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OU researchers to tackle gender inequality in low and middle-income countries’ schools

African school children sitting on the floor listening to teacher reading a book

The British Council has awarded a team of OU researchers £100,000 to study the impact of English-medium education (EME) on gender equality in low and middle-income countries.

The project will explore whether the education system, which uses English as a language of learning and teaching in multilingual contexts, is an enabler or a barrier to equality between boys and girls in more than 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Kristina Hultgren, Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics and Postdoctoral Research Associate, Pramod Sah, will lead the 17-month project. Freda Wolfenden, Professor of Education and International Development, Dr Lorena Lombardozzi, Senior Lecturer in Economics from School of Social Sciences & Global Studies and Ms Anu Upadhaya complete the interdisciplinary team.

The project will build an understanding of the relationship between the language of instruction and gender inequality, about which there is currently insufficient research. The researchers will also investigate schools in two Muslim communities in Nigeria and Nepal to examine the specific impact on girls from these minoritised groups most vulnerable to social exclusion.

Professor Hultgren said:

“Education can be both a vehicle for socioeconomic mobility and a reproducer of inequalities, including gender inequality. EME’s rapid expansion has made this conundrum even more acute and raised essential questions in countries where cultural norms often see girls leave education earlier than boys to marry or take on domestic duties.

“We hope to capitalise on our team’s interdisciplinary strengths as feminist scholars, combining expertise in sociolinguistics, education, economic and international development, to understand the nuances around this complex issue from a holistic perspective. We will also draw on The Open University’s experience developing open educational resources to involve the teachers in these locations to co-create materials and think of strategies to increase girls’ inclusion.”

Senior Consultant for English Medium and Multilingual Education at the British Council, Ann Veitch, said:

“The British Council is delighted to be supporting this research which will provide important evidence on the impact EME has on gender equality. We hope this research can inform more inclusive language in education policies and practices which empower women and girls.”

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