CHAPTER SEVEN: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1 Summary of the Study and its Conclusions
This research project began with a problem of personal relevance to the researcher and importance due to its scale in worldwide ELT, that of evangelical missionaries teaching English and potentially doing more harm than good by supporting a harmful spread of English language and the values attached to it. Three research questions were formulated to hone the research and find out what TEML is in the experience of Bolivian missionary teachers and their learners, as well as identifying classroom dialectics and critical concerns. A critical orientation was adopted, and interview data were collected and a grounded analysis applied.
Teachers see EML as liberation in different forms. Most agree that a Christian ethos can liberate learners spiritually, with different approaches taken to direct evangelism in class. Liberation might also include acquiring skills and personal development. Many respondents see EML as resistance against an industry-led, morally empty form of ELT from the Centre.
Two main forms of EML were identified. EML-P is experienced like a door or bridge, offering access to lives to be developed by education and prepared for cross-cultural exchange. It is a holistic, process-oriented and learner-centred approach to ELT with emphasis on an unwritten as well as a written curriculum. This includes personal, moral and aesthetic development. EML-H is used to train people in English language skills for practical purposes such as retrieving knowledge from Centre documents for development of the country. It is product-oriented and language focussed and is less likely to acknowledge unwritten curricula or political and cultural messages. A third type is EML-G, normally pursued short-term by individual teachers and used by new missionaries as a temporary means of building relationships. Often the teacher is untrained and soon becomes disenchanted with teaching, leaving it for another form of mission.
Three types of classroom dialectic were reported and described by respondents. The first was cultural, raising questions about the use of Centre-generated methods and materials. The efficiency, individualism, materialism and hedonism of the West are themes mentioned by those involved. Secondly, a political dialectic concerns teachers mainly and their struggle with the stereotype of Western missionaries as the U.S.’s religious right. Also, some struggle with the very political assumption that it is good and important to learn English, with strong views expressed on the state of ELT as a capitalist industry. Students also expressed negative feelings that their learning of English was perhaps supportive of Western dominance. The least controversial tension mentioned was a religious one, with most learners accepting the ethos of lessons, although some students who see themselves as less likely to argue with the teacher expressed more concern here. The religious dialectic is felt often by teachers who feel a duty to supporters and agencies to carry out more of an evangelistic role than they feel comfortable with in class, and by some students less comfortable with challenging the teacher when religious content features in lessons. Whether used as a Puerta, Puente, Herramienta or Gancho, teachers always have some evangelistic motive in EML, with most teachers admitting that they take “natural opportunities” to share their faith in and after class. They view evangelism as liberating and some see in it a form of resisting the empty communication of communicative language teaching.
A number of critical concerns were raised. The international flow of knowledge is expected to be one-directional, from the Centre to Bolivia. There is little critical reading of this information and little expectation of information from Bolivia being entertained internationally. There is in fact little evidence that English really plays such a role in development in Bolivia, despite widely held beliefs. Even those teachers who challenge cultural and political values in class seem to be informed by their own alternative ideologies rather than concerned with learners’ needs and helping them make their own informed, critical choices. These teachers’ alternatives to Western hegemony seem to be normative and not critical.
Areas where LI theory and resistance theory concur with the results of this study include the experience of dialectics in the classroom while engaging with the English language and resistance strategies employed to deal with them. It seems indeed that ELT is political in nature and methods and materials are not universally applicable without appropriation. There is evidence of English-extrinsic and English-functional arguments, with many convinced of the possibilities the language might offer, especially for development in Bolivia. There is also evidence of the native speaker fallacy, especially in EML-G, and reproductive or banking approaches to education.
The researcher recommends in conclusion that a critical pedagogy be employed by ELT practitioners. Neither ceasing ELT by missionaries or continuing to perpetuate hegemonizing practices can help the problem. Rather, learners should be encouraged to see the real consequences, positive and negative, of learning English and to make their own decisions about needs and pedagogical preferences.
One main limitation of this study is its reliance on non-random sampling, due to the absence of a central register of TEML teachers. There is no way to prove how typical or otherwise respondents are to the area under study, limiting the conclusions to this one research project. The valued assistance of missionaries in compiling a list of informants for pre-tests and data collection could have a bearing on the type of person chosen. Of course, only those who agreed to participate informed the study, meaning that TEML teachers with potentially very different experiences might have decided not to take part. For these reasons, generalizability is problematic. Furthermore, the thirty respondents involved in the study each have their own individual views and experience, and the scope practical for this small-scale project did not allow for anything like the number required for a more conclusive study. Although categories of data did saturate during analysis, the inclusion of more respondents might have led to the inclusion of further categories or the alteration of existing ones.
The depth interview method selected also delimits the scope of the study. It builds a picture based on lived experience and perspectives. However, what people profess and what they practise might well be two different things, and without observation data to triangulate the interview data, there is no way of proving to what extent respondent reflections mirror practice, especially as those interviewed knew of the researcher’s previous involvement in EML. An observation study would add an invaluable further dimension to the study of TEML in Bolivia.
The researcher learned throughout the study that, despite claims of grounded techniques and the best of intentions, the reading of previous studies and theory inform the outcome of results and their analysis. For this reason, Glaser recommends that the researcher does not read existing knowledge of the substantive area, but this seems foolhardy when one considers the richness and experience of existing research.
Finally, the ethical issues of liberation and proselytizing remain unclear. This study remains at the level of people’s experiences and perceptions. It does not rise above these to give philosophical answers about the ethics of religious promulgation through teaching. EML-P and EML-H teachers have evangelistic motives and promote only one religious ideology. The study certainly does not attempt to decide whether this ideology is right, but there remains a tension between liberating from one ideology and imposing another.
These were generally known limitations during the design phase of this study, which of course makes only a small contribution to knowledge on the subject.
7.3 Recommendations for Further Study
Since this study focuses on Bolivia alone, some mission agencies working across Latin America might benefit from its repetition in other countries. This localization of research would fit very well with the critical approach taken, recognizing Latin America not as a homogenous construct but as a culturally varied region. If resources allowed, interview data would ideally be supplemented with observation data.
Another avenue of study might be more focussed on these and possibly other resistance strategies used against conflicting values along the lines of Canagarajah’s (1999) study in the Sri Lankan classroom. A feature which emerged from interview data on EML-H was how the teacher was effectively demoted by learners, treating the teacher as a compañero and taking control over the direction of classroom discussion and objectives. Most respondents also acknowledged code switching as a marker of solidarity.
Perhaps the most pressing need for research in the area is a needs analysis. This study finds that teachers do not address specific language needs such as critical reading skills, English for new international missionaries or English for development. It may be that the lack of focus on Bolivian’s needs undermines the value of EML, and a closer examination of how English is expected to help learners might help the development of English for Special Purposes programmes.
A longer-term tracking study of aspirations and their realization would serve to empirically confirm or question whether English does help Bolivians develop their country and influence governments, their international agencies and non-governmental organizations. Such an investigation should address the socio-economic origins of learners and users of English and how EML and other informal contributions to ELT in Bolivia challenge the formation of a social elite proficient in English.
7.4 Concluding Remarks
The researchers personal motivation for this study was his uneasiness at returning to Bolivia as a missionary teacher. Having completed this investigation, he still has critical concerns, but knowing more precisely what they are, he looks forward to dealing with them in the classroom together with learners and making helpful choices in curriculum planning and choosing materials. He considers this preferable to leaving the field open to manipulation and domination. It would be unhelpful to retract from this kind of ELT since someone else is always there to step in. In the true spirit of critical pedagogy, rather than stand back and lament elements of colossal movements like globalization and English language spread, it is much better to engage critically with ELT and learners, constantly seeking to challenge and empower.