but vital for anyone wishing to be prosperous in life. Conceptions which don’t only devalue the native Urdu as reported by Haider (2014), but devalue the people who have no alternative but to speak it.

Many point to the culturally insensitive methods used for the teaching of English as being responsible for the ‘colonization’ (Tsuda 1996) of the Pakistani conscience. The glorification of LA-idols such as Beckham or Clooney propagates the desire felt in Pakistan to dissociate from native values in favour of more western-centric ideologies. The few who can afford private tuition from a native speaker are subject to cultural dissemination which glorifies the Hollywood capitalist system. The acceptance of these notions by the higher classes means that the rest of the population perceive western ideologies as indicative of success and strive to cohere to them also.

I will concede that English has at times been a tool for liberation, and truth be told, in principle I do not disagree with English as global language. What I find issue with is the way it is currently distributed and the poisonous ideologies it generates. Despite its limited availability in countries such as Pakistan, English proficiency has become a prerequisite to any kind of social mobility and as a result, people are becoming trapped in the lower echelons of society. Efficient English teaching needs to become a more accessible and more culturally aware service if we ever want to see any kind of social reform. It’s painfully evident that this is not just an issue for the linguists, but for the welfare of the people of Pakistan too.

JOE HURST, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

BBC. (2012) Where are you on the global pay scale?. [Accessed 4 Feb.2015]

Britishcouncil.org. (2015) Our Work In Education.[Accessed 4 Feb. 2015]

Elledge,J. (2012).The British Council: Friend Or Foe? [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

Haider, A. (2014). English Flourishing In Pakistan At The Expense Of Urdu? [Accessed 7 Feb. 2015]

Ielts.org.(2015) ‘IELTS | Test Takers – Results’. [Accessed 2 Feb 2015]

McNicoll, K.(2013) English Medium Education Improvement In Pakistan Supported.[Accessed: 3 Feb 2015].

Mustafa, Z. (2012) Pakistan Ruined By Language Myth‘. [Accessed 12 Jan.2015].

Tsuda, Y.(1994). The diffusion of English: Its impact on culture and communication. Keio Communication Review, (16). pp.48-61. K

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2 thoughts on “Should global English be for the people, not for profit? JOE HURST investigates

  1. Laura Vaughan says:

    You mention that ‘94% of teachers “lack minimum standards for provision of quality English medium education”, leading to many students having a poor understanding of the English language. With this in mind, do you believe that the position of English as a global language is threatened as many cannot afford to learn to speak it with a high level of understanding? You state that you agree with the use of English as a global language. Do you believe that more funding should be allocated to the teaching of English in foreign countries, such as Pakistan? Personally, I believe that if speaking English is becoming a ‘vital commodity’ then it should be readily available to the people of said countries and should be taught to a respectable standard. You write that English is ‘vital for anyone wishing to be prosperous in life’. With that in mind, why should these people be made to pay what they cannot afford to learn a language that they have been made to feel they cannot succeed without? This doesn’t seem fair to me. It is not the fault of those lower on the social ladder that English has become a symbol of wealth and education.
    With regards to the title of your blog, I believe that English should be for the people, and not for the profit.

  2. Joe Hurst says:

    Funding is a massive issue in places such as Pakistan and this is down to the British council’s stance as a Quango which no longer receives government funding. It’s duties are to export education through third party providers but the fact that it now has to compete with the organisations it is meant to be helping,have led to claims that it is actually inhibiting language growth in the likes of Pakistan.
    The result is an under-saturated market, with lack of options open to the modern English learner who must invest in professional private tuition, or make do with the poor standards in government establishments.
    I do believe that funding should be more accessible to public schools but as of now, that belief is utopian. In an ideal world, English would be an open door for all, but the reality of the situation is that English is business and as a business, money is key.

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