Exploring Arabic Teachers’ Experiences and Understandings of Living Arab Culture as part of their Curriculum Subject

  • Kelly Murphy

Student thesis: Phd


This research explores Arabic teachers’ experiences and understandings of living Arab culture as part of their curriculum subject in mainstream secondary schools in England. Arabic is a growing subject at secondary level in England, and is offered in some schools alongside more traditional options such as French and Spanish. The linguistic requirements of the course are prescribed in a relatively clear manner in the Key Stage 3 Programme of Study and in the Arabic GCSE examination specifications. However, the cultural dimension of the course is less prescriptive. In addition to this, the meanings of ‘culture’ in language education and those of ‘Arabic’/‘Arab’ are complex and often subjective. Bringing the unheard voices of Arabic teachers into discussions on Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) is therefore a worthwhile and necessary endeavour, in order to understand what it means for them to ‘live’ Arab culture as part of their curriculum subject. This qualitative, interpretive study draws on Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to delve into detailed and contextualised accounts of the lived experiences of six teachers working in mainstream state-maintained secondary schools in England. All teachers taught the Arabic GCSE and were recruited purposely. The research question asks: ‘What are Arabic teachers’ experiences and understandings of living Arab Culture as part of their curriculum subject?’ The findings of four teachers are presented in rich detail. Following this, the findings of all six participants are presented according to four overarching ‘Dimensions of Experience’, which are presented in order to convey both the similarities and differences within their experiences and understandings. These ‘Dimensions of Experience’ comprise: imposing order on Arab culture; being (un)certain; coping with context; and striving for moral and social learning. The teachers appeared to conceptualise ‘Arab culture’ differently. Given the lack of prescriptivism, some for example understood it as linked to religion, others not, or underpinned by pan-Arab identity, or Modern Standard Arabic. They also experienced various levels of certainty in what they were doing. Interestingly, many believed that what they were doing was what was expected of them. The context of both the national examination assessment system as well as different student backgrounds formed an integral part of teachers’ experiences of living culture as part of their subject too. Finally, although the particularities of their experiences varied, the teachers seemed to understand Arab culture in their subject as a way to address social and moral learning – including for example criticality and tolerance. These idiosyncratic perceptual processes are explored alongside relevant literature in order to present an informed discussion. This thesis concludes by stating the contributions to knowledge made in the areas of language teacher research, curriculum thinking, and methodological approaches in education.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPauline Prevett (Supervisor), Graeme Hutcheson (Supervisor) & Zahra Alijah (Supervisor)

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