The Impact of Neoliberalism on Education and Language Learning

This month we are publishing Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and touch on its main themes.

Nowadays cuts in spending, austerity plans and restructuring of the public sector have become commonplace for a large part of the world population. This development is far from new, but rather stands in the tradition of neoliberalism, as introduced on both sides of the Atlantic by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

In the context of education, central elements to these reforms have been privatisation, competitiveness and marketisation. The colonization of education by market principles has introduced a paradigmatic change which has resulted in an abdication of a Humboldtian education model to one which favours ideas of employability and profitability. This change proves problematic for most humanities, social sciences and language studies which have to legitimise their worth. The neoliberal austerity measures thus also have a very direct impact on us as researchers and teachers alike.

Against this backdrop, we wanted to engage in an empirical discussion on the interplay and effects of the implementation of neoliberal policies, the increasing hegemony of neoliberal governmentalities on education and on language learning and teaching. In short, as we, the editors of this volume argue, the current political economic conditions bring about a resignification of education, language, and the self that fits the neoliberal agenda, which pushes, among other things, the turning of language into skills and items of branding, the responsibilisation of individuals and the turning of them into entrepreneurs of themselves.

We follow the trajectories of students, teachers and educators as well as of institutions that are subjected to these political economic transformations. Touching upon a variety of geographical, social, and linguistic contexts, the researchers contributing to this book will provide first-hand accounts and critical inquiries into issues that range from the detrimental ideologies of self-deprecation of South Koreans in the face of hastily implemented English as the general medium of instruction for higher education, to efforts of the Chinese government to commercialise the teaching of Mandarin and the contradictory effects this has on notions of linguistic authenticity and legitimacy.

Further insights are offered in terms of language teaching, i.e. the neoliberal conditions teachers of English for Academic Purposes have to face, due to which they turn to veritable “resource leeching” or the joint-initiative of teachers and parents to support their refugee children, left behind in official US school policies that is entirely output-oriented. University students also form the object of interest in this volume, as conscious agents trying to accumulate linguistic capital even if only for symbolic reasons, both Italian-speaking students in German-speaking Switzerland or Brazilian students in Anglo-Canada. A third stream brings contributors to discuss minority languages in educational settings in the US (Spanish-English dual bilingual and Mexico and their recalibration along neoliberal ideas of commodification and valorization). A final focus centres on language teaching for vocational purposes.

Come and join us on this journey – even if you might not like what you see.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education by John E. Petrovic.

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