Changing Research Cultures

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.

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7 Responses to Changing Research Cultures

  1. Bushra Ahmed Khurram says:

    Thanks for helping Pakistani teachers realize that they can do research too!


    Bushra (Pakistan)

  2. Imdad says:

    ELT reforms program in Pakistan can payback in terms of promoting professional excellence of teachers only if it encourages reflective teaching. Our teacher research project, mentored by Simon, is a step in the right direction. I wish there are more programs like this in the future.

  3. I have read an article about ELT in pakistan which claims that “the major source of learning English in Pakistan is … school classrooms where, ironically, teaching amounts to nothing more than boring English spelling drills, some formal grammatical constructions, and precise definitions for an endless array of words which make the subject appear desolate… “. There is so much to be done if TAIMOOR KHAN’s description of the state of the art is relevant.

    Accordingly, there is need for classroom-oriented reasearch to evaluate ELT guidelines, currently used textbooks and other micro-implementation decisions. The ultimate goal of Simon’s training sessions is certainly not to just make the eighteen participants aware of “… major research paradigms, nature and value of qualitative research, key themes/priorities in English language education research in Pakistan, strategies for collecting qualitative data: observation, interview, open-ended questionnaires, journal writing, narratives, visual methods, qualitative data analysis…” but to coax them to try their hands at using these techniques and strategies in changing the status quo mentioned earlier.

    An action reasearch endeavour is, by nature, a team work. Looking forward to reading from the Higher Education Commission Action Research Teams.

    Khalil Zakari
    Founder of Ed-Links-Morocco

  4. ghazala tabbasum says:

    i agree that IRPT on research methods is a step in the right direction but please remember that its just a small step and many more such projects are needed before we hope to see a real shift in the right direction of ELT. Most importantly this research culture has to seep down to school level where most of the wrong is done to language teaching. unfortunately HEC does not have schools under its umbrella. if there is a possibility of attaching a workable no. of schools with each college/university for extending professional training esp. in ELT, I think much can be changed/improved and corrected.

  5. Amna Naveed says:

    British Council and HEC (ELTR) have really taken a good initiative in developing research culture among English teachers. Class room research has given me an opportunity to revisit my own teaching methodology and to make it more effective for my students.

    I believe if we mold our teaching strategies according to the needs of our students we can guide them in a better way and help them in acquiring the English language. This will eventually result in bringing forth the students who will no more be afraid of writing and speaking in English.

  6. maamar missoum says:

    I am happy such initiative is helping ELT teachers realise their potential as knowledge producers and consumers. I do agree with ghazala tabbasum that scope (extending the benefits of more productive teaching strategies to larger numbers of ELT teachers) should be considered in all initiatives that hope to improve the experience of learning.

  7. Bushra Ahmed Khurram says:

    Dear researchers/practitioners,

    If you wish to listen to Simon Borg’s talk at IATEFL Conference 2013 entitled ‘Research Engagement and Teaching Quality’ then just click the given link:


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