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Title: Languages in Education in Mewat: Policy, Politics, Practitioners and Neoliberalism
Contributor(s): Bakshi, Prerna (author); Ndhlovu, Finex  (supervisor)orcid ; Schneider, Cynthia  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2020-03-12
Copyright Date: 2019-07
Thesis Restriction Date until: 12/03/23
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Abstract: Teachers have undergone a dramatic shift from being perceived as technicians to rational decision-makers taking decisions in uncertain and complex settings, as documented in teacher cognition literature (Ellis, 2009, 2013; S. Borg, 2003; Shavelson & Stern, 1981). However, much of the scholarship and empirical observations on teacher cognition are predominantly from the Global North and do not tell us much about how similar issues play out in educational settings in the Global South. This study investigates how neoliberalism impacts educational discourse and interacts with language in education policy (LiEP). With reference to India's Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act (2009), the thesis examines how neoliberal discourse affects teachers' beliefs and classroom decisions (teacher cognition). The way teachers, teaching and LiEP have been conceptualized under neoliberalism is an area that remains un(der)explored, if not entirely ignored, in the most applied linguistics and language policy research reports. In this thesis, I explore the linkages between the role of teachers, teaching and LiEP on the one hand, and the effects of neoliberalism on the other. I spotlight the tensions and contradictions of the RTE Act (2009), which was supposedly enacted to bring about a change in perception regarding the role of teachers, teaching and LiEP. One gaping hole in the RTE Act (2009) has been its failure to adequately address the question of medium of instruction (MOI), particularly when the code to be used is a 'dialect'. One of the major goals of this thesis was to collect, document and analyze the views of policymakers and teachers from two school types – rural government Hindi-medium and urban private Englishmedium schools – to assess their roles in influencing, negotiating and implementing LiEP in the Mewat district in the Indian state of Haryana. Through in-depth interviews coupled with supplementary data, which were thematically analyzed, three broad themes emerged on three levels: institutional, pedagogical and policy level. These themes demonstrated how the legacy of neoliberalism interacted with LiEP and influenced teachers' beliefs, judgements and actions inside the classroom.
The objectives of the research are three-fold. The first is to understand the perception and role of teachers in LiEP in Global South contexts, how it has changed over the years and the way teachers make in-class decisions. In addressing this objective, the study seeks to contribute a new set of data from a Southern context that could augment the existing body of work on intersections of teacher cognition, LiEP and neoliberal discourse. The second objective is to investigate the nature of changes in the teaching paradigm – from traditional banking and constructivist models where teachers act as sole disseminators of knowledge to models where teachers are reflective sense-makers and co-constructors of knowledge along with students. In the third objective the study seeks to examine LiEP in the two school types and to assess the role of Mewati as a MOI. Spolsky's model of language policy (2004) that has three components; language practices, beliefs and management, was the underpinning pillar for exploring this objective.
The key findings of the study are as follows. Firstly, the analysis demonstrated that teachers could at best be described as 'boundedly rational'. Contextual factors (such as historical and socio-political forces, inter-ethnic dynamics and neoliberalism) and attitudinal factors (such as teachers' prior beliefs and biases) played a key part in effecting teachers' capacity to make fully rational decisions in students' best interests. Nearly all teachers perceived Mewati as an obstacle and opposed its classroom use, while simultaneously admitting that in its absence, most students struggled to follow both MOI and class content. This led to serious teaching and learning problems, often until as late as grade 8.
Secondly, while the RTE Act (2009) calls for a constructivist approach to teaching, this study found that this was seldom the case. Teachers in both school types mainly relied on the banking model to teach with minimal use of Mewati, which is spoken by most students. Teachers' lack of professional training and development, structural constraints, lack of autonomy and participation in key policy decisions were found to be among the major factors contributing to this, which bore the hallmarks of neoliberalism.
Thirdly, there is a discord between rhetoric and reality in terms of language diversity in the Indian education system. Much rhetoric has been generated which introduces and promotes language diversity. However, the prospects and spheres of possibility for using language varieties that lack official status, standardization, orthography and resources as MOI remain dire. The results suggest that while rural school teachers adopted a Hindi monolingual LiEP and espoused a nationalist ideology, urban school teachers followed a bilingual Hindi-English LiEP and held a pragmatic and globalist ideology. Both, however, perceived Mewati as an obstacle to students' overall learning and educational outcomes. Non-Mewati speaking teachers in particular, held discriminatory views that are interpreted in this thesis as constituting a form of 'dysconscious ethnicism and linguicism'.
The conclusion is that language-in-education policies currently in place in Mewat result from historical exclusion of languages deemed 'dialects' from school education and unequal power relations between schools in an already hierarchical and multi-tier education system. The permeation of neoliberal ideologies into education policies has added yet another layer of injustice with grave implications for educational outcomes for minority language students, their language varieties and rights.
Overall, the thesis established that contradictions inherent in competing discourses of the RTE Act (2009), and rights to languages of choice, along with the complexity of neoliberalism, and India's sociological dynamics contribute to sociolinguistic injustices and educational inequality. There is a paucity of research on the sociology of minority languages in South Asia in the context of global neoliberalism. This thesis offers an original contribution by being the first sociolinguistic study undertaken on Mewati and adding to the growing body of Critical Language Policy (CLP) research. By bridging the glaring divide between political economy, teacher cognition and language policy, this thesis makes major contributions to an underresearched area through its holistic lens that adopts a critical approach to rights-based discourse in education.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Field of Research (FoR) 2008: 200401 Applied Linguistics and Educational Linguistics
200405 Language in Culture and Society (Sociolinguistics)
200499 Linguistics not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 930299 Teaching and Instruction not elsewhere classified
950201 Communication Across Languages and Culture
950202 Languages and Literacy
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:Thesis Doctoral

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