For my hon. Friend the Minister this debate is starting at an unconscionably early hour on 28th July with rather more hon. Members in the Chamber to hear it than I had expected.
But it began for me 14 years ago in a Nigerian taxi in Lagos. I wanted to go to the housing estate reserved for Nigerian MPs and the taxi driver did not know where it was. Every few minutes he would stop the cab, switch off the engine, get out and ask a passerby for directions in English. His informants invariably replied in English, but after this routine had been repeated several times, it dawned on me that though questioner and informant were both speaking English, my taxi driver was not understanding the answers he was getting.
The reason was simple. Both sides were speaking a very garbled form of English. There was an additional complication in that their native languages were different—Nigeria has some 250 languages, I believe—and so the accents with which they spoke English were different.
Eventually I got to my destination, but that taxi ride taught me two things. The first was that English is a vital link language for those larger Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth countries with considerable numbers or variations of native languages. In addition to Nigeria, there are, of course, India and Pakistan. More than that, in an era when language is often an emotive nationalist symbol, it is often only by using a neutral external language for internal communication that the language issue can be exorcised. The agreement to continue using English in India, for instance, calmed the anti-Hindi riots in the Tamil-speaking areas of the south in 1965.
The second lesson that I absorbed that day in Lagos was that English would be useless as a link language, or as anything else, if it was so badly learned and spoken that it was not functioning as a medium of communication.
For better or worse, Britain's two centuries as the world's greatest empire and America's emergence as the world's number one super-Power have made English a world language—to be blunt, the world language. It is the second language of educated people in most parts of the globe and in many cases, particularly in the developing world, it is their access route to modern science and technology—whether because the relevant literature has not yet been translated into their own languages, or because people wish to go to America, Britain, Canada, or Australia for further studies, or because, even if they go to Germany or Japan or perhaps another developing country for higher education, English will have to be their medium of communication. In March this year I visited an electronics factory in Tokyo where Pakistanis were being trained, and inevitably the language of instruction was English.
For us as native English speakers the world wide use of English is of enormous benefit. It enables us to trade throughout the world without having to put in the considerable efforts in language learning that are forced upon other countries. Frankly, I think that we have become too complacent about our increasingly monoglot culture and on some future occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall seek to bring to the attention of the House the other side of the coin—the need for the British to acquire foreign languages far more widely and strenuously than we currently do. Nevertheless, we have a marked advantage in being native speakers of the second language of other nations.
There are also considerable political advantages accruing to us from the widespread use of English. It is the link language of the Commonwealth. The familiarity with which Commonwealth leaders use English is conducive to cohesion and, more importantly, it promotes a common pattern of thought, which makes understanding easier, even if it does not by any means always ensure agreement. Outside the Commonwealth the use of English as a normal language of diplomacy inevitably gives the native speaker an edge which may be unmeasurable but which is certainly also incalculable.
My contention is that both because it is advantageous to us and because we helped make English a world language we have an interest and, indeed, a duty to help ensure that it is, as far as possible, spoken everywhere in mutually intelligible forms. A diversity of English accents—the American accent, the Australian accent, the Indian accent, as well as all those accents native to these isles—we can live with. However, it would be intolerable to permit the growth of mutually incomprehensible forms of English of the types that I heard that day in Lagos. The way to prevent that is to ensure that as many as possible native speakers of English train foreigners in the use of our language.
I am not too worried about Europeans in this context, because English teaching in most of our neighbour countries is highly developed and, anyway, they can afford to come over here for a year or two to work and study. What is far more important is the teaching of English in Third world countries, and that is why I am glad—even if he is not—that my hon. Friend with his responsibilities at the Overseas Development Ministry is to answer the debate.
When I first raised this matter in the House some time ago, the then Minister for Overseas Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), appeared to feel we were doing enough and that where we were not, our efforts were adequately supplemented by other English speaking countries. Since then I have been trying to put together the relevant statistics that would corroborate or disprove my right hon. Friend's answer. They have been difficult to collect but, as far as I can ascertain, the overseas effort in English language teaching—ELT—made by English-speaking Commonwealth countries is relatively slight. The only other country apparently concerned to put in a major effort is the United States, but even here, as a senior official of the American Agency for International Development wrote to me, information is "inadequate" and, as he added,
It may prove your point—the need for more British money in this area—more dramatically than you expected.
The figures seem to be as follows. AID is primarily concerned with training students who are due to come to or who have already arrived in the United States
for training in other fields, often technical. This is, of course, the elite of the developing world, but even so the latest figures show that AID is currently funding English language programmes in only six countries, with a total population of 213 million, a small fraction of the total population of the developing world, and that, even in this concentrated area, only some 630 students are being trained.
There are apparently no AID programmes for the 743 million people of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In addition, in the fiscal year 1976, AID provided intensive English courses in America of on average 12 weeks each for 379 foreign students: in sum, a paltry total of just over 1,000 students.
Probably slightly lower down the educational ladder is the ELT effort put in by the United States Information Agency—USIA—and the Peace Corps. The USIA has 1,650 teachers abroad working at 55 centres of different types in 40 Third world countries with a total population of 580 million. There are 163,000 students, almost one half of whom are in Latin America and almost all the other half of whom are in the Middle East and South-East Asia. The total population of the 40 countries covered by this USIA effort is 580 million, but that figure is only four-fifths of the population of the four South Asian countries that I have already mentioned—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—where USIA, like AID, does not operate, presumably for political reasons. Finally, the Peace Corps has 757 volunteers teaching an unknown number of students in 25 countries, excluding again, I suspect, the four South Asian countries.
These figures clearly indicate that in four major Asian countries with a significant portion of the world's population and with intimate historic ties with Britain there is no American ELT effort on a governmental basis.
What, then, is the British ELT effort in general and in South Asia in particular? As the Minister will know, the 1970 ODM review document "Education in Developing Countries" laid considerable stress on ELT, largely for the same reasons as I have given myself, and stated in paragraph 82 that all the indications were that
the need, and demand, for assistance for English language teaching in Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries will remain an important growth point in UK aid".
It was expected that the volume of educational aid resources being put into ELT—apart from direct teaching of English in schools by volunteers—would expand substantially over the succeeding decade from the then current figure of £2 million per annum. What is the equivalent figure now at 1970 prices and what is it expected to be by 1980? Primary responsibility for the task of promoting the English language abroad on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, as the 1970 review document confirmed, rests with the British Council. I find it disappointing to learn from a Question answered by my hon. Friend on 17th June that the number of English teachers recruited by the British Council on behalf of the Overseas Development Ministry has declined by 57 per cent., from a peak of 108 in 1970, the year of the review document, to 46 last year. That is the lowest figure for nine years.
My hon. Friend's Department has been unable to tell me how many of the 1,427 people recruited last year by the ODM for service in education in the developing countries teach English. This indicates that the Department is not as acutely conscious of the need to emphasise English language teaching as I would wish. Moreover, last year's figure, whatever proportion of it is people teaching English full or part time, is the lowest figure for 10 years and represents a decline of over 40 per cent. from the high point in the late 1960s during the first spell as Minister of State for Overseas Development of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart). What has happened to her priorities? Has she or her immediate predecessor decided that ELT is no longer so important as the 1970 review document suggested? Surely it is not maintained, with the birth rate in most developing countries still soaring, that the job has been done.
From the last annual report of the British Council we see that it has 355 posts in the Third world concerned with ELT, though those points are not necessarily filled by teachers. Unfortunately, I have found it impossible to find in the report how many Commonwealth English language students are taught or administered by these 355 personnel. Apparently there are over 90,000 students at British Government sponsored or assisted centres, institutes or Anglophile societies elsewhere in the Third world.
Is my hon. Friend able to give the up-to-date figure for the number of such students in Commonwealth countries? Fortunately, it is possible to delve somewhat deeper into British Government statistics with the help of the admirable area surveys that used to be produced by the Council's English Teaching Advisory Committee, later its English Teaching Information Centre.
As I made particular mention of Nigeria and South Asia I shall spend more time on them, but there are interesting points to be made about other countries. The May 1973 British Council survey of Nigeria confirmed my view of the extremely complicated language situation and stated:
Although not defined as such by the constitution, English is the de facto official language of serious literature and the mass media of some lower primary, most upper primary and all secondary and tertiary education.
But it added in what I suspect may have been an under-statement that the status of English as a medium of instruction was extremely variable and that ELT priorities were difficult to identify and establish.
British Council ELT staff were apparently deployed in advisory roles in the State bureaucracies and within teacher training colleges. There was no direct teaching done at primary or secondary level. Many Nigerian English language teachers apparently did not use the teachers' books, partly because they failed to understand them. Anyway, only a few classes had adequate supplies of books. Furthermore—this relates directly to my own experience in Lagos—the oral component of examinations was optional and insufficient attention was therefore paid to oral skills.
This gloomy picture of ELT was confirmed by the 1971-72 exam results. Of 5,009 entrants for the three stages of the Royal Society of Arts English language examination, only 643—less than 13 per cent.—passed, none of them at the highest stage. Of 34,968 entrants for the London University GCE O-level in English language, only 4,155 passed—under 12 per cent.
I need hardly remind my hon. Friend that Nigeria is a country of somewhere between 60 million and 70 million people —estimates differ—and it is the richest and most powerful African country in the Commonwealth. In 1973 we had just 11 English language officers posted there. What is the figure now? What prevents the United Kingdom from putting far greater efforts into ELT there? Are there political difficulties? Is this not a case where Britain should not stand around waiting to be asked for help but should suggest a far-reaching programme of assistance in ELT?
Before I leave Africa let me briefly mention another rich and populous country, Zaire. For historic reasons French is the official language, but English is said to be increasing in importance and is theoretically the second language in the 1,000 secondary schools, but in practice there are not enough English teachers to staff every school. As of 1974 the British effort seemed to be confined to four staff at the English Language Centre in Kinshasa and one lecturer at a teacher training college. The British-aided centre was established in that halcyon year for ELT effort, 1970. Could we not now put more money and personnel into expanding it? If not, why not?
I turn now to South Asia. In India in late 1972 the British Council employed 30 ELT staff, roughly one per 15 million people. As the council itself admitted, per capita expenditure in India for all activities was the lowest of any country in which the council is represented. The distribution of council ELT staff was also uneven. In part this may be in response to Indian conditions where there is a wide knowledge of English and a considerable number of native teachers of English. The Indian Government aim for self-sufficiency in ELT and look for assistance only where no Indian resources exist. Thus British Council work is concentrated on higher education.
But no one who knows India well, certainly no one who has heard the complaints of Indian university dons, can doubt that the standard of English is declining in that country. I have no wish —and I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister has none either—to attempt to push English down Indian throats in a neo-colonialist manner. But surely, as friends of long-standing, Her Majesty's Government can approach the Indian Government and ask whether they do not consider that the time is ripe for a review of ELT there with a view to increasing British assistance if it were found to be needed. Of course, the Indian Government might decline, but let us at least make the effort.
In the turbulent Pakistan of the early 1970s the position of British Council ELT was in a state of flux and all five ELT posts were withdrawn. Only two British contract teachers were left, one at Aitchison College, Lahore, one of my alma maters. What is the situation today and what efforts are being made to consult the Pakistan Government to restore an ELT programme?
Bangladesh emerged from the disruption of Pakistan in 1971 and the strong emphasis on Bengali as a symbol and engine of national identity and unity undermined ELT activities. What is the situation today? Have we approached the Bangladesh Government with a view to initiating ELT activities?
In the past Sri Lanka emphasised ELT and British Council activities there appear healthier than elsewhere in South Asia. Again, what is the up-to-date picture?
What clearly emerges from that brief survey is that in a very important and populous area of the world—almost 750 million people—the British ELT effort is totally inadequate for what is needed and that it is not the case, as the former Minister my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East believed, that the gaps in the British programme are made up by the efforts of the Americans and others. Does the ODM now recognise that fact? If so, will it attempt, and how will it attempt, to alleviate the situation? I recognise, as I have said many times, that there may be political and other difficulties, but that is no excuse for sitting back and failing to take the initiative of approaching friendly Governments with offers of assistance in this area.
To illustrate what can be done I should just like to refer to the French Government's French language programme. As my hon. Friend will know, the French have traditionally put far more emphasis on the teaching of their admirable language, even to the point of attempting to acculturalise the peoples of their former colonies. France's motives are not my concern this morning, only the effort that she, a country of roughly similar size and wealth, has put in to promoting French and the successes she has achieved in the face of the widespread predominance of English.
In 1975 there were over 24,000 French teachers of French or in French in the developing countries. Some of these taught in the 50 French lycées in the developing world, others at the 639 French institutes and centres. It is impossible to derive from official sources the total number of students at these institutions, but the figures that are available indicate that they were well over 100,000.
Early in the 1970s there were over 1,200 French personnel abroad involved in teacher training. It is always difficult to establish precise international comparisons, because countries often draw up their figures in different ways or are interested in different types of figures. Nevertheless, the French Foreign Ministry pamphlet "Relations Culturelles, Scientifiques et Techniques" 1974–75 quotes some interesting comparative figures from OECD.
In 1973 France spent $390 million on cultural and technical assistance to developing countries, almost 120 per cent. more than the British figure of $178 million. France then had 23,301 teachers abroad as compared with a mere 5,519 British and an even more measly 1,031 Americans. The French Foreign Ministry concedes that Britain and America do not have to put in as great an effort to ensure the usage of their language, thus admitting the greater rÔle of English as a world language.
There is, as the French recognise, an insatiable desire for training in English. Every year, as my hon. Friend must know, some 200,000 foreign students come to this country to learn English, and they comprise our sixth most profitable invisible export. Yet we are so careless of this bonus that we take little trouble to ensure that they do not become the victims of fly-by-night schools seeking only to cash in and not to instruct.
Indeed, so laggard are we at expanding the number of places at our excellent GLC schools that foreigners have to set up their own schools of English here. All that is, of course, a matter for the DES, but the point is that the 200,000 who come here are only the affluent tip of the iceberg. Overseas there are millions upon millions of young people and adults who wish to learn English.
Has my hon. Friend studied the experience of the private organisation, English International, which now has 50,000 students at 38 schools overseas? Does he realise that in Libya, where the British Council has no representative and where support for 18 contract lecturers at the universities was to be withdrawn in the mid-1970s, English International opened a school in 1965 and trains, I think, 800 students per year? Does my hon. Friend know that in Egypt, where the British Council sponsored 41 ELT teachers at all levels in 1974, English International has recently opened facilities employing 50 teachers?
As a nation we have sent 1,500 VSO teachers abroad to teach English, but should we not consider vastly expanding that figure by recruiting from the 20,000 unemployed teachers we have? I realise that there may be bureaucratic problems to do with pension rights and reemployment on return but surely it would be worth while the ODM and the DES getting together to see whether they can iron out these difficulties.
Will my hon. Friend undertake, after a well-earned holiday which I believe will start the moment this debate ends, to meet the Director General of English International and other leading figures in the field of English language teaching abroad with a view to exploring the needs and possibilities of much increased Government aid in this field? While the French are busily ensuring that at least some foreigners speak good French, we Anglophones seem to be fooled by the statistics of how many foreigners speak English into allowing concrete knowledge of our language to deteriorate around the world.
If we go on like this—I know that as a former teacher you, Mr. Speaker, will be interested—one day some people will speak English not spoken in England, some will speak an English not spoken in America, and the rest will mouth an English not spoken anywhere.
That is the challenge and I hope that my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend will measure up to it.
I am sure that the whole House when it has had the chance of reading my hon. Friend's speech will be grateful to him for raising this subject. It is one about which, I know, my hon. Friend feels deeply, and over the past two or three years he has pursued it diligently in the House.
I would say to him that the importance of the English language to Britain's links with other countries, and, indeed, to the enhancement of good relations between nations, is enormous.
Like my hon. Friend, I fully recognise the importance of English language teaching in a number of spheres of activity which he has covered in addition to our economic and social development with those countries. It goes without saying that the teaching of English is one subject on which Britain has a great deal to offer and, indeed, British expertise in this area is paramount in many parts of the world.
When I read the reply that my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) made in 1975 I did not think that he was being quite as specific about the supportive rÔle of other English speaking countries as my hon. Friend suggested. He will recognise that there is some supplementary work being undertaken by other English-speaking countries and he gave a close recitation of the statistics. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East was not trying to argue the case for its adequacy as a total complement to the British work as if it supplied the whole global demand.
The teaching of English is provided through a large number of channels in the public sector, by the Ministry for Overseas Development in the Third world and by the British Council, which is preeminent in English language teaching throughout the world. The Council acts as the Ministry's agents in administering many of the teaching programmes and it runs others on its own account. It has, for example, about 400 English language specialists and teachers employed worldwide.
My hon. Friend asked a number of specific questions about costs, figures and programmes. So detailed were many of them that I shall not attempt to cover them, other than in the most general terms. I undertake that his speech shall receive the most careful consideration in the Department. I shall reply later to each of his arguments. That will give my hon. Friend more accurate information than if I attempted to pick out one or two of the issues.
Reference has been made to South Asia and the problems of English language teaching in such places as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I am aware of the problems. I shall be visiting South Asia soon and I shall take the opporunity to have discussions to see whether it is thought that the programmes are adequate or whether it is thought that we could be of greater assistance.
Generally speaking, we respond to requests for assistance from any developing country which attaches priority to ELT as a tool of development. In some countries the effect of Government policies—which of course we respect—for advancing the use of national and vernacular languages is to give English language a lower priority. In many other countries, for instance in Francophone Africa, the demand for ELT assistance is growing. In many developing countries of the Commonwealth English still remains the second language and the medium of government, administration and education.
The needs are changing. With the help given them in the past, the training institutions in many countries are increasingly able to supply classroom teachers and teacher trainers in English. In Kenya there has been a significant reduction in the number of English teachers teaching the English language. That is a tribute to the success of the English teachers, because they have been replaced by competent Kenyan teachers of the English language. The concentration on training the trainers results in locally trained teachers being competent to teach the English language.
I accept that this is important and that one of the greatest jobs in ELT is to teach foreigners to teach English well, but my hon. Friend must recognise that there are different problems in countries such as Kenya as opposed to countries such as Nigeria or India. Therefore, Kenya should not be taken as a yardstick for the overall world success of the ELT programme.
I am not suggesting that its success is due to one consideration, because there are other factors to be taken into account.
The trend is towards more specialised assistance from Britain. The new key English language teaching scheme, which is replacing the Aid to Commonwealth English scheme and the English as a Foreign Language scheme, will make up to 200 ODM funded posts available to developing countries. It comprises expanded programmes of technical cooperation under which we fill senior posts in ministries of education, institutions, departments, schools and faculties of education and in centres and departments of English at the tertiary level, curriculum development centres, teacher training colleges, training centres, educational broadcasting centres, and key posts in the production of ELT materials.
Although this scheme will form the core of British assistance, there are also over 2,000 teachers in developing countries many of whom teach English. We also assist with specialised training both in the country concerned and in Britain. With the British Council and the BBC we have produced a series of radio programmes, recordings and printed materials. Last but not least, we operate the book presentation programme and other forms of support for books and library development totalling £3 million each year. In the area of book presentation programmes and others we see a steady increase in volume year by year.
My hon. Friend sought to draw a comparison between our activity and activity in France. The situations in the respective countries are not necessarily comparable and I do not think that a statistical comparison is particularly valid. The number of French teachers abroad reflects a different professional level of activity. We are concerned largely with high quality staff designed so far as possible to attain the maximum multiplier effect.
No. I am merely saying that the level of teaching is one of the factors to be considered. I shall expand on that subject when I write to my lion. Friend following this debate.
The other matter raised by my hon. Friend in an interesting speech related to the subject of surplus teachers. He asked whether the 20,000 unemployed teachers in this country could be of benefit. This is a matter I have examined in the Department to see whether there is any better method than we employ at present of matching requirements in developing countries to the availability of those surplus teachers. It is a fact that the surplus in the United Kingdom of teachers is not readily to be matched with the overseas demand, because such teachers are not always prepared to serve overseas.
We identify three groups in this respect, namely, married women teachers, those with less than the requisite experience, and those who do not match the requirements of the recipient country. These factors make it increasingly difficult to match some of our unemployed teachers with the demand from overseas. I shall look into each of the detailed points and give my hon. Friend as detailed a response as I can and as speedily as I can.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this subject and for giving such a clear idea of his views. There is certainly no diminution of interest in English language teaching in the Ministry for Overseas Development. There is a ready recognition that this subject is as important as it ever was, and we shall continue to examine all the points my hon. Friend made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous statement that he will answer my points in detail when the Department has had a chance to consider them. I recognise that in the course of a debate of this kind, at the end of a Session and with no formal back-up or warning about the subject, it is impossible for Ministers to give on-the-spot, snap answers. That would be folly. But will my hon. Friend go on a little longer on one or two of the subjects I raised, because I think that one can at least give a general picture of what has been happening?
For example, my hon. Friend says that one of the problems over the employment of our surplus teachers, unemployed teachers, is that many of them are inexperienced. We know that many of them are coming out of the teacher training colleges and facing unemployment with great bitterness. But is it not the case that many of the teachers sent abroad by the British Council are Voluntary Service Overseas volunteers, who, by their very nature, are normally recruited not so much nowadays immediately after school but still at a very young age, and often with no experience in teaching certainly very little experience in England?
I should be most grateful if my hon. Friend could take up that point, and then, if he has a moment, I have another to raise with him.
I did not see my hon. Friend here during the all-night sitting. My hon. Friend the Member for Belper has raised a number of important points and is entitled, having waited all night, to a reply, just as I am sure that my hon. Friend will receive a reply when he raises his points.
There is a difference between the volunteer programme, which is largely run through the British Council, and the various supplementation schemes that the Department runs direct. We have about 2,500 British educational staff serving overseas under a number of supplementation arrangements. It was to that group that I was particularly referring when I spoke about the difficulties of matching the demands of the developing country to the people who tend to be the core of the unemployed teachers. Young teachers straight out of training college, teachers over 50, those with less than five years' experience, and those who are reluctant to go abroad, create difficulties in matching supply and demand.
Is there not a great deal of idealism in young teachers who have just left training college? I am reliably informed that it is the bureaucratic difficulties—pensions and pension rights, re-employment on return —that deter many teachers rather than any reluctance to go beyond the Channel.
I think that there is a combination of all those factors. With an increase in the number of unemployed teachers, worries about job security increase. Those in the right age group and with the right levels of skill and experience are the ones in demand, but are probably in post in the United Kingdom and more reluctant to leave their jobs, which would create vacancies for the unemployed teachers.
All these matters link together to create problems of which the Department is fully aware. I am not in a position to give more helpful answers about that today, but I can say that we engage in continuing discussions with the appropriate bodies.
My hon. Friend put a list of other specific points. They related to the various up-to-date figures, to points in relation to English language teaching in Nigeria, to the numbers involved and the cost, to problems in relation to Zaire, and to the figures for rates of failure in English language examinations in Nigeria. I shall look into them and write to my hon. Friend.
I can give my hon. Friend that complete assurance. I am ready, willing and happy to engage in negotiations with anyone who wants to come to see me. My hon. Friend asked whether I would be prepared to meet the Director General of English International and I confirm that I would.
Increasing attention is being given to English for special purposes and to the whole question of English in teaching. We recognise the importance of the subject. The sort of issues that my hon. Friend raises are constantly under review by the Ministry for Overseas Development and the British Council, and we shall try to ensure that we continue to respond to requests within the framework of our aid strategy and our country programmes on technical co-operation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised this matter. I shall correspond with him about it and I look forward to a continuing dialogue with him in due course.