Language Identity And Cultural Difference Education Essay

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Introduction

For efficient delivery of educational services to the learners, the learning resources must take in to account the cultural variables of all the learners. The specific needs of individual group of learners, their preferences and their styles of learning must be considered. In a pedagogy class, the students may speak their mother tongue, worship in another language, be schooled in their national language but now they have to incorporate English into their lives (Carson & Johnston, 2001, p. 260). There is need to ensure accessibility to all the learning instructions by the student population in a multicultural class while at the same time appreciating the different learners' cognitive styles. To achieve this in pedagogy learning is quite a challenge to many countries all over the world.

In the design of teaching instructions, careful steps are to be followed to consider the social and cultural dimensions of the learners. According to Reeves & Reeves (1997, p.50), bigger challenges can be envisioned in cases where the pedagogical values in one culture and totally different and unacceptable in another. This brings conflict and high tensions in learning and therefore there is need for multicultural education to be used for pedagogy learning. This form of education is important for all the students, brings about antiracism in the schools; it brings social justice and is an avenue for critical pedagogy (Nieto, 2002, p. 46). However, it is important to note that it does not provide a quick solution to all the challenges but attempts to solve much of them. The curriculum for pedagogy should encompass the needs for all learners in order to bring the desired results for the learners. This following essay explores teaching curriculum and pedagogy for ESL students with an emphasis on language, identity and cultural difference.

Background information

The Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) founded in 1956, is Singapore's oldest not-for-profit professional institute for lifelong learning. It is a private institution for higher learning which has made English a compulsory subject for all undergraduate and post graduate students. It is a must for students to achieve a pass grade if they are to continue in their courses at the institution. MDIS provides opportunities for individuals to develop professionally through academic programmes in the areas of Business, Tourism, Engineering, Medicine and Science. The programs offered are collaborated with highly acclaimed universities in Australia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

These ESL students attending the institution mainly come from all over Asia, namely China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, among other Asian countries. The student population consists of a diverse group of learners who are aged 18-35 years. The students attending the institution have one main objective of achieving a competent level of English for academic purposes and also for their daily lives. In addition, they aim at understanding the different varieties of 'Englishes' on offer at the institution. These ESL students are studying English and must achieve a pass grade in the Professional Certificate in English (PCIE) in order to pursue a higher education in MDIS. According to the latest data that was collated in 2010term 3 from the students in the upper intermediate and intermediate levels, MDIS highest population are the Chinese who consists more than three quarters of the population. They are followed by the Vietnamese who are less than 10 %. Following closely are the Indonesians then the Thai, Burmese, Malaysian, Korean and finally the Cambodians. The last five presents a lesser number in the whole population of the students.

Factors affecting curriculum development

According to Tanner (1995, p.158), a curriculum is "a plan or program of all experiences which the learner encounters under the direction of a school". A curriculum therefore, encompasses the following aspects; it has experiences that the learners will go through for which the school has responsibility to ensure it is achieved, it clearly outlines the content to be taught, it is well planned with time intervals for all the contents and finally, it has a variety of the courses that the students are intended to study. Many factors are considered when developing a suitable curriculum that fits all. One of the factors is the social factors. The social class of the students is instrumental in the development of pedagogy curriculum. Most students come from different financial backgrounds where most are from the upper class and some from the working class. They have been exposed to and can afford quality education and therefore expect similar levels. The upper class tends to form cliques. They will question every detail of the curriculum content with suspicious thoughts. It is therefore much important to incorporate different cultural views in the designing of the curriculum for pedagogy learning. This will ensure that the students are able to appreciate whatever they are learning with a view that it is able to meet their class in terms of quality and competency.

The next factor influencing the development of curriculum is the cultural difference of the learners. Cultural difference occurs due to hybridity. This is due to mixing of the diverse cultures exhibited at the institutions. Hall (1997B) defines hybridity as the blending of diverse cultures or traditions and/or hybridity exists within cultures and individuals. As noted earlier, ESL students attending the institution mainly come from all over Asia, namely China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, among other Asian countries. Each country is unique in its culture and values which have been cultivated in the learners during early learning. What is exhibited in the institution is thus a blend of the various Asian cultures. There is need then for topics and themes of the curriculum to be of proper academic material where materials are not to be culturally biased or insensitive. The curriculum should put into focus the ideas propagated by the various cultures while at the same time avoiding those issues that seem contradictory. When this is achieved, all the learners will be motivated to work on their studies and thus achieve the intended results.

The third factor that affects curriculum development is the educational background of the learners. The students in the institution come from different social classes and hence their accessibility to education may be different. For instance, the wealthier students are able to afford better private education in their home countries. As a result, their level of English might be of a higher standard than students who attended public schools. In addition, students from wealthy families attending extra coaching classes where subjects like English are taught to them. This gives them an added advantage. On the other hand, students from low class levels will just depend on all that is taught in the public schools which at most times are taught in their native languages other than English. Students attending the institute also come with different qualification levels that are fresh graduates and college graduates. The level of exposure to English as a language of learning is therefore quite different.

Factors affecting curriculum pedagogy

According to Hall (1997, p.58), "Standard English is a particular dialect of English, being the only non-localised dialect, of global currency without significant variation, universally accepted as the appropriate educational target in teaching English, which may be spoken with an unrestricted choice of accent." The commonly accepted norms for Standard English and English academic writing are set by native speakers. In this situation non-native speakers' pedagogy is seen as vulnerable and weaker as compared to native speakers. There is still continued debate on which and who determines the Standard English. This is due to the fact that many countries have adopted the use of English as a formal language but with some differences in spelling and sometimes pronunciation.

A language produces a system of social distinction, in providing linguistic capital to those who have access to the distinctive language. It is common for different languages and different varieties of the same language to be valued differently in our societies. The different power attributed to different varieties is a form of 'symbolic power' which depends on people's belief in the social distinctions. A language's legitimacy depends on people 'recognising' its legitimacy and thus appreciating the role it plays in communication. Legitimate' language is invested with normalcy and standardness. Relative stigma or negative value is placed on 'non-standard' varieties according to the power of those who use them and their proximity or difference from dominant versions. According to Roberts and Sarangi (1995, p. 365), "certain discourse practices construct and legitimise dominant speaking subjects and consequently come to be recognised in the public domain as having material reality. Ways of speaking ... reproduce existing power relations."

The first factor to affect the curriculum pedagogy is the cultural determinism. Members of the same community will necessary agree because they will see everything in relation to that community's assumed purpose (Fish, 1980, p.15). However, different community members disagree because from each of their respective positions the other 'simply' cannot see what is obviously there. This is often the source of cultural conflict as no one group will want their culture to be deemed inferior to the other. Most pedagogy learners have grown with the culture and thus understand its benefits to their social set up. It is therefore important for the teacher to take note of the stability of interpretation of the text among the different cultures while teaching. The cultural sensitive issues should be avoided in order to avoid questions being raised about the programs.

Teachers for pedagogy learning should acquire intercultural understanding in order to perform their duties effectively. They need to reconstruct the context of the foreign, take the students' perspective and see things from their view (Bredella, 2003, p.39). They should be in a position to understand the intricacies of different culture in order to appreciate the students' thoughts and ideas. The ESL teachers need to be open minded to learn from the foreign culture they interact with and critically reflect this in their pedagogy. Different views from different cultures should be incorporated in their teaching in order to portray a universal view of ideas. This helps prevents one culture from being regarded highly while the others are neglected as inferior and therefore less important. Intercultural understanding involves integration of inner perspectives, outer perspectives and the flexibility of the mind of the teachers. Teachers are the nucleus that generates intercultural understanding, acceptance and tolerance amongst the various student cultural groups.

According to Bredella (2003, p.39) he state that "It is also a process of negotiation between the inner perspective -we see things through the others' eyes- and the outer perspective -we see things through our own eyes. This negotiation can only begin if we possess the flexibility of mind to reconstruct the context of production and assume the inner perspective." It is common to experience students from minority cultures rejecting the ideas of success propagated to them by the educational system that is viewed to be as a result of major cultures. Also, there is an internal believe that they are being perceived by their teachers as liabilities rather than assets in the educational system. This calls for a balance to be maintained in curriculum development.

Another factor influencing curriculum pedagogy is teachers' values. Teaching is a value-laden profession and their attitude towards the students plays a big role in acquisition of knowledge by the learners. As Johnston (2003, p. 6) highlights moral values refers to ," a set of person's beliefs which are evaluation in nature, that is, which concern matters of what is good and what is bad what is right and what is wrong." The teachers should be prepared well in advance in order to feel at ease while teaching in a classroom with cultural differences. Most of the teachers' curriculum contains the programs for classes, the planning procedures for instructions and the system of measuring outcomes of the learning system. They thus fail to capture the issue of cultural diversity in the classes and this is left to the teachers' discretion to find appropriate ways of tackling the challenges.

To prevent resistance to knowledge acquisition by pedagogy learners, teachers should avoid a self righteous attitude which angers the students. ELT involves the importance of the professional relation between the students and the teacher. It is the moral obligation of the teacher to impart good values to the students and prepare them to the life's challenges. It is the role of the teacher to ensure that objective teaching is carried out where materials used and interaction with students are right and good. This involves ensuring that issues that are deemed contentious with regards to culture are avoided. According equal treatment and regard to all students should be an achievement that every teacher should strive to achieve. This creates a good atmosphere for learning at all times.

The Colonization of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) also has a role to play in curriculum pedagogy. It portrays colonization where the superiority of this Western teaching approach puts down international teachers who study TESOL methodology and upgrade their language and teaching knowledge and skills in an English speaking sphere (Phan Le Ha, 2008, p.88). This will affect the teachers' attitude towards teaching using this language and the ultimate knowledge delivery will be affected. Some of the teachers have wide criticism of the usage of English as the communicative language in teaching in nations where this language is not widely used. They feel they are propagating the usage of foreign language in their own countries while local languages are mostly neglected. This has also served in perceiving some languages as superior to the others which is not kindly taken by some section of teachers. The non-native teachers feel less competent compared to native speakers when it comes to using CLT as it is a superior and advanced form of Western teaching method. This will affect the quality of delivery of learning resources to the pedagogy learners. As Phan Le Ha (2008) suggests, CLT leads to an over-valuing of Western teaching pedagogies and an under-valuing of local (Non-English speaking) ones. Another scholar, Johnstone (2003) further supports this notion by stating that any country that doesn't practice CLT is backward. The level of acceptance of this notion is different among the teachers of pedagogy learning.

Possible Challenges Associated with Curriculum

The multicultural setting of different schools poses a challenge to the development and implementation of the curriculum. How successful a curriculum is will depend on the impact it will have on the student population. A curriculum that is well planned should create harmony among the students from different cultures and also their teachers. This will enable teamwork in the learning process and good results shall be attained. As noted earlier the different social classes of the students provide a challenge to the curriculum. It is common to find students from rich families or who are wealthy themselves feeling superior compared to the other students in class and thus tend to possess an all knowing and less serious attitude towards their studies (Johnston, 2003, p.20). These students have been brought up in private schools in urban centres in their countries and therefore their exposure to English is different from a person with a poor background and who have been brought up in the rural areas. The feeling superior attitude leads to poor participation in the group work and in performing of assignments. They sometimes feel they are being taught what they already know and thus the teachers are wasting time. The learning therefore becomes monotonous and boredom ensues leading to increase in absenteeism. In addition, the cliques that richer students form leads to less financially able students feelings like an outcast. This has psychological effects and will result in a dip in motivational levels of the students from less wealthy backgrounds. Dichotomy of power in a classroom environment is evident in students from elitist families with high social stature in their own cultures. It is the duty of the teacher to try and eliminate situations where the social status of the students seems to be pronounced. This will ensure a level learning ground for all the students.

The second challenge affecting curriculum is the diverse cultural differences that is evident at MDIS. As noted earlier, this institution has students from all over the Asian countries with a majority of them being from China. The minority students are marginalised as cliques are formed through cultural identification. It is common for students to form friends as they interact during the learning sessions. However, it has been observed that most of the times students from the same cultural background seems to enjoy each others company (Phan Le Ha, 2008, p.88). This can be attributed to sharing of common cultural values and principles. The groups will thus intermingle while communicating with their native language and this is a challenge to the minority groups. For instance, a teacher at the institution once asked a student from the minority groups what the greatest difficulty he has ever faced as an international Thai student at the institution was. The student answered by saying that since most international students in Singapore are Chinese, they always speak Chinese to each other and which he could not understand. This resulted in difficulties in communication with the students. Also, cultural differences are seen where the minority groups have trouble fitting into the dominant group and are seen as powerless. This is due to much attention being paid to the needs of the majority groups while neglecting the minor ones. During formal interactions at the institution, a teacher asked a Vietnamese student to give his view as an international student studying in a classroom with many different nationalities. The student noted the less number of Vietnamese students in MDIS compared to the Chinese. Due to this he sometimes miss his home and culture a lot. He reported feeling very lonely in his class due to the less number of the Vietnamese students. Also, he observed that the Chinese students are always speaking in Chinese and therefore it is difficult for him to improve on his English. A curriculum should be in a position to provide a chance for the students to interact at formal education level and this would promote usage of a common language.

The other factor is the educational background of the students at the institution. Students come with different levels of qualification. Some are fresh graduates while the others are college graduates. The students who possess a higher qualification often feel superior compared to those with lower qualifications who suffer from a low morale and inferiority complex (Phan Le Ha, 2008, p.89). This feeling affects their identity as a student and this is translated to their grades. Teachers have to cater to two groups of students and this poses the problem of the teacher not being sufficiently focused on either groups. This kind of culture if cultivated is detrimental to the spirit of team work in the class. It will thus be difficult for the teachers while assigning group tasks since they have to take into consideration the diverse levels of English knowledge. The motivational aspect of a classroom diminishes as no benefits are accrued from the students with high qualifications.

Possible Challenges Associated with Pedagogy

The use of Standard English in an Asian classroom is a challenge to pedagogy due to the fact that Asians are not natives of English language. The norms for Standard English set by native speakers are not appropriate to be used in a non-western context due to a lack of Asian representation. There is a wide view among intellectuals that their views should be incorporated while establishing the standards for English language (Carson & Johnston, 2001, p. 260). English greatly contributes to identity formation amongst students where most students want to sound like native speakers complete with an accent during their learning of English. Hence, non-native ESL teachers have trouble getting their students to be aware of and respect the other varieties of English. It is important therefore to solve the disparities that exist between the varieties of English or to involve non-native speakers in English standardisation.

The other challenge associated with pedagogy is the intercultural understanding. Teachers are unable to get students to access to English language speakers as they prefer to remain in their own cliques. Some teachers view the compulsory use of English in non-native countries as a form of promoting its usage while neglecting the usage of local dialects. They thus perceive it as promotion of foreign cultures. The English speaking students see themselves as superior compared to non-English speakers, failing to have an outer perspective and a flexible mind. Even when teachers are open-minded to learn from the foreign culture they interact with and critically reflect this in their pedagogy (Carson & Johnston, 2001, p.261). ESL students themselves are not very motivated at social interaction. This is probably due to the notion that English speakers feel that if non-English speakers don't sound like them, then they're very different from them. This clearly shows a lack of outer perspective and flexibility of mind amongst the student folk which the ESL teacher has no control of. This leads to a lack of social and intercultural interaction amongst ESL students and non ESL students.

Teacher values are also a challenge to pedagogy. The non-native speakers act as representatives of the cultures they teach to the learners. This brings a problem where "balancing respect for the home cultures of the students with our responsibility as teachers to facilitate integration into the new cultural environment" (Johnston, 2003, p.19). In addition, some teachers impose their religious and moral views on students which may come across as interference towards a student's personal beliefs.

Finally, CLT is incompatible to be used in an Asian context. The goals of CLT are of disservice to teachers and students in the Asian context where doing well in exams is both necessary and vital to students' academic advancement (Le Ha, 2008, p.91). It requires a variety of materials and designing of CLT activities is expensive which does not support the funding provided by the institute. Le Ha (2008, p. 91), further stresses that "CLT has been viewed as time-consuming, as challenging to teachers who are not confident in speaking English and as adding work to already over loaded teachers..." There is conflict between the Western pedagogical values and the cultural and pedagogical values in an Asian environment. Some of these are; students lose respect for their teacher, CLT accepts too many mistakes students' make and CLT is not that useful is language acquisition.

Possible Solutions to Reduce Curriculum and Pedagogical Issues

In relation to problems of social class, cultural difference and intercultural understanding; the curriculum should revolve around including rather than excluding, it should be developed with minorities in mind to prevent marginalization and encourage group and pair activities (Johnston, 2003). This revolves activities around group and pair participation where the teacher puts students in different groups each time.

In relation to problems of Educational background; the teacher should study the profile of the students and make a mental note of the different levels of students i.e. the weaker and stronger students. The teacher should then cater to both educational groups by means of mixed level teaching.

In relation to problems of the use of Standard English in an Asian ESL Classroom; the teachers should educate students on the types of "Englishes". They should also emphasize the importance of intelligibility compared to perfection.

In relation to problems of teachers' values, the teachers must not impose religious beliefs or views or allow this controversial subject to be discussed in the classroom. The management of a school should include a directive against this practice in the employee handbook and teachers must be dealt with seriously if this directive is infringed. It is also the teachers' obligation to impart the local culture to the students.

In relation to problems of CLT being incompatible in an Asian context, there is need for more emphasis on traditional teaching methods like the PPP and direct method. Traditional methods may be construed as backwards by those who are CLT inclined, however it is the traditional methods that are most proven, widely used and produce results.

Conclusion

Therefore, from the discussion the paper has presented, it is clear that the role played by English language teachers greatly contributes to identity formation amongst student. It is therefore important to involve the nurturing and valuing of other cultural voices in English for pedagogy learning.

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