I have just returned from Islamabad where since last May I have been (face to face and on-line) facilitating teacher research with a group of teachers of English working in college and universities from around Pakistan. A report of the closing ceremony was published today here. While this report rightly emphasizes the importance of the project (which was supported by the Pakistan Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the British Council Pakistan) its emphasis on academic research obscures the most innovative feature of this initiative: that the teachers were doing research in their own contexts not for academic purposes but in order to develop a deeper understanding of their teaching and their students. In other words, it is systematic inquiry for professional development (see my earlier blog on this theme). This is a departure from existing notions of research on English in Pakistan in many ways:
- the project has a teaching focus – traditionally research on English in Pakistan (as in many other contexts) has centred on literature and linguistics.
- the teachers are the researchers – this departs from exclusive notions of researchers as university academics and gives teachers a legitimate role in the English research community.
- the teachers are studying their own work – this form of inward-looking study contrasts with a tradition where research is done to or on others.
- the purpose of the research is to enhance teaching and learning – by definition teacher research has the kind of immediate relevance to classroom practices that educational research is often seen to lack.
In the context of ELT reform taking place in Pakistan, projects such as this have an important role to play in promoting a new research culture, one to which teachers and academics have equally important contributions to make and where the emphasis is on collaboration and a collective effort to use research to improve English education in the country. This kind of cultural change takes time and will encounter challenges (Stephen Moore’s discussion of the situation in Cambodia illustrates some of these). However, this initial teacher research project suggests that change is possible, particularly when influential local bodies such as the HEC are supportive. The teachers on the course are now confident in their own ability to do research and to use it to inform their own work; they are also able to (and some have already started to) share their experiences with their colleagues. How these developments among teachers interface with the established forms of English research in the country is one issue that will require thought as we move forward. There will, though, be scope for such issues to be addressed as part of an new exciting large-scale English education reform project that is launching soon in Pakistan and which I will write about in future blogs.
I have focused on Pakistan but the issues raised by developments in this country have broader relevance to ELT as in many contexts research remains conceptualized as an activity that is outside the scope of teachers’ professional activity. Initiatives which challenge this misconception in thoughtful, sustained and contextually-sensitive ways can make a difference.