Contextualized teaching and learning

A lot has been written in the ESL literature about taking into account the social and cultural context of the learners, however very little has been said about the pedagogical implications of contextualized teaching and learning. Education has never been a sterile endeavor, separated from society or from the culture in which it takes place. In fact, the purpose of education is to form responsible, highly skilled members of society hence the idea that cultural and social values do not belong in the classroom is proving to be unrealistic and even detrimental to the success of the teaching and learning process. Nevertheless, incorporating cultural and social knowledge in education remains a challenge particularly in an era of intense globalization and massive standardization. This challenge is even greater in the case of English language teaching where oftentimes internationally published teaching and learning materials have to be adapted to the local context. So how can an international language be taught effectively by incorporating the local context? Here are a few ideas:

a) Go “glocal”. This means that international materials can be adapted to the context by association, comparison and contrast. Thus when a global issue such as pollution for example is discussed it can be referred to as both a global and a local problem by providing examples from the international and local arena.

b) Develop a cultural awareness.  As educators we have the duty to keep educating ourselves about the culture and society we work in. This in turn helps students relate to the issues we bring to the classroom and enhances their motivation and involvement. It also ensures the building of good rapport between teacher and learners.

c) Go for gradual exposure. Education is about learning new things and broadening minds but this cannot happen overnight. Research into retention in learning has shown that activating prior knowledge also known as schemata is the first step in introducing new ideas and involving learners in discussions on global issues.

Finally, learners are very much anchored in the 21st century which means they expect more from their educators in terms of individual attention, knowledge of their learning styles and the use of technology. Education is no longer about knowledge but about what one does with knowledge, how it is used towards one’s personal and social development. Learners have the right to know why what they are being taught is important or why it should matter to them hence grounding education in a local context while keeping a global outreach is the way forward. Contextualizing teaching and learning is about remembering that we, either educators or learners are ultimately citizens of the world, the different bits and pieces of a global tossed salad  and not the unidentifiable ingredients of a melting pot.

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About Alina Chirciu

English Language Lecturer Majan University College

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