Representation in ELT materials and EFL Classrooms
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Recent events have seen people all over the world considering issues which, to be honest, we should’ve been dealing with for a long, long time already. As we should all realise, issues of racism and gender discrimination are evident in all spheres in our world – where we live, where we work, where we eat, where we learn – and sadly our English as a Foreign Language classrooms are no exception. Equal representation in ELT materials and EFL Classrooms is absolutely vital. These issues are especially evident in our classroom materials, if we care to take a closer look. So we thought we should take some time and consider representation in English Language Teaching (ELT) materials.
But before we go any further, let us clarify that this is not an attack on TEFL teachers in any way. We are teachers ourselves so we know what it is like in the EFL classroom. Usually we are given coursebooks or materials to work with by our schools. In other words, we don’t have a choice in what we use to teach. However, it is up to us to be acutely aware of the materials we are using in terms of the social, cultural and economic contexts they are communicating, so we can use them more effectively and appropriately.
Read more: The Case For and Against Coursebooks
This is also not an attack on coursebook writers and publishers. There are a myriad of factors which come into play in materials development and coursebooks are as they are as a result of their development over the years. This is especially evident in the generally accepted exclusion of the PARSNIPS topics in current teaching materials.
Unfortunately, as a result of all of these factors, what we are left with are ELT materials which are not representative in many ways. This is evident in the content, the images used, and even the language taught.
Representation in content in ELT coursebooks
It is clear when looking at the majority of coursebooks that they are very Euro- and US-centric, even those developed in other countries. There is an under-representation of Asian or African cultures. This can be understood as a result of the UK and USA being seen as the home of English, and while it may be true that those countries are the birthplace of English, this idea no longer reflects the usage of English today.
References to other cultures are often done only when relating to specific cultural practices – wedding customs, traditional food, festivals, and historical events, for example. They are not present in the general material. In other words, other cultures are utilized for their cultural content, but not as examples of everyday situations.
Representation in images in ELT coursebooks
We use images in teaching a lot. If you look at any Teacher’s Book or teaching notes, it will recommend using images to bring colour and life into a lesson. And this is true. Images are a great way to teach language, as well as interest and engage the students in our lessons.
It is important, then, that visuals in a coursebook truly represent our society today.
Research has shown that in coursebooks women are portrayed less frequently than men – famous people especially are usually men – and both genders are portrayed very stereotypically. Men are shown to be the head of the household while women are given the task of child-rearing and housework. When it comes to jobs, men are businessmen, professional sportsmen, engineers and so on, while women are secretaries, shop assistants and waitresses.
Read more: Women in the TEFL Classroom
The average age of characters in coursebooks is a teen to mid-twenties. Elderly people do not often feature, except when the content of the lesson relates to their age specifically. This means that interests and activities are generally geared towards these younger ages.
In terms of race, white people are the majority of characters in ELT coursebooks, white men in particular.
Representation in language in ELT coursebooks
Language taught in ELT coursebooks might seem to be non-controversial, but language is powerful. How language is presented and which context it is given in can influence our thoughts and behaviours.
For example, in coursebooks, topics relating to gossip and casual conversation involve women, while content involving business topics are of the male domain. This can lead our learners to consider women as more frivolous and men as more serious-minded, thus reinforcing gender stereotypes.
This can also be problematic with relation to issues such as sexuality. In a discussion on his blog An A-Z of ELT on the usual language that is taught in an ELT coursebook, Scott Thornbury points out that the questions Are you married? What’s your job? And Where do you live? do not invite, and may even preclude, a response along the lines of: Actually I’m gay and unemployed, and I’ve been sleeping on the sofa at my folks’ place ever since the bank repossessed my apartment. And you?
Why is all of this important? According to research, “It can be argued that coursebooks, with all their aspects, have the power of altering students’ opinions and beliefs on many socio-cultural matters from gender and popular culture to religion and social class since the majority of classroom teaching is carried out through the use of them”.
Cultural contexts are especially important in countries in which English is not the first language. Learners in these contexts will still use ELT coursebooks which are written and developed in the US or Europe but they will not have direct contact with English first-language speakers. In other words, they will learn about so-called English culture solely through their coursebooks.
As you can imagine, ideas and opinions communicated in textbooks can be adopted by the learners using them. In this way, racial, economic and gender stereotypes can thus be perpetuated by our coursebooks.
Representation in the EFL classroom
Of course, as a teacher, it would be impossible to throw the coursebook out the window and create all your lessons from scratch. But what you need to do is be aware of the materials you are using. Look at them objectively and try to identify where they could be more representative. Then, find images, stories, people or cultures that you can bring into the lesson to complement the materials you already have.
For example, if you are teaching a unit on Business English, be sure to include images of women in positions of power, or stories of successful women. If you are teaching a unit on celebrities, besides including women, refer to black people or people of colour – being wary not to only include the stereotypical rap artists or talk show hosts, but also fashion designers or business owners. When teaching a unit on family, focus on non-traditional family structures. If you are teaching a unit on literature, refer students to books written by or about people from minority communities.
This might sound like a lot of extra work for the teacher, and in the beginning it might be. But soon you will have a range of resources you can use to supplement your lessons which will make them more representative and a truer reflection of our society – and our EFL lessons will be all the better for it.
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LAST UPDATED: 6th June 2022
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In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that Everything TEFL Ltd securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to Everything TEFL Ltd collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think Everything TEFL Ltd has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the Everything TEFL Ltd processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the Everything TEFL Ltd has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, Everything TEFL Ltd is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the Everything TEFL Ltd.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to Everything TEFL Ltd, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
Everything TEFL Ltd
28 – 32 Pembroke Street,
Republic of Ireland
Telephone: +353 (1) 554 6227
Email: [email protected]
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.