The important role of bilingual education and storytelling in the social development of young students have been two recurring themes running throughout the first week of my summer study abroad program on United Kingdom: Intercultural Perspectives in Teaching and Learning at NYU London (July 4-18, 2022).
In her guest lecture to my students on “Rethinking Teaching Languages in European Schools (with a Focus on England): A Healthy Linguistic Diet Approach,” Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (July 5) emphasized the importance of bilingual education among the young in the United Kingdom nowadays. This topic was shared by Nicky Busch (July 6) in her special presentation on “The Intersectional Dynamics of Immigration, Intercultural Education, and Intergroup Relations in the United Kingdom,” in which she similarly acknowledged how acquiring English as a second or additional language can help immigrant students gain a voice of their own in their intercultural adaptation to life in the UK.
Our understanding of the above ideas – and many more others that this brief post simply cannot include – has been greatly enhanced by what my students and I witnessed “on the ground level” during our field visit at the Mayflower Primary School, a public school located in the eastern borough of Tower Hamlets in London. While the 2011 census in the UK reported that about one-third of the borough’s population came from Bangladesh, about 90% of the students at Mayflower Primary today are Bangladeshi. Many come from low-income families with a relatively low level of literacy, with parents who are not fluent in spoken English. These are some of the reasons why the school has adopted an approach that emphasizes developing their students’ competence in reading and storytelling in English. At the same time, the teachers encourage their students’ families to speak in their home language, in part to help promote bilingual fluency among the students.
From one practical (or pragmatic) perspective, the emphasis on reading is meant to help the students become savvy information seekers and users for personal and professional development purposes. On the other hand, it is believed that a high level of oracy – with a high degree of competence in taking in one’s experience of the world around them and then in being able to articulate or tell “stories” about their experience orally – can help the young build a solid foundation for acquiring writing skills.
But the above teaching and learning strategies do not and most likely will not automatically or by default lead to the development of students’ competency in intercultural communication, adaptation, or dialogue. For example, Heba Al-Jayoosi, the Assistant Head (Inclusion) at Mayflower Primary School, suggests that many of the parents have never been to London Bridge, which is not far from home. Hence, the school has embarked on a project to take the students and their families on a field trip to London Bridge. Such co-curricular activities are meant to help them gain more exposure to the larger social and cultural environment and help them better adapt. These field trips (similar to my current study abroad program in London) set the stage for follow-up discussion or storytelling among the participants afterward.
Casey Man Kong Lum, Associate Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue