GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
English Language Testing Practice in the Gulf Countries: educational, social and linguistic perspectives
Paper Proposal Text :
The paper addresses the issue of standardized testing in the Gulf region and its educational, social and linguistic influences.
The topic cross cuts the realms of educational access (university admissions), quality (instruction quality at public schools, private tutoring), and applied linguistics (the case of TOEFL, IELTS preparation and strategies).
The paper claims that the international EFL tests for university admission such as TOEFL, IELTS, CAE, CPE, etc. bear considerable influence on local testing formats, requirements and levels in the Gulf countries. The paper asserts that the international tests have both qualitative and quantitative influences on local educational testing systems.
The paper identifies the following important items while discussing the English language testing and preparation issues in the Gulf countries.
• The reasons for testing
• Selection, admission, progress check, benchmarking
• Ability / aptitude vs. curriculum based tests
• Validity, reliability of tests
• Curriculum-testing alignment
• Clarity vs. ambiguity of tasks and strategies to deal with them
• Assessment criteria
The paper conducts cross country comparative analysis of the above issues in the Gulf countries and allocates them social, educational and linguistic weights according to the relevance and country specific condition.

First of all, it should be noted that quantitative influence means the increasing number of students that resort to private tutoring or to intensive preparation language centers to prepare for local or international examinations. Even though a number of countries have initiated the remedial classes at public schools to help socioeconomically disadvantaged students prepare for the examinations, the level of international examinations makes the assistance of private tutoring and language centers still number one pathway to better educational chances.
Secondly, the qualitative influence concerns the revision of national curricula, teacher training and testing initiatives, the introduction of new EFL school textbooks and study materials, and implementing innovative teaching methodologies (learner-oriented, interactive, on-line, peer assisted, individual requirement based).
Finally, the paper focuses on the foreign language testing system, namely, English language tests that are necessary prerequisite for continuing education both at local and foreign higher education institutions. The paper discusses the issue from applied linguistics perspective and makes references to necessary procedures for enhancing the quality of preparation such as: time-management, concentration enhancement, systematic practice, the development of fast reading and writing skills, collocations’ based teaching / learning, the usage of authentic real-life tasks’ based materials in classes and during individual learning process, and the implementation of peer review / feedback practice essential for students’ self-check and development.
The paper claims that due to their extremely widely spread application international English tests such as TOEFL and IELTS have triggered the reconsideration of global and local testing systems and practices in many countries of the world and in the Gulf region in particular. This fact in itself has caused the enhancement of quality teaching and identification of pitfalls in testing formats and practices of other disciplines as well. For instance, Oman takes a new learner-centered approach to English language teaching. The TESOL project (1999-2008) was conducted in collaboration with the University of Leeds, UK. Alongside updating teaching methodologies and materials, the project helped the TESOL diploma holding teachers to upgrade their qualifications.
In addition, other Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates – all offer international EFL examinations and intensive preparation courses mainly with the help of the British Council and local educational centers.
The most widely expressed views by EFL teachers and learners regarding teaching and testing challenges in the Gulf States concern a wide variety of teaching styles and methodologies that individual teachers, schools, school districts and countries implement in explaining and delivering same concepts to students. For instance, grammatical tense might be a universal concept and phenomenon, but the way it is explained and delivered to students across countries might vary significantly.
The paper suggests considering the theory-practice balance of EFL and TESOL preparation process at individual schools, districts and countries while accounting for achievement gaps and for low scores at international assessments.
The questions that the paper raises are as follows: Are schools in a given country more test-oriented or theory oriented? Do the teachers spend more time on theoretical explanations or practice? This will hugely determine how well the students perform on international language tests.
The main methodology used in the paper is cross country comparative analysis. The data have been gathered through language center websites, British Council websites. The information on individual learning practices has been extracted from formal and informal interviews with learners and teachers from the Gulf States.