English medium education

English medium education

An English medium education system is one that uses English as the primary medium of instruction. A medium of instruction is the language that is used in teaching. The language used may or may not be the official language of the territory. Most schools and institutions of education in modern-day mainly English-speaking countries such as the UK, United States, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand use English as the medium of instruction.

Because a working knowledge of English is perceived as being required in many fields, professions, and occupations, many states throughout the world mandate the teaching of English, at least a basic level, in an effort to increase the competitiveness of their economies.

The language researcher David Graddol predicts that the global spread of English will lead to serious economic and political disadvantages in the future in the UK unless plans are put in place immediately to remedy the situation. Graddol concludes that monolingual English graduates face a bleak economic future as qualified multilingual young people from other countries are proving to have a competitive advantage over their British counterparts in global companies and organisations.[1]


Historical background

English medium education has long been associated with the expansion of English from its homeland in England and the lowlands of Scotland and its spread to the rest of Great Britain and Ireland.

The influence of the British Empire[2][3] is the primary reason for the language's initial spread far beyond the United Kingdom. Following World War II, the increased economic and cultural influence of the United States led to English permeating many other cultures, chiefly through development of telecommunications technology.

Dr. Robert Phillipson defines English linguistic imperialism as "the dominance asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages."

Phillipson's theory provides a powerful critique on the historical spread of English as an international language and how it continues to maintain its current dominance particularly in postcolonial contexts like India but also increasingly in "neo-colonial" contexts such as continental Europe. His theory draws mainly on Johan Galtung's imperialism theory, Antonio Gramsci's social theory and in particular his notion of cultural hegemony.

Examples from across the world

Public advert on a street hoarding in Livorno, Italy


The Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, passed by the Parliament of England, annexing Wales to the Kingdom of England are sometimes known as the "Acts of Union."

The 1535 Act states:

the people of the same dominion have and do daily use a speche nothing like ne consonant to the naturall mother tonge used within this Realme" and then declares the intention "utterly to extirpe alle and singular sinister usages and customs" belonging to Wales, is widely regarded as a watershead in the history of the Welsh language.

Section 20 of the 1535 Act makes English the only language of the law courts and that those who used Welsh would not be appointed to any public office in Wales:

The Union legislation thus laid the foundation for the creation a thoroughly Anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales, which would have many consequences (see Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 – The Acts and the Welsh language).

In July 1846, the British Government appointed three commissioners, to enquire into the state of education in Wales; the Commissioners were all monoglot English-speakers.[4]

The Commissioners reported to the Government on 1 July 1847 in three large blue-bound volumes. This report quickly became known as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (The Treachery of the Blue Books) as, apart from documenting the state of education in Wales, the Commissioners were also free with their comments disparaging the language, Non-conformity, and the morals of the Welsh people in general. An immediate effect of the report was for a belief to take root in the minds of ordinary people that the only way for Welsh people to get on in the world was through the medium of English, and an inferiority complex developed about the Welsh language whose effects have not yet been completely eradicated. The historian Professor Kenneth O. Morgan referred to the significance of the report and its consequences as "the Glencoe and the Amritsar of Welsh history."[5]


The poet Spenser wrote[6] in (1596) a recommendation that "the Irish ... be educated in English, in grammar and in science ... for learning hath that wonderful power of itself that it can soften and temper the most stern and savage nature."

The setting up of 'Royal Schools' in Ireland, was proclaimed in 1608 by James I, with the intended purpose "that there shall be one Free School at least appointed in every County, for the education of youth in learning and religion."

These schools provided an English-medium education to the sons of landed settlers in Ireland, most of whom were of Scottish or English descent.

However, only five such schools were actually set up; The Royal School, Armagh in County Armagh, Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh, The Cavan Royal School in County Cavan, The Royal School Dungannon in Tyrone and The Royal and Prior School in County Donegal.

The National Education System[7] (sic) was founded in 1831, by the British Government, under the direction of the Chief Secretary, E.G. Stanley. Some 2,500 national schools were established in Ulster in the period 1832-1870, built with the aid of the Commissioners of National Education and local trustees.

Prof. S. Ó Buachalla states:

During the first four decades of their existence, there is no mention of the Irish language in the programme of regulations of the Commissioners of National Education; furthermore no provision whatsoever was made in 1831 when the original scheme was drawn up for education of those children who spoke Irish only. According to the official opinion of later Commissioners, expressed in a formal reply to the Chief Secretary in 1884, " the anxiety of the promoters of the National Scheme was to encourage the cultivation of the English language.[8]

The Irish patriot P.H. Pearse published a series of studies of the English-medium education system in Ireland. His article entitled The Murder Machine [9] embodies an article which appeared in the Irish Review for February 1913.

Pearse wrote in his pamphlet the following:

And English education in Ireland has seemed: to some like the bed of Procustes, the bed on which all men that passed that way must lie, be it never so big for them, be it never so small for them: the traveller for whom it was too large had his limbs stretched until he filled it; the traveller for whom it was too small had his limbs chopped off until he fitted into it---comfortably. It was a grim jest to play upon travellers. The English have done it to Irish children not by way of jest, but with a purpose. Our English-Irish systems took, and take, absolutely no cognisance of the differences between individuals, of the differences between localities, of the: differences between urban and rural communities, of the differences springing from a different ancestry, Gaelic or Anglo-Saxon.


Attempts were made by legislation, in the later medieval and early modern period, to establish English at first among the aristocracy and increasingly amongst all ranks by education acts and parish schools. The Scots Parliament passed some ten such acts between 1494 and 1698.

In 1609 nine Gaelic chieftains were abducted and forced to sign the Statutes of Iona,[10] which would seem to have been designed specifically to Anglicize leaders and institutions of Gaelic society, in order to bring it under control of central government.

Among the items listed in this agreement was the "planting of the gospell among these rude, barbarous, and uncivill people" by Protestant churches; the outlawing of bards who were traditionally on circuit between the houses of noblemen; the requirement that all men of wealth send their heirs to be educated in Lowland schools where they would be taught to "speik, reid, and wryte Inglische."

The then King James VI, followed this by an Act in 1616, which sought to establish schools in every parish in the Highlands so that "the youth be exercised and trayned up in civilitie, godlines, knawledge, and learning, that the vulgar Inglische toung be universallie plantit, and the Irische language, whilk is one of the chief and principall causes of the continewance of barbaritie and incivilitie amongis the inhabitantis of the Ilis and Heylandis, may be abolisheit and removeit."

In 1709 the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) was established in order to further funding sources for Highland church schools. All manner of incentives and punishments were used to stop children from speaking Gaelic. The SSPCK had 5 schools by 1711, 25 by 1715, 176 by 1758 and 189 by 1808, by then with 13,000 pupils attending. At first the SSPCK avoided using the Gaelic language with the result that pupils ended up learning by rote without understanding what they were reading. In 1741 the SSPCK introduced a Gaelic-English vocabulary, then in 1766 brought in a New Testament with facing pages of Gaelic and English texts for both languages to be read alongside one another, with more success. After a number of years of unsuccessful attempts at English-only teaching methods, it was realized that literacy in Gaelic was a much more effective means of teaching and a bridge towards fluency in English.[11][12]

Since 1918 education acts have provided for teaching Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas, but development was very slow until Gaelic became an initial teaching medium in the Gaelic areas of Inverness-shire and Ross-shire from 1958. In 1975 the newly-created Western Isles education authority introduced bilingual primary education shortly followed by Highland Region in Skye. Gaelic-medium primary education commenced with two schools in 1985, growing to 42 units by 1993/94.

In secondary education, Gaelic has long been taught as a subject—often through the medium of English, even to native speakers. A move towards bilingual secondary education in the Western Isles was frustrated by a change of government in 1979. Gaelic-medium secondary education has developed less satisfactorily. Gaelic-medium streams followed on from primary in Glasgow and Inverness—and there has been some experimentation in the Western Isles—but the sector is hampered by acute teacher shortage, and an inspectorate report of 1994 regards Gaelic-medium secondary education as divisive and inappropriate.[13]

Third level provision through Gaelic is provided by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (literally: "the great barn at Ostaig") a Gaelic medium college based in Sleat, on the Isle of Skye in north west Scotland. It is part of the UHI Millennium Institute, and also has a campus on Islay known as "Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle."

In 2004, Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, (who is patron of the College) stated that:

The beauty of Gaelic music and song is inescapable. But without the living language, it risks becoming an empty shell. That is why an education system, up to the level represented by the college here in Skye, is so important – to ensure fluency and literacy which will continue to renew the health and creativity of the language.[14]

The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 is the first piece of legislation to give formal recognition to the Gaelic language in Scotland. It recognises Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, commanding "equal respect" with English.

Education Minister Peter Peacock, who has ministerial responsibility for Gaelic, said: "This is a momentous day for Gaelic as we open a new chapter in the language's history. We have come a long way since the dark days of 1616 when an Act of Parliament ruled that Gaelic should be 'abolishit and removit' from Scotland."[15]


Penryn, Prayer Book Rebellion Memorial, near the site of Glasney College.

A revealing instance of attempted cultural assimilation is the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549, where the English state sought to suppress non-English language speaking with the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, which was made available only in English. In replacing Latin with English, and under the guise of suppressing Catholicism, English was effectively imposed as the language of the Church, with the intent of it becoming the language of the people. At the time people in many areas of Cornwall did not speak or understand English.

The forced introduction of English to church services in Cornwall provided a major reason for the rebellion. The articles of the rebels states: "and we the cornyshe men (whereof certen of vs vnderstande no Englysh) vtterly refuse thys new English."

The British Raj

British records[16] show that indigenous education was widespread in the 18th century, with a school for every temple, mosque or village in most regions of the country. The subjects taught included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, Medical Science and Religion. The schools were attended by students representative of all classes of society. Gandhi is said to have described the traditional educational system as a beautiful tree that was destroyed by British rule.[17]

The Charter Act of 1813 decreed that English would be taught in the Indian education system although not as a replacement for indigenous languages. Instead, it was anticipated that English would co-exist with Oriental studies as a means by which moral law could be reinforced.

The 1817 publication of James Mill's History of British India[18] proved to be a defining text in the theories of how education policies should be formed (ed. Horace Hayman Wilson: London, Piper, Stephenson and Spence, 1858). Mill advocated the introduction of European knowledge to counter balance Indian traits judged to be irrational. Instilling ideals of reason would accordingly 'reform' Indians by the example of Western systems of thought and outlook. His ideas discredited Indian culture, language and literature even as its assumptions of moral superiority authorised and justified the presence of the British in India.

The current system of education,[19] was introduced and funded by the British in the 19th century, following recommendations by Thomas Babington Macaulay. Traditional structures were not recognized by the British government and have been on the decline since.

Thomas MacAulay's infamous 'Minute On Indian Education' (1835) encapsulates both the overt and covert agendas for such a policy.[20]

The term 'Macaulay's Children' is used to refer to people born of Indian ancestry who adopt Western culture as a lifestyle. It is usually used in a derogatory fashion, and the connotation is one of disloyalty to one's country and one's heritage.

The passage to which the term refers is from his 'Minute on Indian Education' delivered in 1835. It reads:

It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

In 1835 Lord William Bentninck revitalised the earlier Charter Act with his New Education Policy which determined that English should be the official language of the courts, diplomacy and administration. Prior to this Persian had been the accepted language of diplomacy. Bentninck's motive was ostensibly to "regenerate" society, but the ramifications were boundless. From this moment on only those with Western style education and a knowledge of English were eligible for government employment or for a career in public life.

In 1854 Sir Charles Wood published his Education Dispatch which was aimed at widening the availability of Western oriented knowledge. Universities were established under the London examining model in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.

Lord Ripon's Hunter Commission of 1882 somewhat belatedly advocated that there should be increased provision of education at primary level and for women. The theory was that there would be a subsequent rise in the calibre of applicants for third level entry.

The inevitable result was that an Indian-based education was viewed as being second rate in comparison to an English medium education.


The success of this 'Indian Education Policy' can perhaps be measured, by the content of the recent address of Dr Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India:

Of all the legacies of the Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system. That is, of course, if you leave out cricket! Of course, people here may not recognise the language we speak, but let me assure you that it is English! In indigenising English, as so many people have done in so many nations across the world, we have made the language our own. Our choice of prepositions may not always be the Queen’s English; we might occasionally split the infinitive; and we may drop an article here and add an extra one there. I am sure everyone will agree, Nevertheless, that English has been enriched by Indian creativity as well and we have given you back R.K. Narayan and Salman Rushdie. Today, English in India is seen as just another Indian language.[21]


The Government of Pakistan has recently announced the introduction of English lessons on a phased basis to all schools across the country. This new policy states that "English language has been made compulsory from Class-1 onwards" and the "Introduction of English as medium of instruction for science, mathematics, computer science and other selected subjects like economics and geography in all schools in a graduated manner."[22] Caretaker Minister for Education Mr. Shujaat Ali Beg declared January 25, 2008 that eighteen colleges of the city of Karachi would be made "Model English Medium Colleges,"[23]


In Bangladesh the system of education is divided into three different branches. Students are free to choose anyone of them provided that they have the means. These branches are: The English Medium, The Bengali Medium, and The Religious Branch. In the English Medium system, courses are all taught in English using English books with the exception for Bengali and Arabic. English medium schools are mainly private and thus reserved for the wealthy class. O and A level exams are arranged through the British Council in Dhaka.[24]

The Union of Myanmar

In the Union of Myanmar, the education system is based on the British Colonial model, due to nearly a century of British and Christian presences. Nearly all schools are government-operated, but there has been a recent increase in privately funded English language schools.

The Philippines

The United States of America won the Philippine-American War (1898–1901), and declared the Philippines a US colony. US imperial rule followed. Mac Síomóin quotes the Filipino scholar E. San Juan who made the following comment regarding the use made by the US administration of the English language to rule his country:

Its conquest of hegemony or consensual rule was literally accomplished through the deployment of English as the official medium of business, schooling and government. This pedagogical strategy was designed to cultivate an intelligencia, a middle stratum divorced from its roots in the plebian masses, who would service the ideological apparatus of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Americanization was mediated through English, sanctioned as the language of prestige and aspiration.[25]


The only universities in Mainland China which offer English medium education are University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, United International College and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.
further information please visit Education in China

See also


  1. ^ "English Next, by David Graddol, British Council". Britishcouncil.org. http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-englishnext.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  2. ^ "The Imperial Archive. A site dedicated to the study of Literature, Imperialism, Postcolonialism". Qub.ac.uk. 2006-01-30. http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/imperial/imperial.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  3. ^ "Lecture 7: World-Wide English". EHistLing. http://www.ehistling-pub.meotod.de/01_lec06.php. Retrieved 2007-03-26. 
  4. ^ "Report of Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, 1847". GENUKI. 2003-03-13. http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/CGN/CommsEnq.html. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  5. ^ Welsh language at Wikipedia
  6. ^ "CAIN: CSC: The Common School". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. 1993-05-05. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/csc/reports/common.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Séamas Ó Buachalla (1984). "Educational Policy and the Role of the Irish Language from 1831 to 1981". European Journal of Education (Blackwell Publishing) 19 (1): 75. JSTOR 1503260. 
  9. ^ The Murder Machine http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E900007-001/index.html
  10. ^ Gaelic in Scotland[dead link]
  11. ^ Gaelic in Scotland[dead link]
  12. ^ Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge at Wikipedia
  13. ^ "Euromosaic - Gaelic in Scotland (United Kingdom)". Uoc.es. http://www.uoc.es/euromosaic/web/document/gaelic/an/i1/i1.html#2.3(Glasgow). Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  14. ^ [2] A speech by HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye
  15. ^ Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 at Wikipedia
  16. ^ "Education in Pre-British India". Infinityfoundation.com. http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/t_es/t_es_goyal_education.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  17. ^ Education in India at Wikipedia
  18. ^ James Mill, Horace Hayman Wilson (1847). The history of British India, Volume 6. James Madden. http://books.google.co.uk/books?vid=0sITK8fQAK-wEdh_22v1sG6&id=4c8NAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=John+Mill%27s+History+Of+British+India#PPA3,M1. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  19. ^ "Western Education in Nineteenth-Century India". Qub.ac.uk. 1998-06-04. http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/imperial/india/educate.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  20. ^ Frances Pritchett. "Minute on Education (1835) by Thomas Babington Macaulay". Columbia.edu. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  21. ^ http://pmindia.nic.in/visits/content.asp?id=44 Address by Prime Minister Dr YATHINDRA in acceptance of Honorary Degree from Oxford University July 8, 2005 London
  22. ^ Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Education
  23. ^ 18 colleges declared 'English medium'
  24. ^ "Education in Bangladesh". Sanisoft.tripod.com. http://sanisoft.tripod.com/bdeshedu/systems.html. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  25. ^ 'Ó Mhársa go Magla' by Tomás Mac Síomóin. First published in 2006. ISSN 1649-3079

Sources and further reading

  • Séamas Ó Buachalla,Educational Policy and the Role of the Irish Language from 1831 to 1981, European Journal of Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, Multicultural Education (1984), pp. 75–92
  • Bisong, Joseph (1995 [1994]) Language Choice and cultural Imperialism: a Nigerian Perspective. ELT Journal 49/2 pp. 122–132.
  • Bobda, Augustin Simo (1997) Sociocultural Constraints in EFL Teaching in Cameroon. In: Pütz, Martin (ed.) The cultural Context in Foreign Language Teaching. Frankfurt a. M.: Lang. pp. 221–240.
  • Brutt-Griffler, Janina (2002) World English. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 1-85359-577-2
  • Canagarajah, A. Suresh (1999), Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-442154-6
  • Canagarajah, A. Suresh, Thomas Ricento & Terrence G. Wiley [eds.] (2002) Journal of Language, Identity, and Education. Special issue. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-9629-5
  • Canagarajah, A. Suresh [ed.] (2004) Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-4593-3
  • Crystal, David (2003), English as a Global Language, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53032-6
  • Davies, Alan (1996) Review Article: ironising the Myth of Linguicism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 17/6: 485-596.
  • Davies, Alan (1997) Response to a Reply. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 18/3 p. 248.
  • Edge, Julian [ed.] (2006) (Re-)Locating TESOL in an Age of Empire. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-8530-8
  • Holborow, Marnie (1999) Politics of English. Sage Publications. ISBN 0-7619-6018-X
  • Holborrow, Marnie (1993) Review Article: linguistic Imperialism. ELT Journal 47/4 pp. 358–360.
  • Holliday, Adrian (2005), Struggle to Teach English as an International Language , Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-442184-8
  • Kontra, Miklos, Robert Phillipson, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Tibor Varady [eds.] (1999), Language: A Right and a Resource, Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9116-64-5
  • Kramsch, Klaire and Particia Sullivan (1996) Appropriate Pedagogy. ELT Journal 50/3 pp. 199–212.
  • Malik, S.A. Primary Stage English (1993). Lahore: Tario Brothers.
  • Pennycook, Alastair (1995), The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language, Longman. ISBN 0-582-23473-5
  • Pennycook, Alastair (1998), English and the Discourses of Colonialism, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-17848-7
  • Pennycook, Alastair (2001), Critical Applied Linguistics, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-3792-2
  • Pennycook, Alastair (in press) Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-37497-9
  • Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-437146-8
  • Phillipson, Robert [ed.] (2000), Rights to Language, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-3835-X
  • Phillipson, Robert (2003) English-Only Europe? Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28807-X
  • Punjab Text Book Board (1997) My English Book Step IV. Lahore: Metro Printers.
  • Rajagopalan, Kanavilli (1999) Of EFL Teachers, Conscience and Cowardice. ELT Journal 53/3 200-206.
  • Ramanathan, Vaidehi (2005) The English-Vernacular Divide. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 1-85359-769-4
  • Rahman, Tariq (1996) Language and Politics in Pakistan Karachi: Oxford University Press
  • Ricento, Thomas [ed.] (2000) Ideology, Politics, and Language Policies. John Benjamins. ISBN 1-55619-670-9
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Robert Phillipson [eds.]; Mart Rannut (1995), Linguistic Human Rights, Mouton De Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014878-1
  • Sonntag, Selma K. (2003) The Local Politics of Global English. Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0598-1
  • Spichtinger, Daniel (2000) The Spread of English and its Appropriation. University of Vienna, Vienna.
  • Tsui, Amy B.M. & James W. Tollefson (in press) Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-5694-3
  • Widdowson, H.G. (1998a) EIL: squaring the Circles. A Reply. World Englishes 17/3 pp. 397–401.
  • Widdowson, H.G. (1998b) The Theory and Practice of Critical Discourse Analysis. Applied Linguistics 19/1 pp. 136–151.

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