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Investigating students’ experiences of learning English as a second language at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:04 authored by Irfan Ahmed
The recent emphasis on the importance of English language teaching and learning in public universities in Pakistan has resulted in the introduction of a new English as Second Language (ESL) programme including revised teaching approaches, content and assessment. However, to date, no rigorous and independent evaluation of this new programme has been undertaken particularly with respect to students’ learning and experiences. This thesis seeks to address this gap by examining the effects of the new ESL programme on students’ learning experiences, as well as teachers’ perspectives and the broader institutional context. The study uses a qualitative case study approach basing its findings on the responses of purposively sampled students (n=17) and teachers (n=7) from the Institution of English Literature and Linguistics (IELL), University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan (UoSJP). Semistructured interviews, observations and document review were used as the main tools to collect a wide variety of data. The analysis of the data was informed by different theories including Symbolic Interactionism, Community of Practice, and Bourdieusian notions of habitus, field and capital. These theories offered an approach which bridges the structure and agency divide in understanding students’ learning experiences. The study employed the concepts of institutional influences to examine the impact of UoSJP’s policies and practices on the teaching and learning of the ESL programme. The concept of community, which is understood as the community of the ESL classroom, is used to examine the interactions of students-students and students-teachers. The notion of identity was used to examine the interaction of students’ gender, rurality, ethnicity and previous learning experiences with different aspects of the ESL programme. In relation to institutional influences, the study found that UoSJP’s institutional policies and practices are shaped by its position in the field of higher education, and in turn, these influences shape teaching and learning in the ESL programme. Specifically, UoSJP defines its capital as higher education for all, which in practice translates as admitting students who have been rejected by other universities and/or cannot afford private universities’ high fees. In order to meet the language needs of disadvantaged students from non-elite English and vernacular medium schools, UoSJP offers the ESL programme. This initiative aims to improve students’ English language skills in their first two years, and to fulfil requirements set by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). However, the university’s treatment of the ESL programme significantly impacts on teaching and learning in terms of its policies and practices, in relation to faculty hiring, teacher training, relationship between the administration and ESL teachers, number of students in ESL classrooms, assessment criteria, ESL quality assurance, and learning support resources like up-to-date libraries. In relation to the community of ESL classroom, the study found that participation plays an important part in defining students’ roles and their relationship with teachers and peers in the classroom. Teachers’ pedagogic strategies and large classes were found to be influential factors affecting students’ participation in the classroom. It was found that teachers use different pedagogic strategies, which define them as facilitators or knowledge transmitters accordingly. The facilitators allow students’ full participation in the classroom by listening to their opinions, respecting their arguments, appreciating their feedback, acknowledging their contributions to the class, and demonstrating empathy to their problems. When in class with these teachers, students feel encouraged, confident and motivated to participate in the classroom. By contrast, the knowledge transmitters prefer monologue lectures when teaching ESL, and strongly discourage students’ participation. Students are usually not allowed to ask questions or express their concerns to these teachers. In their presence, students revealed that they lacked confidence, and felt discouraged and demotivated from participating in the classroom. Moreover, in the context of large classes only students sitting on the front-benches are given opportunities of participation, while those at the back of the classroom are considered to be educationally weak, inactive, therefore ignored in interactive activities. The treatment of these students by teachers and students at the front of the class alike limits their participation in the classroom. In relation to identities, the study found that students frequently foreground their gender identities, rural-ethnic identities and identities as medical or engineering students in interaction with different aspects of the ESL programme. Some aspects of ESL textbooks including units which depict stereotypical gender roles conflict with female students’ gender identities; units which are based on exclusively Western, urban contexts conflict with students’ rural-ethnic identities, and units that are based on graph-comprehension conflict with students’ identities as medical students. While others aspects of ESL textbooks particularly those units that are constructed on experiences and activities which are exclusively associated with men in Pakistan such as driving complement female students’ gender identities; and those units which are set in a village, and focus on the culture and life of villages complement students rural-ethnic identities. Moreover, it was found that female students struggled in maintaining their role as ESL learners in comparison with their gender roles as sister and daughter. This thesis provides new insights into students’ learning experiences and ESL in higher education. It also contributes to and enhances the literature on higher education in Pakistan. Furthermore, it enables policy-makers to reflect upon their policies, as well as provides suggestions to the UoSJP and its teachers.


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  • eng


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