Based on a group discussion on the 12.9. lecture on social class, language and related readings. Our group is Ronja Nordlin, Maike Hohmann, Evelien De Vos and Rebecca Pape (writer).
Some countries have started to realize the concept of social justice in education and use it to give children from different social backgrounds the opportunity to achieve anything they want. They offer schools and studies for free and give financial support to families with lower income. But does that really help to close the gap between rich and poor families? Does that really create equal possibilities for children to perform well at school or get a good job later?
Our group discussed this together with the fact, that language plays a big role in our education system. Being able to express yourself in an adequate manner, joining conversations and writing decent texts is taken for granted when teachers mark a student’s performance. But what, if pupils do not have a specific level in a certain language?
There are two groups which often suffer from inequality at school due to language difficulties.
First, there are children, whose parents immigrated or who came to a new country themselves. It is often difficult for them to perform well at school in a language which is not their mother tongue. In some cases, they may even be regarded as bad students or less intelligent, only because they can’t express themselves as they would like to. Being a native speaker can be a big advantage, since school performance influences pupils‘ future careers a lot.
This is one of the reasons, why Professor Orfelia Garcia introduced translanguaging, which is basically the use of several languages at the same time. In the context of school it means that classes should be held in the children‘s language and that pupils are allowed to speak whatever language they prefer speaking. Garcia used a translanguaging class in the US as an example, where children read a text in Spanish and then discuss it in English or vice versa. There, they are also allowed to take notes or tell a story in their mother tongue. To help the others understand somebody’s language, they can use dictionaries or pictures to translate it. According to Garcia, by this means the children’s languages are equally important and everybody has the same possibilities to perform well. Furthermore, the pupils get interested in the unknown language and would possibly learn it as well.
However, to implement translanguaging at school would take a lot of time and work and I’m not sure, whether native speaker would actually be open to do it due to the fact, that speaking in our own mother tongue will always be the preferred and easiest way to communicate.
In Garcia’s article you can find more information:
García, O., and Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language,Bilingualism and Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/9781137385765.
The second group, who also may not have the equal possibilities at school, are children from the lower social class. Berliner (2003) points out in his work that neighbourhood and family play a major role on school performance. Health care, holiday activities and hobbies have a big influence on school archievement, but if it is not available, it can be a big disadvantage for the children. Furthermore, previous research concluded that families from a lower social class use a limited amount of productive vocabularies in interaction with their children (Hoff, 2003). As language use is of high importance at school, these differences in vocabulary knowledge may cause difficulties to some pupils because of their social background. They will need to develop their language skills elsewhere. Thus, it is hard to speak about equality and justice in the classroom and should be taken more into account in the future.
Our discussion shows that language skills can be considered to be one of the main factors that influence school performance. Therefore, we are convinced that, although the countries in nothern and central Europe are on a good way to offer equal opportunities, there is still a lot to improve.
Berliner, D. (2013). Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth. Teachers College Record, 116: 1-26
Hoff, E. (2003). The Specificity of Environmental Influence: Socioeconomic Status Affects Early Vocabulary Development Via Maternal Speech. Child Development, 74: 1368–1378. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00612
Garcia, O. (2009). Retrieved from http://bilingualeducationtranslanguaging.bravesites.com/ofelia-garcia-you-tube-links, 26.09.2017