At African Christian College, English is our only common language. Even students from the same country have different mother tongue languages. This is why we are able to attract and teach students from throughout (the former English-ruled parts) Africa.
As Chapple writes in International Education Studies (2015):
“The use of English as the lingua franca medium of instruction at higher education institutions across the globe is today considered the most significant trend in educational internationalisation.”
In Chapple’s context in Japan, using English for instruction is built on an assumption that students attending courses in English will improve their English language skills and further prepare them for our shrinking world. (Plus the financial incentives in attracting students who only speak English.)
His publication title reveals his results: “Teaching in English Is Not Necessarily the Teaching of English.”
Students may have conversational skills in English, but this does not adequately prepare them for academic work. So they frequently found themselves left unable to keep up or comprehend. Instead of improving their English through the course (which wasn’t significant), they failed to learn the content of the course they were in. Oops.
This is true even when with English proficiency requirements in place before enrolling.
Instead of recommending elimination of English as a medium of instruction altogether, Chapple recommends abandoning using content courses to increase English proficiency.
Chapple offers suggestions “to incorporate intercultural discussion opportunities and activities as well as linguistic enhancement activities throughout a course.” Give texts in English and the local language; and stop lectures to consider what is being communicated in both languages.
He also points out that using English as the medium of teaching to non-native speakers requires support for students and also support systems and skill development for instructors.
What can we do at African Christian College?
There is great value in mother tongue instruction. Many of our faith heritage’s diploma-level schools in Africa teach primarily in local languages. But our students come from over a dozen different tribes and language groups across Africa.
English may be our only path to providing quality, Christian higher education in Africa.
The option of removing English as our medium is not viable given our current diversity and vision. Adding competent lecturers to teach all subjects in the mother tongue of our students is also not an option for the near future.
Here are some questions we should be answering:
- How can we help our students meet expectations of becoming ‘excellent communicators’ in English without expecting it to ‘just happen’ by attending class in English?
- How can we increase the use of intercultural dialogue in our classes and help students apply what they are hearing and learning to their own contexts?
- What new things – aside from our English language courses and Writing Support Centre – can we do to help students with their English proficiency?
- How do we better prepare our African and non-African faculty around this issue?
- English proficiency is already an entrance qualification, but what other measures might be used to ensure students can use English beyond conversation?