English curriculum textbooks stuck in the past / News / The Foreigner

English curriculum textbooks stuck in the past. EXTENDED ARTICLE: Norwegian Lower Secondary School pupils are using books which shore up prejudices regarding minorities and indigenous peoples, academics argue. "Deeply offensive," says a university rector. “Learning respect for other cultures is prominent in the curriculum in Norway, but ideas of global citizenship, tolerance, social responsibility are also emphasised as the main goals of education in the recent government document called ‘The School of the Future’ ,” Jena Habegger-Conti , Associate professor of English literature at the University of Stavanger tells The Foreigner. These principles are also contained in the European Common Framework for Language Learning.

education, schools, stereotypes, books, curriculum, paywall



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English curriculum textbooks stuck in the past

Published on Friday, 20th May, 2016 at 15:11 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last Updated on 23rd May 2016 at 21:04.

EXTENDED ARTICLE: Norwegian Lower Secondary School pupils are using books which shore up prejudices regarding minorities and indigenous peoples, academics argue. "Deeply offensive," says a university rector.

School lockers (illustration photo)
School lockers (illustration photo)
Photo: wired_gr/Flickr


“Learning respect for other cultures is prominent in the curriculum in Norway, but ideas of global citizenship, tolerance, social responsibility are also emphasised as the main goals of education in the recent government document called ‘The School of the Future’ ,” Jena Habegger-Conti , Associate professor of English literature at the University of Stavanger tells The Foreigner.

These principles are also contained in the European Common Framework for Language Learning.

“All documents on education from the EU in the past five years have stressed the importance of democratic participation and global citizenship,” says Ms Habegger-Conti, who holds PhD in Comparative Literature.

In their English subject curriculum Statement of Purpose, officials at the Directorate for Education and Training, a Ministry of Education and Research subsidiary, state that learning English “shall contribute to providing insight into the way people live and different cultures where English is the primary or the official language.”

“English as a school subject is both a tool and a way of gaining knowledge and personal insight. […] Development of communicative language skills and cultural insight can promote greater interaction, understanding and respect between persons with different cultural backgrounds. Thus, language and cultural competence promote the general education perspective and strengthen democratic involvement and co-citizenship.”

The English subject curriculum was established as a regulation by the Ministry of Education and Research in June 2013 and has been in force since August of that year.

Enduring competence                                                

English is obligatory for all schoolchildren from the age of six, and thus not seen as a foreign language in Norwegian schools. Scandinavian research has also shown that children who are introduced to more than one language at an early age are more likely to perform better at school.

“Learning in school and other arenas creates the foundation that will enable individuals to acquire new long-lasting competence that will become even more important in the future,” Education and Training officials write.

In 2013, the government-appointed Ludvigsen Committee started looking at Norwegian school pupils’ learning.

They examined the extent to which subjects’ content covers the competences, as well as the basic skills the committee found that are needed in future society and working life.

Amongst other things scrutinised was whether changes to these were needed so that “they characterise the content of the education to a larger degree”.

The Committee published their interim report in 2014, with their final one being published last year.

Lopsided                                                       

University of Stavanger Associate Professor Jena Habegger-Conti and MA student Cecilie Waallann Brown have examined four, recently-published English-language textbooks for use at Lower Secondary level (Grades 8-10).

These are Aschehoug’s ‘Key English’, Cappelen Damm’s ‘New Flight’, Fagbokforlaget’s ‘Crossroads’, and Gyldendal’s ‘Searching’. They form part of series of 12 textbooks.

According to Dagsavisen, the academics do not view that any individual picture in the books is racist, but that both the texts and images give a lopsided representation of non-whites when seen as a whole.

The researchers have published their conclusions in a blog entry. The pictures provide a window into cultures that the pupils are to learn about: American Indians’ way of life, Americans’ appearances, and how people in the US live.

These English textbooks are also meant to provide pupils with interest and motivation to increase their knowledge of, and become more familiar with the different cultures.

“The pictures…are overflowing with stereotypes of American Aborigines, of Mexicans, and of minorities in general,” Ms Habegger-Conti tells Dagsavisen.

Angles, distance, lighting, setting, and persons’ expressions also reinforce the differences, according to her. All of the interviewees for the chapter on American High Schools are white.

“The textbooks present white people as being the norm. In these pictures, they are active and smiling, depicted in attractive and light surroundings, surfing, climbing, and having fun. This doesn’t represent America’s actual multicultural population in any way,” she remarks.

“Deeply offensive”                                  

Neither the American Aborigines nor the Mexicans are portrayed using the same flattering method, and are written about in separate chapters to their white counterparts. This reinforces the ‘us and them’ divide, argue the academics.

In their blog, they state that the pictures show indigenous peoples dressed in traditional clothing and in primitive surroundings. Mexicans trying to cross the border into the US are referred to as ‘wetbacks’ (in Fagbokforlaget’s ‘Crossroads 9A’ revision). One text in the same book is entitled ‘Mexican Smuggler’.

“Including the ‘wetback’ term shows a profound lack of cultural knowledge,” says Curt Rice, Rector of the Oslo and Akershus University College to The Foreigner. “It’s a deeply offensive term, which cannot be used in a textbook without an elaborate explanation of its offensiveness.”

Mr Rice, who took his PhD in Linguistics at the University of Austin in Texas, and who lived there for many years, is concerned that a studious Norwegian youth might travel to the US and use the term quite innocently, and “be met with a strong reaction.”

A ‘wetback’ is a derogatory term for a Mexican living in the US, especially without authorisation. Generally used as an ethnic slur, the word originates from the 1920s: so named from the practice of swimming the Rio Grande to reach the US.

“It’s as offensive as the word ‘nigger’. There is just one possible response from the publisher: they can only say that it was a huge mistake, and that they will modify their procedures and correct it in the next edition,” Mr Rice states.

The pictures in the English textbooks also both create distance and contravene current educational policy, Jena Habegger-Conti remarks to Dagsavisen.

“The analysis shows that the pictures of non-whites are more often taken from a distance, showing people from behind or in a kind of top-down perspective. […] The images of minorities are generally darker and less inviting, and people look passive or downright sad more often [in them],” she states.

The Foreigner asked Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen for his views on the matters researchers raise.

“The Minister politely declines to comment on the article in Dagsavisen,” Senior Advisor Åsmund Eide writes in an email. “State approval of textbooks ceased in 2000. The only European countries practicing this at the time were Norway and Albania.”

Bureaucratic and expensive

The scheme was scrapped partly because officials decided that the curriculum should govern teaching, rather than the textbooks themselves, explains Senior Ministry Communications Advisor Hong Pham.

“That is to say that the textbooks should be only one of several tools used to achieve the subject’s objectives, and the choice of teaching materials is primarily the professional responsibility of the individual school and the teacher. Moreover, the [textbook] approval scheme might act as a delay regarding book production, and thus be costly.”

Berit Bratholm, Senior Lecturer at the University College of Southeast Norway, Department of Education and School Development thinks that the approval practice was revoked because “increasing parents 'and pupils' influence on the selection and use of textbooks in schools became a political priority.”

The government-appointed Smith Committee argued at the time that the state scheme could resemble prior censorship in some way, according to Ms Bratholm.

“It’s the school owners, in this case the municipalities, who decide which books to pick for the pupils. The use of images and text in these is up to the publishers,” say Julia Steltzer Pettersen, press spokesperson at the Directorate for Education and Training.

Publishers Fagbokforlaget and Cappelen Damm have responded to criticisms researchers raise.

We have been advised that they will answer these should they be able to obtain a copy of the hitherto unpublished research report from the University of Stavanger’s legal team.

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Published on Friday, 20th May, 2016 at 15:11 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last updated on 23rd May 2016 at 21:04.

This post has the following tags: education, schools, stereotypes, books, curriculum, paywall.





  
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