New Trends in Global Issues and English Teaching|
Kip A. Cates
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The last ten years have seen an explosion of interest in global issues
and global education by the international English teaching profession. This
can be documented in the journals and conference programs of international
English teaching organizations such as TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers
of Other Languages) and IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers
of English as a Foreign Language), as well as in the pages of the Global
Issues in Language Education Newsletter of JALT's Global Issues Special
While this new interest in global education has manifested itself in
a number of ways, I'd like to focus on five specific areas where the influence
of global education has made itself felt: (1) new thinking about the aims
and mission of the English teaching profession; (2) new ideas about the
content of English language teaching (ELT); (3) out-reach efforts by ELT
associations to global issue speakers and organizations; (4) the growing
emphasis in ELT conferences on global issue themes; and (5) the formation
of global issue interest groups within the English teaching profession.
One key trend in the English teaching profession linked to the growing
interest in global education is a rethinking of basic educational goals,
the "why" of English education. Perhaps most people know the old joke
about English teaching acronyms which says that, of all the different types
of English teaching -- TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), TESL
(Teaching English as a Second Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers
of Other Languages) and so on, the most common type of English taught in
classrooms round the world is TENOR (Teaching English for No Obvious Reason).
In other words, English has always been on the syllabus, so that is why
we teach it. Because it is so common to get tied up with the teaching of
grammar, literature and communication or with the daily routine of classrooms,
textbooks and tests, it is all too easy for English teachers to forget fundamental
questions of purpose -- the question "What's it all for?"
A growing number of educators are now beginning to discuss what the aims
of English language teaching should be -- given the serious global issues
that face our world. The American educator H. D. Brown (1990), for example,
phrases this in terms of the mission of the profession:
What are we doing for the Earth? What are we doing to save it? What
are the issues? And what on earth does this have to do with you as an ESL
teacher? It has everything to do with you as an ESL teacher. Global, peace
and environmental issues intrinsically affect every human being on earth.
These issues provide content for your content-based humanized teaching
of the 90's. We teachers have a mission, a mission of helping everyone
in this world communicate with each other to prevent the global disaster
ahead. The 90's are in your hands.
Other educators prefer to talk about the moral dimension of English teaching
and the need for an approach to language education which aims at fostering
a sense of social responsibility in students. This idea was discussed in
a keynote speech by William Kirby, Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency,
at the 1989 international convention of the English teaching organization
What good is it to teach our students to read if they only read degrading
pornography? What good is it to teach students to write if they use their
knowledge to write racist graffiti? What good is it to teach students arithmetic
if they use their skills only to embezzle others?
The implication here is that we can't call our English teaching successful
if our students, however fluent, are ignorant of world problems, have no
social conscience or use their communication skills for international crime,
exploitation, oppression or environmental destruction.
In addition to a rethinking of goals, the "why" of English teaching,
the new interest in global issues has also led to a rethinking of content,
the "what" of education. This is related to the growing interest of the
profession in content-based language teaching (Silver, 1991). Content-based
teaching argues that language is most effectively learned in the context
of relevant, meaningful, motivating content which stimulates students to
think and learn through the use of the target language. Content educators
such as Brinton, Snow and Wesche (1989) and Mohan (1986) stress that language
is a means of learning about the world and recommend the use of motivating
themes and authentic materials in classroom teaching.
If one accepts this thesis of content language teaching, then the next
question that arises is "What content is worth teaching?" A growing number
of educators are proposing world problems or "global issues" as subject
matter which can both meet the need for more meaningful content, and address
the lack of educational relevance of much of the general English education
in schools around the world. This view has been voiced, among others, by
the British educator Alan Maley (1992):
Global issues are real issues: the spoliation of the rain-forests,
the thinning of the ozone layer, acid rain, nuclear waste disposal, exponential
population growth, the spread of AIDS, state violence and genocide in Kurdistan,
Tibet and Bosnia, ecological disaster compounded by war in Ethiopia and
Somalia . . . the list is depressingly long. What has this to do with the
teaching of EFL? English language teaching (ELT) has been bedeviled with
three perennial problems: the gulf between classroom activities and real
life; the separation of ELT from the main stream of educational ideas;
the lack of a content as its subject matter. By making Global Issues a
central core of EFL, these problems would be to some extent resolved.
In order to bring real world content into the classroom, teachers must
step outside the field of English language teaching to access materials
and information from outside sources. A further trend related to the growing
interest in global education, therefore, concerns the efforts by English
teaching associations to reach out to global issue experts and organizations
for ideas, stimulation and resources. This outreach has taken a number of
The English teaching organization TESOL, for example, has appointed an
official liaison to the United Nations who writes articles on the UN and
the global issues it deals with for the TESOL newsletter and its 20,000
subscribers worldwide. TESOL has further shown its commitment to promoting
global education through a series of conference workshops which introduce
English teachers to experts, resources and ideas from global issue fields.
These have included "TESOL Day at the United Nations" (TESOL'91,
New York) at which UN personnel instructed English teachers on how to integrate
global issues into their teaching; "TESOL Day at the Carter Center"
(TESOL'93, Atlanta, Georgia) where teachers attended workshops on conflict
resolution by peace experts from former President Jimmy Carter's staff;
and "TESOL Day at the Rainforest" (TESOL'94, Baltimore) at which
English teachers were shown how to integrate ecology themes into their lessons
by environmental experts. Similar initiatives have taken place in Japan
where experts in areas such as peace education, human rights issues and
environmental problems have addressed English teachers at JALT conferences
about how best to teach these global issues in their classrooms (Casey,
This outreach can also be seen in the kinds of featured speakers invited
to international conferences. JALT's recent 1996 international conference
in Hiroshima, for example, featured UNESCO expert Felix Marti speaking on
Linguapax, language teaching, and world peace. Featured speakers at other
international conferences have included US civil rights leader Andrew Young
(TESOL'93), international educator and human rights advocate Mary Hatwood
Futrell (TESOL'94), Vietnamese peace activist Le Ly Hayslip (TESOL'95),
and cross-cultural expert Milton Bennett speaking on tolerance and intercultural
understanding (Korea TESOL'95). The invitation of outside speakers such
as these to international ELT conferences underscores the commitment of
English teaching organizations to link English education to the outside
world, raise awareness of global issues, strengthen commitment to socially
responsible teaching and remind teachers of the wider social context of
their classroom work.
English teaching organizations around the world are increasingly featuring
global education and global issues in their conferences. One way this can
be seen is through the conference themes being chosen. Examples include
conference themes such as "Language and Social Justice" (ATESOL Australia,
1989), "Global Age: Issues in Language Education" (CDELT 1993,
Egypt), "Bridges to Better Understanding" (Mexico TESOL, 1995),
and "World Peace and English Education" (Japan Association of
College English Teachers, 1986). That this trend is not limited to English
education can be seen in the organization of an entire conference on the
theme "Global Issues in Foreign Language Education" by the Modern Language
Association of Poland (September, 1996).
Over the past decade, there has also been an explosion of conference
presentations focusing on global education themes at ELT conferences round
the world. JALT's 1986 conference handbook, for example, reveals no presentations
at all on global issue themes, yet its JALT'96 Hiroshima conference ten
years later featured over 50 such sessions. These included presentations
on such themes as international awareness through video, global education
and the Internet, AIDS awareness activities, and teaching about human rights.
JALT's annual conference now regularly features conference colloquia, roundtable
discussions, and workshops featuring English educators from countries such
as Russia, Germany, Thailand, and Australia speaking on topics such as global
issues, peace education, environmental awareness, and international understanding
as they relate to teaching methods, textbooks, and curriculum design.
The same trend can be seen at other international ELT conferences around
the world. IATEFL's 1996 conference, for example, featured a first-ever
global issues conference strand with presentations on global issues: these
included project work in Brazil, a One World Week event in Portugal, peace
studies in Hong Kong, and ESL for international understanding in California.
TESOL's 1996 conference in Chicago featured a peace education breakfast
seminar, plenary talks on social responsibility and "subversive teaching"
for a better world, an academic session on peace education and materials
writing, and over 100 presentations by teachers from countries as varied
as Poland, Canada, France and Korea with titles such as Global Issues
E-mail Projects, Social Issues and the Language Class, Teaching Strategies
for Reducing Prejudice, and Integrating Global Cultures into EFL Materials.
Special Interest Groups
A final trend within the profession is the formation of global issue
special interest groups within major international organizations. The first
such group to form was JALT's "Global Issues in Language Education"
National Special Interest Group (N-SIG) in 1991. Its aims were defined as
(1) to promote the integration of global issues, global awareness and social
responsibility into foreign language teaching; (2) to promote networking
and support among educators dealing with global issues in language teaching;
and (3) to promote awareness among language teachers of developments in
global education and the related fields of environmental education, human
rights education, peace education, and development education.
Since then, similar groups have been formed in other organizations around
the world. These include a Peace and Health Education Interest Group in
TESOL Italy (1994), a Global Issues SIG within the Korea TESOL organization
(March, 1995), a Global Issues SIG in the UK-based IATEFL association (April,
1995), a Global Education Study Group in the Japan Association of College
English Teachers (April, 1996), plus ongoing efforts to establish a Global/Peace
Education interest group within the US-based TESOL organization.
The establishment of these groups has enabled English teachers around
the world who are involved with global, peace and environmental education
to receive funds, begin projects, issue newsletters, hold workshops, obtain
conference time to share their research and teaching experience, and to
further promote global education within their organizations. The existence
of these groups serves to validate global education as a legitimate goal
of English teaching and to highlight the social responsibility of the profession.
The rapid growth of interest in global issues and global education within
the field of English education over the past decade has helped to stimulate
the profession in many ways. It has encouraged a reconsideration of the
basic aims of English teaching, sparked a debate about the mission of our
profession, and promoted a healthy discussion about meaningful content and
educational relevance. It has spurred outreach efforts to global issue experts
and organizations, provoked a sharing of classroom experimentation and research
through conference presentations, and led to the formation of special interest
groups devoted to promoting global awareness and action to solve world problems
through effective language teaching. What is clear from these various trends
is that the new commitment of English language teaching to promoting peace,
international understanding, and global awareness is firm and growing stronger
each year thanks to the work of thousands of English educators in countries
around the globe.
Brinton, D. M., Snow, M. A., & Wesche, M. B. (1989).
Content-based second language instruction. New York: Newbury House.
Brown, H. D. (1990, March). On track to century 21.
Plenary talk at the 24th Annual Convention of TESOL (Teachers of English
to Speakers of Other Languages), San Francisco, USA.
Casey, B. (1994, October). Basic questions on global
issues: Ask the experts. Roundtable discussion at the 20th Annual International
Conference on Language Teaching and Learning of JALT (Japan Association
of Language Teaching), Matsuyama, Japan.
Kirby, W. (1989, March). Keynote speech at the 23rd Annual
Convention of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages),
San Antonio, USA.
Maley, A. (1992). Global issues in ELT. Practical English
Teaching, 13 (2), 73.
Mohan, B. (1986). Language and content. Reading,
Silver, R. (1991). "Content-Based Language Teaching:
Introduction". The Language Teacher, 15 (11), 2.
This article copyright © 1997 by the author.
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