Human rights in language and STEM Education (2016) (3)

Inter-disciplinary research combining work from the fields of linguistics, science education and cognitive development has established the importance of acquiring proficiency in at least one language as a prerequisite for developing disciplinary knowledge in any subject. The book uses this insight to explore the challenges of teaching and learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in local languages and local contexts in a range of countries around the world. With English enjoying global pre-eminence, many countries have eschewed the teaching of STEM subjects in the child’s – and in most cases, the teacher’s – mother tongue in favor of English. The different chapters in this book highlight the problems that emerge from such an approach, and make the case that the teaching of STEM subjects in the local language should be a human right.

One of the chapters, titled The Issue of English as a Medium of Instruction in Primary Schools in Pakistan: Learning English, Mathematics or Science?, documents the consequences of introducing English as a medium of instruction in the primary classrooms of Punjab and Sindh. Through empirical studies involving a series of classroom observations as well as interviews and focus group discussions of teachers, head teachers and parents, the chapter provides convincing evidence that supports the issues raised by prior research. The studies recorded all classroom utterances during the teaching of Math, Science and English language in schools where English was the MoI. In both provinces, teacher talk in English was restricted to textbook reading and behavioral commands. Even in English language classrooms, the use of English was only 36% of total utterances, demonstrating that English was a poor choice of MoI not just because children are more comfortable learning in their mother tongue, but because the majority of teachers lacked the basic competence to teach English properly. The study therefore recommends that the mother tongue should be the MoI and teachers should be trained to develop the necessary language proficiency and be able to teach English effectively as a skill.

The book can be purchased from the publisher’s website.

Book Editor(s):
Zehlia Babaci-Wilhite
Chapter Author(s):
Abbas Rashid, Irfan Muzaffar, Fatima Dar and Salaeya Butt