TEFL in Rural Areas: An Annotated Bibliography

The following articles have been selected in order to get a wider understanding of different contexts, problems, and solutions to teaching English as a foreign language in rural areas throughout the world. Sources that focus on English as a second language in rural areas have been excluded from the selection because the context is drastically different than teaching English in a country where English is not spoken by the majority. Some of the sources chosen do not pertain specifically to the rural context but are still useful and applicable to a variety of contexts, including the rural. Many of the articles describe the causes of underperformance in the rural English contexts but lack solutions as how to improve upon it which is the ultimate goal of this research.

Asraf, R., & Ahmad, I. (2003). Promoting English language development and the reading habit among students in rural schools through the guided extensive reading program. Reading in a Foreign Language, 15(2), http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2003/mohdasraf/mohdasraf.html

According to the authors Asraf and Ahmad, rural Malaysian students are twice as likely to fail the country´s standardized English tests as urban Malaysian students. Asraf and Ahmad determined an extensive reading program would be the best solution to this problem and implemented the “Guided Extensive Reading (GER)” in four classes: three 7th grade classes and one 9th grade class, from three different rural Malaysian schools in different states. While their study did not measure students’ improvement of English or reading, Asraf and Ahmad looked at the difficulties in and attitudes to reading English as well as how the GER was received by teachers and students. Asraf and Ahmad clarify that the goal of extensive reading is to read for the sake of reading which also leads to further benefits. Therefore, students were not tested nor graded on their reading. The books used were graded readers of good quality that related to local and other cultures. Asraf and Ahmad stress the importance of retelling and sharing the stories the students read with classmates to initially increase motivation. Asraf and Ahmad were able to prove the benefits of extensive reading despite the limited vocabulary these rural students have. Their study only lasted a month yet showed positive changes among students’ attitudes and reading processes. Applying extensive reading programs can be a good idea but establishing them would be a challenge when quality, level appropriate readers that appeal to students cannot be obtained due to lack of financial funds or materials available in the region.

Azman, H. (2006) English language in rural Malaysia: Situating global literacies in local practices. 3L Journal of Language Teaching, Linguistics and Literature, 11, 99-119.

Azman’s article examines the diverse linguistic context of Malaysia which is composed of multilingual speakers. She specifically analyzes the different levels of literacy and multilingualism that are shown in the population. She mentions the concern of English literacy and therefore, delves into ethnographic research while interpreting literacy as a social process. Azman goes on to describe the lack of English teaching adaptation that ignores students vernacular backgrounds. She stresses the necessity of being aware of the “historical, political, economical and social representations” of English in order to understand how it is viewed and used in the communities it is taught in. Hence, Azman goes on to explain these aforementioned representations of English in Malaysia. Once she achieves a general background description of where English lies in the country, Azman compares multilingual literacy statistics of the languages used in Malaysia: Behasa Melayu, Mandarin, Tamil, and English. English language literacy is not a part of their cultural identity; therefore, in rural communities where there is little foreign influence, it is seen as only a school related language. Students are rarely given English homework and relate all English tasks to a reading given in class, with no opportunities for real world practice. The confinement of English due to the lack of technologic resources in rural areas is reflected in how low the English literacy and usage rates are in rural areas. Azman argues that students in rural populations will continue to struggle with English until there is an increased reliance and use of English in the communities’ social, economic and cultural environments. Taking her points into account, teachers must find ways to extend English outside of the classroom and make it a part of their lives outside of the school where they have very little need for English in these rural contexts if they are to be successful English language learners.

Caillods, F., & Postlethwaite, T. (1989). Teaching and learning conditions in developing countries. Prospects, 19(2), 169-190.

Caillods and Postlethwaite’s article examines the teaching and learning context in developing countries from all over the world, analyzing students’ achievement and retention rates as well as the factors that affect those rates. The authors go in depth on the importance of teacher education, experience, skills, lesson planning, and giving students feedback. They relate how teachers’ working conditions and environment may hinder teaching and learning with limited or unsuitable resources that are available. Caillods and Postlethwaite point out that improving the schooling system is nearly impossible by just changing a few qualitative variables; many changes need to happen in order to see great progress; yet, they offer suggestions of how to make improvements within a school. They go on to list solutions of how to deal with larger classes by being adequately trained for such situations; which are the essential materials needed for a learning environment such as desks, chairs, a board, some English input from a textbook or other source; how to motivate teachers; teacher training; time used for instruction, homework and being on task; school management; curriculum; and supervision. The issues that developing countries were facing at the time of this article are still issues today in many of the same countries and even in rural areas in more developed countries. Therefore, the solutions Caillods and Postlethwaite list are still applicable now. As stated before, many changes must be made to see improvement in English language learning in rural areas, not just a few.

Erling, E., Seargeant, P., Solly, M., Chowdury, Q., & Rahman, S. (2012) Attitudes to English as a language for international development in rural Bangladesh. ELT Research Papers, 12-08.

Erling et al. investigated the influence English has in legitimately helping promote international development in rural Bangladesh. They specifically reviewed how native Bangladeshis felt towards English in their communities in order to know how English programs are received and if they suit the needs of the people. The authors put into context the country’s current situation and compare the two towns they chose to conduct their research in: Toke, a semi-rural town, and Shak Char, a rural town, both of which do not have certain socio-economic features that define urban towns. The study involved interviewing 28 local people from ages 22-62 with a range of educational capacities, ranging from illiterate to postgrad graduates. The interviews sought to gain insight in these four themes: “1. English and access to global systems. 2. English and cultural value/identity. 3. English and social status. 4. Other issues.” Bangladeshis reported that English knowledge widens their employment opportunities, allows them to understand technology better, as well as information on medicines and pesticides. Erling et al. point out that this perceived view of the helpfulness of English can also be applied to an improvement of literacy for many of the difficulties they face. The authors share the opinion that those interviewed unrealistically view English as a cure-all solution that can improve their lives. The natives have a positive view of English and consider it to be a way to help promote their culture to others. A widely recognized issue in these communities is that they have more pressing developmental issues than learning English. Erling et al. recommend doing further “detailed empirical studies of how knowledge of English correlates with economic value in rural Bangladesh.” To promote English, local language literacy needs to precede it; English teaching should also be specific and functional, and practically founded on what the community needs. As mentioned before by the authors, studies must be done to accurately define those needs because if needs are not being met, success is not likely.

González, A. (2006). On materials use training in EFL teacher education: Some reflections. Profile Issues in Teachers' Professional Development, 7, 101-115.

Gonzalez examined a teacher education process on the use of materials in a Colombian University, Universidad de Antioquia. She first states the importance of materials in an English class and how they may vary depending on various factors: “the role of English in the country, the role of English in schools, teachers, management and administration, available resources, support personnel, number of pupils, available time, physical environment, socio-cultural environment, types of tests used as well as procedures for monitoring and evaluating the program itself.” Gonzalez reflects on the different materials different English teaching methodologies require and states the necessity of teachers’ ability to adapt their methodology according to their context. She points out that teacher educators must educate future teachers of alternative materials to use since they may be in rural or underprivileged schools. Gonzalez interviewed five student teachers and eighteen public school teachers to gather information on material use and material knowledge. Many interviewees reported that effective teaching correlated to the availability of various materials, most being technical. Gonzalez states that student teachers made many mistakes in the use or selection of their materials, which led to the conclusion of needing further training on material use. The limitations presented by the teaching contexts are very important. Gonzalez recommends exposing student teachers to classes with many resources as well as classes with zero resources in order to prepare them for a range of teaching environments. Educating teachers of how to work with limited materials or what constitutes appropriate materials can help rural teachers work more effectively with what is available to them.

Holguin, B., Morales, J., & Hernandez, C. (2012) A pedagogical experience to delve into students sense of cultural belonging and intercultural understanding in a rural school. HOW: A Colombian Journal for Teachers of English, 19(2), 123-145.

Holguin, Morales and Hernandez critiques the use of English materials in rural schools; then, they adapt the materials themselves for one rural class of eleventh grade students in Guavata, Santander, Colombia. Holguin, Morales and Hernandez examined the materials used and their reactions to the materials before and after altering them. After understanding the faults in the materials the teacher uses in their class, the authors designed more adept curricular units that reflected the specific rural context of Guavata, where guava is the main crop produced. Holguin et al. recognize the lack of teacher motivation to design specialized materials for their students is due to various factors: the lack of professional development or promotion available, limited financial and material resources, as well as being overwhelmed by the accumulation of other tasks to be done. On the other hand, Holguin et al. state that if teachers create their own materials the curricula “may meet the needs of the students” and that teachers will grow professionally from developing their own material. They explained how materials can be a wide range of things. However, since the textbook was the only resource used in this school, Holguin et al. developed only curricular units to reflect the rural context and not additional supplementary material as well. They changed an entire unit that related to the public transportation system in the capital city, Bogota, of which these rural children had no experience with, to the topic of harvesting guava and coffee. Students reflected on their culture, compared it with other cultures, and drew on information from their experiences and personal lives. The authors found that students were more engaged and the learning process was facilitated by connecting the language with their previous knowledge. Holguin et al. conclude that educators must expand their views regarding their students’ culture and avoid stereotypes in order to see them as people with specific needs and different backgrounds.

Hunt-Barron, S., Tracy, K., Howell, E., & Kaminski, R. (2015). Obstacles to enhancing professional development with digital tools in rural landscapes. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 30(2), 1-14.

This case-study examines the effectiveness of a professional development program for 36 English teachers in rural South Carolina that lasted for two years. The article pays special attention to how useful online forums were for the teachers’ development. In the first year teachers had around sixty face-to-face hours of professional development with a mentor from the National Writing Project, who initiated the professional development. The professional development teams analyzed the Common Core State Standards, considered the needs of the students, and developed initial outlines for the professional development. Google Sites was used as a space to store, access, and share resources as well as maintain keep in contact with teachers. Each teacher had a blog created for them and were asked to blog about new practices they implemented in their classrooms. Hunt-Barton et al. analyzed the use of these resources and found that teachers used the Google Sites often to access resources, some teachers did not blog at all, others did frequently, and some did occasionally. There was not an increase of interaction or collaboration among teachers through the use of the blogs which the authors attributed to the following three reasons: Time, limited access to the internet, and “professional isolation” that many professionals tend to experience in rural schools. Going public on a blog can be an uncomfortable situation for someone who is used to a rather isolated professional atmosphere. Despite minimal blog participation, the professional development showed improvements in the teachers’ classes. The ability to have a collection of resources to access and not having to waste time searching for their own was beneficial for the teachers. As was illustrated through this study, digital tools not only help in the classroom but also can be applied to helping the teacher develop their skills and create partnerships with others around the world. Much research tells of a need for better trained English teachers in rural areas; hence, similar programs can be applied to help train these teachers at a distance.

Hwang, C. (2005). Effective EFL education through popular authentic materials. Asian EFL Journal Quarterly, 7(1), 90-101.

Hwang promotes a variety of authentic materials as a learning source to enable students to produce natural language. Hwang critiques the grammatical centered materials and teaching styles presented in Taiwanese English classes and promotes the use of authentic materials. Hwang points out Taiwanese students’ insensitivities to pragmatics are mostly due to a lack of varied authentic materials. Hwang compares Taiwanese university programs that have been given the same status as native English courses abroad. In her comparison she illustrated that Taiwanese students’ lack of background English inhibited them from being able to naturally express themselves and that they incorporated unnatural literary language as a base for communication. She draws on research and support from other studies and linguists to back her personal experiences with authentic material use in language acquisition. Hwang relates a focus on grammar to ineffective communication; therefore, Hwang argues that only a third of English instruction should be dedicated to explicit grammar instruction. Success in English in Taiwan and various countries is measured by the ability to pass a written grammatical test, which has led to neglecting acquisition and true proficiency in the language. Her research brings to mind the situations of many isolated English programs that are far away from urban areas. These rural areas suffer from reliance on grammar oriented, unauthentic materials because of the lack of accessibility to authentic materials.

Kubota, R., & McKay, S. (2009) Globalization and language learning in rural Japan: The role of English in the local linguistic ecology. TESOL Quarterly, 43(4), 593-619.

This article examines Japanese people’s usage and feelings about languages in their community. Kubota and McKay conducted this study in Hasu, a midsized Japanese city that has a small immigrant population, 3.7 percent of the population as of 2006. They drew information from a public report of a previous survey on diversity in Hasu and five personal interviews. Three interviewees were Japanese, English language teachers and two were Japanese professionals learning Portuguese. Kubota and McKay state that the emphasis put on English does not pose a risk to the Japanese language but rather other languages that are not the native language. The authors found a lack of motivation to learn another language other than English in Hasu, where most immigrants speak Portuguese and not English. The teaching of English, therefore, does not affect the native language but rather overshadows other foreign languages and cultures. There is a general idea that English is the language of the foreign elite and that other languages will not help them access this status. The data collected for this study shows racism, and intolerance towards non-white, non-English speaking foreigners. To address these problems, Kubota and McKay support the idea of replacing the subject of English in schools with a class which uses English as a lingua franca and focuses on a multilingual approach using different communication strategies and accommodation skills. They reinforce the idea that English teachers must make the effort to raise critical language awareness and promote multilingualism. In rural areas the teaching of English may be implemented yet, there may be a higher need to communicate in a foreign language other than English. Teachers should be aware of how to help shape the attitudes and general cross-cultural communication skills of their students, as the needs of the community may be better suited for another foreign language other than English.

Lamb, M. (2013). Your mum and dad can’t teach you!: Constraints on agency among rural learners of English in Indonesia. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(1), 14-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2012.697467

This article sought to find the social factors that contribute to the English level proficiency differences of adolescents in rural and urban schools in Indonesia. Lamb bases his research off of a previously conducted survey of his that measured Indonesian adolescents’ English proficiency levels and how it correlates with their level of motivation. It also took into account if they lived in a city, town, or rural area which revealed that rural students who are highly motivated to learn English had proficiency levels inferior to their urban counterparts with similar levels of motivation. Lamb then posed three questions: how learning English is influenced by their social environment? What do students do independently to learn the language? Why do students think English will help their ideal future self? Data was collected through interviews of ten individual students from rural areas of Indonesia. As a contrast, two urban participants of the same motivational level as the rural were interviewed, in addition to one unmotivated rural student. In addition to the interviews the contexts the students are in were considered, focusing on: culture, resources, and influences. All of the participants’ parents were also interviewed, due to family being one of the most important motivational and social influences. Lamb’s study reveals that rural students have a vague idea of how to achieve their career goals. Parents are unable to offer support apart from well wishes and tend to be pessimistic towards their children´s education knowing they cannot contribute much financially. Lamb’s interviews show that schools also lack in creating an ideal language learning environment that is stimulating for the students. Schools that do may not be financially or geographically accessible. Lamb recognizes these social factors are improving, through the use of technology and increasing global movement. However, no reference as to how rural schools can improve or are improving is made.

Li, M., & Baldauf, R. (2011). Beyond the curriculum: A Chinese example of issues constraining effective English language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 45(4), 793-803. doi:10.5054/tq.2011.268058

There has been a change in English curricula in many Asian countries that went from traditional grammar oriented classes to a more communicative approach. Li and Baldauf wrote of the major factor inhibiting success towards communicative language teaching to be the lack of changing the examination oriented results. Li and Baldauf interviewed 73 Chinese public school English teachers about the change of curricula in 2001 to a more communicative model. They found resistance to this change primarily due to the needs of the students, school, and teachers to have the students perform well on an examination that does not favor language application but rather language knowledge in order to attend certain tertiary schools. Teachers and students viewed the communicative approach as impractical because their context or situation had not changed, to score well on the exam. Although the approach could improve their communication skills, it lacks the ability to successfully prepare them for the test. This inconsistency leads to logical resistance of implementation. Li and Baldauf conclude that if communication is to be the main goal, the assessment policy must be adapted to reflect this as well. Much research has reflected the need for top down change. When an educational goal is not reflected in the educational policy, change will not come from the bottom, up. It must start with a change at the top; the goals of the overall educational policy need to change in order for schools to teach with these new language objectives in mind.

Linder, D. (1999). The internet and the EFL classroom: An integrative approach for teachers with limited resources. TESL Reporter, 32(2), 24-31.

This article was written in 1999 and, therefore is a little outdated, especially when talking about the uses of the internet. However, Linder mentions the usefulness of the internet in classrooms that are not ideal, as many rural classrooms tend to be. He took into account the lack of internet and computer knowledge that users may have and how to use limited internet access in larger classes. Linder contrasted the information gathered from the internet and traditional sources, highly favoring the web due to the quantity, variety, and attractiveness of the material. He suggested different strategies, controlled, semi-controlled or free tasks, to work with information on the internet which considered various possible scenarios. The ideal situation, which is rare in most EFL contexts, is to have a computer for each student. However, Linder writes of different strategies to get information from the internet in class depending on the computers available through pair work, group work or the entire class sharing one computer. Linder points out that even his suggestions may be unrealistic in many rural areas in foreign countries. He lists ways to make use of students who have internet access outside of school if there is no access available at school. He recommends forming groups with at least one student with internet access in each group, giving the students a specific website to look at, and to give assignments that are possible to find information offline as well. When possible, internet access can greatly diversify English resources even if one is in a rural location. While Linder gives various suggestions for internet use, he fails to differentiate age level appropriateness for internet tasks and activities and potential problems students may encounter online. Nevertheless, the wide variety of material available enables teachers to use the web for all ages which can be beneficial with the appropriate application.

Nunan, D. (2003) The impact of English as a global language on educational policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific Region. TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 589-613.

Nunan explores the influence English has had on educational policies and practices in a variety of Asian-Pacific countries: Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam. These countries reflect different contexts such as ex-colonial or independent, developed or developing, big or small, and culturally diverse or not. Nunan synthesized information from various documents that provided the foundation for guided interviews with 68 informants of differing positions in the aforementioned countries’ educational sectors. The author presents the information by country as each has a distinct context. After presenting each country’s findings he describes generalizations among the countries in the areas of “impact on policy, differential access to English within each country, teacher education, principles of language educations, and effects on the home language.” Nunan states that these countries are investing resources in teaching English but they are not reaching their desired goals. In order to achieve these goals the author proposes that English language teaching policy be changed, teachers be well trained according to the age they are teaching and have excellent language skills, students get enough exposure to English, and that classroom contexts be taken into account. Meanwhile TESOL professionals need to be aware of how English is used and its effects; As Nunan mentions, research is needed about the use of English in the working lives of people who do not work in areas that are heavily dependent on English, such as tourism. He points out that education policy is not an independent variable but rather that it is “interconnected in complex ways with a matrix of other issues.” The changes Nunan mentions are necessary for students to effectively learn English in any environment.

Salahuddin, A., Khan, M., & Rahman, A. (2013) Challenges of implementing English curriculum at rural primary schools of Bangladesh. The International Journal of Social Sciences, 7(1), 34-51.

This article identifies the gap between the English curriculum and its implementation in rural Bangladesh schools. The authors Salahuddin, Khan, and Rahman describe the current situation of English classes in rural Bangladesh; they found the challenges that inhibit successful implementation of the English curriculum through the observation of thirty classes and the completion of questionnaires given to 300 students and thirty teachers. The thirty teachers were interviewed as well. The questions posed to the students mainly focused on time spent in class. How often do their teachers have them do writing, reading, speaking, listening activities in class? Reading and writing were reported to be done sometimes in the majority of classes. However, students reported that in most classes speaking was rarely done and listening was never done due to not having access to any listening resources or equipment. Salahuddin et al. uncovered some discouraging statistics once the teachers’ information was collected and synthesized; The majority of the data reflect a lack of knowledge in English, teaching methodologies, and classroom management. Other issues the author´s identified include that the schools do not provide supplementary materials or resources, and many teachers are not even given the teacher’s guide book. Teachers have full schedules of eight classes a day, which contributes to most teachers’ omission of lesson planning. Salahuddin, Khan, and Rahman describe the main inhibitors to the learning of English to be the lack of resources and under-qualified, untrained teachers. The authors’ solutions are the provision of adequate resources and materials, as well as hiring qualified English teachers, providing them with training and paying them a decent salary. However, the solutions they provided are not applicable from the bottom up; they need to happen through a hierarchy from the top down, or rather the government that hires, pays, and provides resources for English classes needs to carry out these changes. Current English teachers are unable to drastically change the situation and, therefore, affect English classes.

Shin, H., & Crookes, G. (2005). Indigenous critical traditions for TEFL?: A historical and comparative perspective in the case of Korea. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 2(2), 95-112. doi:10.1207/s15427595cils0202_2

Shin and Crookes disagree with existing literature, which states that implementing westernized teaching strategies is not adequate in every culture. All over the world, new methodologies and practices are implemented in teaching English as a foreign language which tend to incorporate English speakers’ values and ways of thinking. The authors recognize that these westernized strategies can be valuable and should be adequately adapted to the home culture after historical and theoretical analysis, not discarded completely. The example they focus on is implementing critical pedagogy in Korea. They highlight key issues of Korean culture that originate from Confucian tradition which the authors claim contribute to difficulties when engaging students in critical pedagogy. In order not to rule out this westernized method, analyses of historical and theoretical contexts are key building blocks to understanding how to implement critical pedagogy. Shin and Crooks explain that understanding and reasoning behind traditional behaviors can be seen from a point of view similar to the native culture through historical and theoretical analysis, and not as a foreigner applying foreign cultural expectations. This understanding allows for an easier application of different strategies. Shin and Crooks strategies can be used for examining micro-cultures such as rural communities. The analysis that the authors give clarifies the need to fully understand the context where English is being implemented.