English and Literacy in Education: National Policies

Authored by: Andy Goodwyn

The Routledge Companion to English Studies

Print publication date:  March  2014
Online publication date:  March  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415676182
eBook ISBN: 9781315852515
Adobe ISBN: 9781317918929


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Since the 1990s, literacy policy has been emerging as one of the key political imperatives for all countries. Whereas “illiteracy” was the concern of “developed” educational systems and emergent literacy for the rest of the world, many countries have moved to a different position where literacy is more like a school subject: it is formally identified on the curriculum, it has specialist teachers and consultants or advisers charged with driving up standards, and these standards are linked to “high stakes testing”. Examples of this phenomenon are The National Literacy Strategy/Framework for English in England and “No Child Left Behind” in the USA. In parallel, the subject “English”, which had become well established in the late nineteenth century, from primary through to higher education, has been heavily impacted by the emergence of the new model of school literacy, but without a consensus at any level regarding whether there is now a new discipline called “English and literacy”. The confusion is evident; for example, in Australia, secondary teachers are now called teachers of English and literacy and, in the UK, not only are teachers still called English teachers but they actively resist adding the term “literacy” to their titles. The other key element in this reconfiguration is the impact of new technologies on the subject English and to what extent it includes the study of a range of media rather than a narrow focus on traditional print (see also Chapters 28, 30, 33 and 34). As most countries have defined curricula either at a national or at a state/dominion level, the extent of inclusion has been highly controversial. A feature of this debate has been the proliferation of new conceptualizations of literacy such as computer literacy, media literacy, digital literacy and cine literacy, each term tending to have an advocacy group but no political support. The examination of these changes at a national policy level reveals a range of insights into conflicting and shifting conceptualizations of both “English” and “literacy”, highly politicized within a neoliberal economic paradigm.

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