News & events


International disappointment in the ‘communicative’ approach to language teaching and the ‘whole language’ approach to literacy development of primary school students

05 February 2013
12:15 - 13:30

Date : 05 February 2013

Time : 12:15 – 13:30

Presenters :Professor Kathleen Heugh

The communicative approach to language teaching and learning and the ‘whole language’ approach to literacy have dominated the curricula of countries in which English is the most widely used language or the language most widely used in education for the last twenty years, and in some cases, for the last thirty years. Both approaches were adopted because the earlier grammar-translation, direct and audio-lingual approaches to teaching languages; and the phonics approach to teaching reading and writing, were considered to be too closely aligned with behaviourist approaches to learning and cognition. And behaviourist approaches were considered to be conservative and too restrictive of the creative faculties of learners. The research data of learners in ‘less’ developed countries have for some time indicated that few students meet desired outcomes when these approaches dominate. More recently, the data from the ‘more’ developed contexts indicate similar findings. In this presentation, Kathleen Heugh will review recent research in Indonesia, India, Ethiopia, and Australia as this relates to language learning and literacy, particularly in primary education. She will also indicate what the researchers are indicating about the nature of educational change and the extent of resources required to effect successful educational change. In most instances of change in the so-called developing countries, the implications for carefully calibrated, long term and system-wide change have been seriously underestimated. This is no more evident in the comprehensive failure of both the ‘whole language’ and the ‘communicative’ approaches adopted in primary school curricula in many countries, including those mentioned above.  There are equally problematic, but different, approaches to language teaching in many Asian countries, including: China, Korea, Japan, and Malaysia. The presentation will include a brief discussion of these and a set of common sense, and inexpensive strategies for developing stronger reading, writing and language learning in primary school systems.

Kathleen Heugh is a socio-applied linguist who focuses on language education and literacy policy in developing countries. She has traced the historical records of educational change across Africa since independence, and undertaken large-scale evaluations and ethnographic studies of literacy and language education in several African countries for UNESCO and the United Nations Development Programme. Her current research involves literacy and language learning with migrant and Indigenous communities in Australia and India. She also teaches university students from Asia, the Middle East and Africa in Australia, where she uses a multilingual approach to teaching English and academic literacy.

Kindly RSVP by 1 February 2013

This seminar may be attended via video conference in Pretoria, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. Details as below.  

Cape Town : HSRC, 12th Floor, Plein Park Building (Opposite Revenue Office), Plein Street, Cape Town. Contact Jean Witten, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or

Durban :  First floor HSRC board room, 750 Francois Road, Ntuthuko Junction, Pods 5 and 6, Cato Manor, Contact Ridhwaan Khan, Tel (031) 242 5400, cell: 083 788 2786 or

Pretoria : HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Arlene Grossberg, Tel: (012) 302 2811, e-mail: , or Charmaine Galante, Tel: (012) 302 2730, Cell: 073 944 0408, e-mail: