OU blog

Personal Blogs

E801: Action 1.5: Socio cultural contexts

Visible to anyone in the world


Activity 1.5: Socio-cultural contexts and difficulties in literacy

Fernando Diniz, University of Edinburgh (from audio CD)


Cultural influences - languages in home, status given to language in home. Ethnicity/race complicate these

Ethnicity is a term to describe a cultural group; infers power (ethnic minority);

Race is a term used to describe systemic racism,

Bilingualism - descriptor for those of non-indigenous origin, in classroom is identity descriptor for non-white children

Over-representation of these children in low literacy group

Dyslexia - higher status assessment than slow learner

Teacher is not sure whether difficulties arise from first language (home) or second language (school) or whether from special educational need

Child with severe communication problems receives speech therapy in English. Language at home will be different. Double negative. Language at school disconnected from home.

Teacher puts difficulties down to lack of English; some children have genuine difficulties

Asian girls: polite, quiet, work hard and difficulties not identified

Education - preoccupation with standards rather than with the difficulties understanding curriculum

Poor performance with Pakistani background; good from India

"Accommodation" - home keeps culture of home country; in school you should concentrate on being good in English.

Class comes in here as well

Power - decisions as to which children do what; who is valued; teachers own values come into play.

Power examples from my own experience with children:

  • "You can't have a speaking part in the play; people will not understand you"
  • "I will not ask you to 'show and tell' because the group do not understand you"
  • "You can go out to play when you can tell me these letters correctly"

My practice is with adults in higher education and power examples still abound:

  • All students have to take the same spelling and grammar test in the history department. Grades are published in order according to student number but friends know each other numbers. It is demoralising for students to see how low they are on the list.
  • Field notebooks are marked on neatness and spelling. It is possible to put a dyslexia sticker on the book but lecturers still comment on these points.
  • Using a notetaker in the field is difficult. Books are marked down because the information has not been written by the student but by someone who is trained to record all the information.
  • Field trips often have marks for quizzes that rely on short term memory skills and so students with dyslexia get lower marks than they deserve.

I was interested in the fact that bilingual is used as a derogatory term nowadays. Back in the 1980s it was admired if children were brought up bilingual.

Working in student support it can be difficult to address these issues directly but it is possible to assist the student to discuss issues with the lecturers. For example, prior to the field trip, a joint meeting between lecturer, student and support worker can clarify the method of writing the notebook and its assessment. At this meeting the support worker can emphasise the background needs that make these adjustments necessary so that the lecturer is kept fully informed and does not think that the student is just being lazy.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post


Terence Wright

New comment

I dont think that being bilingual is viewed in a derogatory way at all.   I think an important problem from the teacher's point of view is identifying situations where laziness is passed off as a language issue. I have often felt that teenage laziness is the central problem of the secondary school teacher struggling to get their children to succeed.  I also think that laziness passed off as dyslexia is another issue.

New comment

Perhaps 'derogatory' was too strong a word. From my reading so far, it seems to be viewed as a complication so that teachers have problems identifying an underlying impairment due to the overlying difficulties of using one language to communicate at home and another at school.

I agree with you that dyslexia may well be over-diagnosed due to political reasons and the extra money involved but I am not convinced that it can be put down to laziness.

My personal opinion is that the whole system of spoon-feeding children from the age of 4years in order to get them through prescribed tests, is switching them off. Not so much laziness as sheer boredom of being expected to memorise facts and techniques constantly with little opportunity to engage in learning.

Thanks for your comments - I am finding this course quite isolating compared to the H courses and it is great to have to think more deeply and justify my ideas smile