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Challenges/Strategies in Teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in Higher Education in India

The Centre for Writing and Communication (CWC) is delighted to call for papers for its April 2020 conference on teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in colleges and universities in India.

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15 December, 2019 | 5 min read

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses were introduced in the U.K. to support English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students in universities. The movement expanded to include academic writing instruction and pedagogy suitable to the context of higher education. These courses can be broadly categorised into two: linguistic support courses offered to English as Second Language (ESL) students and academic skill-based workshops or courses offered to all students regardless of their language levels. While the latter focuses heavily on developing academic literacy – critical thinking and writing skills specific to academics – the former focuses on supporting students who struggle with communicating in English. Designed to introduce students to pedagogic genres that are specific to academic writing and prepare them for a reading-based curriculum, EAP focuses on learners’ needs and language skills that are unique to the requirements of a university.

In India, several English for Specific Purposes (ESP) projects began when the Education Commission (1946-1966) acknowledged the role of English as a library language. A functional approach to the teaching of English was undertaken and ESP courses targeting graduate teachers, competitive examinations and professionals were initiated. However, ESP did not expand to include EAP in universities and colleges offering humanities and social sciences in India. While technical institutes and professional colleges offer courses to improve English communication skills, most public and private universities that are ‘non-technical’ do not offer additional English language support to the students. This could either be an outcome of the general disregard towards the discipline of humanities and social sciences in India or due to the misconceptions around the expected English language proficiency of a ‘college student’ –  where  ‘differences’ in levels end up being (deliberately?) ignored and sidelined. In specific cases where students struggle with English, remedial tuition classes or general English communication courses have been included in the university curriculum. However, these courses which are often structured upon practise-based grammar teaching models and outdated English textbooks – in many cases taught by insufficiently trained instructors – don’t end up doing much.

The Problem:

Writing and literacy in academic contexts are dependent to no small extent on the ability to transfer and use the knowledge acquired in the classroom. In the process of this knowledge transfer, students are expected to produce ‘good’ research adhering to the rules of academic discourse, link multiple sources to their writing, use discipline-specific vocabulary and develop a ‘unique voice’, all the while writing grammatically correct sentences. While, the production of an academic paper involves a combination of advanced cognitive and language skills, in the Indian English as Second Language (ESL) context, achieving ‘academic excellence’ meets additional hurdles, when the medium of instruction is often inaccessible.

With the general focus resting upon schools, aiming to reduce the risk of dropouts, scant attention gets paid to the university student. The absence of standardised tests in the Indian context for adult language learners has exacerbated the problem as there is no data or studies on the English language proficiency level of an adult in India. While universities in the U.S. and U.K have recognised the importance of providing such support provision to first and second-language speakers of English, in Indian universities, many students must learn to read and write academic English on their own. This expectation from the student is ambitious when they come from economic and socio-linguistic minority community backgrounds and struggle with Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) in English.

It is important to also note that universities or colleges in India do not identify EAP as a category and often subsume it under overarching terms such as ‘English Communication’ or ‘General English’. This failure to identify EAP as an advanced course result in confusing teaching methods and an unplanned curriculum. To mitigate some of these concerns, while public universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) established the Linguistic Empowerment Cell (LEC) and the Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) set up the Centre for English Language Education (CELE), private universities like Ashoka University, Krea University, and O.P. Jindal Global University established writing centers. However, there is a lot that has to be done towards syllabi making, deciding on appropriate pedagogical practices, as well as building robust evaluative criteria, keeping in mind the varying levels of English proficiency in a diverse, multilingual student body. In the light of these developments, we believe that this conference would be helpful in weaving together theoretical and methodological studies on academic literacy, and reflecting on EAP teaching methods and practises in colleges and universities across India. 

Themes to consider:

Curriculum for EAP: In the designing of the curriculum, how do we think about/bridge the relation between the pragmatics of language teaching and the imparting of critical thinking and social awareness? How can ELT research inform the development of EAP courses in universities?

Assessment: How can we create valid and reliable assessment rubrics keeping in mind the plurality of the classroom: different socio-linguistic backgrounds and varying levels of English Proficiency?

Feedback: How can inputs from the classroom be productively used by both instructors and students in collaboratively designing an effective and sound curriculum? What role can standardized diagnostic language tests play in setting up the classroom? What steps can be taken to assist students who struggle with basic communication in English?  What teaching methods can be adopted for a heterogeneous classroom?

Addressing the EAP student: How should we imagine learner autonomy in an EAP classroom? What can a learner’s profile reveal? How do we ensure that students bring their own experiences of meaning-making and identity when they write?  How can the student’s home language be accommodated?

The Role of the Institution: How can public and private universities provide language support to students?  What is the role of writing centers and other departments in supporting EAP?

ELT and EAP: Are EAP/ELT contributing towards/challenging a monolingual academic market? Can ELT methods of other countries be effective in the Indian classroom? What can be included in building an archive for EAP? How can the classroom experience and pedagogy – what worked/didn’t work – inform research and policymaking? 

Deadline: 15 January 2020

Word limit: 300

Send your abstracts and bio note to cwc@ashoka.edu.in

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