Formal Adoption of Wholistic Evaluation of English is Urgently Needed to Avoid Generation of Racism in the West, and Under-Development in Africa

Formal Adoption of Wholistic Evaluation of English is Urgently Needed to Avoid Generation of Racism in the West, and Under-Development in Africa

Jim Harries
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-8526-2.ch005
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Evaluation of English language knowledge without consideration of pragmatic use lures ‘the poor' to Western academia. Thus, not addressing their own issues, this results in an unhelpful brain drain and magnet. Wholistic evaluation would, by undoing this lure, enable educational focus on indigenous concerns in Africa. The secularisation-project, that demotes other people's ways of life into ‘world religions' status, and ignores impacts of Christianity on world history, is subjected to critical scrutiny.
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My interest in proposing a new way of assessing knowledge of English arises from a problem that I perceive to be very prevalent in today’s globalizing world. My concern is with English learning and use in Africa, and by extension in other outer-circle parts of the world.1 (I here refer primarily to Africa.) In many parts of Africa, foreign-subsidy of English learning and use in education and other sectors has rendered English the de-facto language for formal purposes. This de-facto role has not arisen from any inherent locally-recognised indigenous suitability of English. Rather, the end of the colonial era bequeathed Africa with a set of European languages. (I will concentrate only on English.) Africa had little choice in this selection (Alexander, 1999),. Fit for purpose may be far from ideal. This situation contributes majorly to a problematic and debilitating brain drain.

Outside subsidy continues to perpetuate the current situation. Because of outside subsidy, indigenous languages that may be a much better local contextual fit stand little chance of competing with English. English-knowledge has numerous perceived and often very evident benefits, such as international job prospects, that indigenous languages do not share. Many of these benefits arise as a result of what I here refer to as a not-holistic evaluation of English. Contemporary assessments of quality in English are largely based on indicators such as grammatical ability, vocabulary, fluency, clarity of expression, and so forth. What is not assessed, is the area by some considered to fall under the category of pragmatics. That is, whether someone’s articulate, fluent, grammatically-accurate and clearly expressed English ‘works’ in a given context. Incorporating whether English ‘works’ would be to make an assessment holistic.

The possibility of any lack of workability of English can be problematic. I raise two questions:

  • 1.

    Is English used in indigenous contexts an adequate functional substitute for local languages? Does use of English instead-of alternative indigenous tongues allow clear (local) functional communication?

  • 2.

    Are contemporary formal assessments of English language knowledge a sufficient measure of whether someone can operate effectively in an English-speaking context to which they are not habituated?

If the answer to the first is negative, then the bequeathing of English to a people can handicap their abilities at communicating ‘productively’ in their own communities. If the answer to the second question is negative, then assessments of English falling short of evaluating functional competence can result in people being put into positions where their weaknesses, i.e., incompetence’s, cause problems for them. In other words, accrediting capability in English in a way that is not holistic (it excludes culturally and contextually related competency), can result in a double whammy:

  • 1.

    It can prevent African people from communicating clearly and effectively ‘at home’.

  • 2.

    It positions African people in the native-English speaking West on the basis of a competence that is only imagined.

Number 2. can produce or perpetuate many problems for African people in the West. Because it results in incompetence, that arises from an unacknowledged avenue, it can and almost certainly does fuel racism.

On my evaluation, the correct response to both of the above numbers 1 and 2 is negative. Thus, contemporary assessments of language skill that are not holistic, i.e., that largely ignore pragmatic competences, if used to assess someone’s ability, are deeply problematic interculturally.

My proposed solution relates to globalised education. Educational systems around the world are largely built on those devised in Europe. Their original use in a relatively culturally monolithic Europe was appropriate because Europeans’ education pre-supposes(d), presumably with some accuracy, that competency in one area of thinking, e.g., grammatical knowledge of a language, is a good indicator of the likelihood that broader competence is extant. Extending this situation globally though becomes problematic. People from elsewhere through hard struggle meeting the ’basic criterion’ for competence as used in Europe, will not indicate functional capability. Supposed equivalence is then, in practice, merely theoretical or even ‘mythical’.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Africa: The continent located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, known for its diverse geography, cultures, languages, and civilizations. Africa is the second-largest continent in terms of land area and population, and it is home to a rich history, biodiversity, and natural resources.

English: A West Germanic language originating in England, which has become one of the most widely spoken languages worldwide. English serves as a global lingua franca and is used for communication in various domains, including business, education, science, technology, and international relations.

Education: The process of facilitating learning, acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Education can occur through various methods, such as schooling, teaching, training, or self-directed learning, and it plays a crucial role in the development and advancement of individuals and societies.

Secularism: The principle of separating religion from the state or government institutions, ensuring neutrality in matters of religion and promoting freedom of religion or belief for individuals. Secularism advocates for the autonomy of secular institutions from religious influence and supports the coexistence of diverse religious and non-religious worldviews within society.

Linguistics: The scientific study of language, including its structure, grammar, semantics, phonetics, and sociocultural context. Linguistics examines how languages are formed, how they evolve over time, how they are used in communication, and how they influence and are influenced by society and culture.

Globalization: The process of increasing interconnectedness and integration of economies, cultures, societies, and technologies on a global scale. Globalization involves the flow of goods, services, information, capital, people, and ideas across national borders, leading to greater interdependence and interrelatedness among nations and regions.

Christianity: A monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be the Son of God and the savior of humanity. Christianity is one of the world's largest religions, with diverse denominations and traditions, and it emphasizes beliefs in God's love, forgiveness, salvation, and the importance of moral and ethical conduct.

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