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WELS-led research wins funding to address gender inequality in education

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

Kristina Hultgren, WELS Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics, has been awarded £100,000 towards her study of the role English-medium education plays in gender inequality within low and middle-income nations.

Kristina Hultgren, WELS Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics, has been awarded £100,000 by the British Council towards her study of the role English-medium education (EME) plays in gender inequality within low and middle-income nations.

EME is a system that uses English as the main language for teaching and learning in multilingual schools. Despite being adopted worldwide, it is not clear whether EME is an enabler or a barrier to equality between boys and girls, something that Professor Hultgren’s 17-month project aims to rectify.

Encompassing more than 15 countries across Africa and Asia, the comprehensive study will also include an examination of schools found in two predominantly Muslim areas of Nigeria and Nepal, where girls are increasingly at risk of social exclusion.

Professor Hultgren, whose previous work has been recognised with a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship award, said of the project:

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.

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

Pramod Sah, Postdoctoral Research Associate, joins Professor Hultgren as co-lead on the project. Freda Wolfenden, Professor of Education and International Development, Dr Lorena Lombardozzi, Senior Lecturer in Economics (School of Social Sciences & Global Studies) and Research Assistant Anu Upadhaya round off the team.

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