Teaching English as a foreign language in Chinese kindergartens: a multiple-case study
Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) to young children (ages 3–6) has become a prevalent social phenomenon in China since the 1980s. For more than three decades, the educational authorities adopted a laissez-faire attitude, leaving early English-language education (EELE) unregulated. However, in 2018 the educational authorities banned EELE in kindergartens. But this prohibition failed to stop EELE in private kindergartens that aspire to meet Chinese parents’ strong demand. So far, no studies have explored Chinese educators’ beliefs and practices regarding EELE. This research was intended to fill this gap in four interrelated studies. Data-source and methodological triangulation was conducted by obtaining information from government policy documents; research studies; interviews with principals, curriculum leaders, and teachers; and teaching journals.
Study 1 comprises a literature synthesis that compares EELE in China and Australia. The findings demonstrated that China and Australia differ significantly in their sociolinguistic landscapes, educational language policies, and the early childhood education (ECE) sectors in which EELE is conducted. Nevertheless, the educational authorities in both countries are similar in their lack of involvement in regulating EELE, leading to unguided, unregulated, and varying practices.
Study 2 is a scoping review in which the scope and extent of the current literature regarding EFL education in the East-Asian ECE context (2000–2022) was investigated. Through a five-step scoping review protocol, 17 empirical studies were identified and analysed. This review revealed that (1) there are four main research areas, namely, education policy, education technology, teacher and teacher education, and curriculum and pedagogy; (2) among East Asian societies, Hong Kong has received the most research attention; (3) several salient research gaps exist, some of which were addressed in the final two studies.
Study 3 involved an exploration of English-language teachers’ beliefs about EELE. Twelve English-language teachers—of different language backgrounds—were interviewed individually about their beliefs, using open-ended questions. Thematic analyses of the transcribed data revealed that teachers held general beliefs about the learners, the teachers, and the EFL curriculum. From a sociocultural theoretical perspective, this study revealed an interwoven cultural and ideological foundation of EL teachers’ beliefs, characterised by a fusion of Western- and Chinese-based cultural ideologies.
Study 4 comprises an exploration of how Chinese kindergarten educators practise agency in micro-planning EELE policy. Data from interviews with seven Chinese EL educators and school documents were analysed using grounded theory. This study revealed Chinese EL educators’ varying degrees and extent of agency in making “local” educational decisions. The findings also indicated an array of contextual and individual factors nested in a hierarchical structure that shaped educators’ agency.
This doctoral research has enriched the EELE literature with empirical evidence from China. The findings about Chinese educators’ agency have deepened our understanding of their decision-making processes and the underlying influential factors, which is a significant theoretical contribution. Practically, it will help provoke public and governmental awareness of EELE as an important educational area that deserves long-term and domain-specific planning.