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Exploring the potential for English as a medium of insturction in Tunisian Higher Education

Badwan, Khawla (2019) Exploring the potential for English as a medium of insturction in Tunisian Higher Education. Project Report. The British Council.

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Abstract

Higher education in Tunisia is currently undergoing educational reform with the aim to enhance the employability prospects of its graduates, the standards of educational quality, and the popularity of its course offering to an international audience. At the heart of these discussions, the question of language of instruction at tertiary education continues to be raised. Due to historically entrenched reasons, most secondary school subjects and university programmes are currently taught in French while the official language policy states that Arabic is the official and national language of Tunisia. More recently, an increasing number of university courses are offered through the medium of English. This complex sociolinguistic situation raises questions regarding the identity of the country and the role of its official language and foreign languages in the educational sector, particularly in higher education. It also calls for an exploration of the possibility to embrace English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) policy at tertiary level. This report presents the findings of an exploratory, mixed method research that investigates how English is currently positioned in the Tunisian Higher Education sector, with the aim to uncover the possibilities of, and potential for, gradually introducing English as a medium of instruction in public universities. The project’s design consists of 391 questionnaires completed by university students and semi-structured interviews with 63 educational stakeholders: university teaching staff, university students, senior members from the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education. The project stems from the view that for language planning to be most effective, it is crucial to combine voices from the ‘top’ with experiences and feelings from ‘below’. The findings of the project suggest that while there are no attitudinal challenges associated with English as a language that Tunisian students and teaching staff need as part of their multilingual repertoires, there are some practical and pedagogical challenges facing the implementation of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). These are mainly associated with teacher training, teacher recruitment, the content of English classes at universities and secondary schools, baccalaureate exams not measuring speaking and listening language skills, as well as the lack of clarity surrounding language strategy in Tunisia. There are, however, some ‘enablers’ that provide some practical and attitudinal support platforms that reinforce a stronger position for English in the Tunisian higher education system.

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