Globally, increasing numbers of young people are struggling to navigate learning through an international language that is not widely used in their lives outside of school, most commonly English (Dearden, 2014; Milligan, 2020). Research overwhelmingly shows that the use of an unfamiliar language of instruction (LOI) has a detrimental impact on student outcomes and contributes to poor quality, inequitable educational experiences (Afitska, et al., 2013; Alidou, et al., 2006). Yet, despite these challenges, aspirations relating to English remain extremely high and students and parents report a preference for English-medium schooling (Qorro, 2009; Ferguson, 2013; Sah & Karki, 2020). This desire for English bolsters policy-makers' resistance to change, resulting in a fraught and seemingly immoveable LOI debate.
This fellowship builds upon PhD research that explored the experiences of students in two secondary schools in Tanzania, where the official LOI is English. The PhD study identified an absence of meaningful engagement with students' voices and agency in LOI research and addressed this, generating a rich, socially-situated account of students' aspirations and experiences of negotiating their school language environments. The PhD thesis employs a theoretical approach that innovatively reframes the LOI debate, acknowledging the concerns and priorities of all opposing sides.
This fellowship aims to extend the impact of the PhD research by connecting its findings to other knowledge(s) relating to language, learning and justice in education. Firstly, I will engage in collaborative activities with young people and expert practitioners to co-produce impact materials for Tanzania. These will connect the research findings to lived experiences and understandings of how to encourage behaviour change, resulting in locally- relevant youth advocacy and teacher development resources. Secondly, through the fellowship Mentor, Dr Lizzi Milligan, I will connect my PhD research to findings from her project focused on LOI and girls' education in Rwanda. By co-creating a policy brief and youth voice video, this combined knowledge will reach a wider international audience. Thirdly, I will develop my academic profile by writing journal articles and presenting conference papers that connect my work to an interdisciplinary academic community. Finally, I will write proposals for future research, building on the work done in my PhD, applying a similar conceptual and methodological approach to questions of language, justice and belonging in UK schools.
This fellowship also aims to foster the research knowledge, skills and networks needed to underpin my academic career progression. Forging different forms of connections - to research-users, to broader research and policy agendas, and to the academic community - will both require and enable me to develop a range of important research capabilities. Building these connections and skills will greatly strengthen my capacity for impactful future research. Key to the professional development aims of this fellowship is the relationship with the Mentor, Dr Milligan, who is a successful and respected scholar in the field. Inclusion in the University of Bath research community also offers access to multiple formal and informal learning opportunities.
The critical role of language in improving the quality and equity of education has been widely evidenced, yet it is a source of real frustration for researchers that language is rarely given priority in international education policy and planning (Tikly, 2016; Milligan, Desai & Benson, 2020). Connecting knowledge(s) and bringing together and amplifying the voices of young people, practitioners and researchers is key if language issues are be pushed to the forefront. This fellowship is designed to facilitate some of these connections and to develop the research capabilities I need to play a significant and influential future role in these debates.