PhD Oral Exam - Linda Overing, Education
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
The effects of monolingual English medium of instruction on formal academic and vocational/technical learning have been heavily researched and documented within the southern African ‘Anglophone,’ yet multilingual context. Less attention has been paid to the impact of English medium of instruction on the lives and livelihoods of individuals who, largely due to national language policies in education, enter the workforce with little or no schooling, and without basic language competencies in English, or literacy competencies in even their mother tongue. When English is the official and dominant language of government, commerce, and industry, the consequences of limited familiarity with it can be far ranging, affecting possibilities for political engagement, contributions to economic growth, employment opportunities, security, and upward mobility; they can also be dire, threatening health and safety.
This qualitative case study fills a gap in knowledge by addressing the under-researched problem of communicative and learning issues faced by individuals who enter the workforce with limited or no English language skills, and for whom linguistic accommodations are not made. The study is situated in the context of a foreign owned mining subsidiary in an ‘Anglophone’ country in southern Africa. The particular focus is on often plurilingual, yet English second/foreign language shop floor workers engaged in the most hazardous jobs within this risk-ridden environment, where occupational health and safety knowledge is an essential, life-saving tool, as well as a learning foundation upon which higher skills attainments and employment security are built.
From the perspective of workers most directly affected, illuminated through the analysis of interviews, observations, and teaching materials, this qualitative case study illustrates how the use of English communication, medium of instruction, and teaching materials in a multilingual but English second/foreign language dominated work environment constrains effective occupational health and safety learning and works to influence policy compliance. The ways in which workers mediate these challenges are also explored. Grounded in this case, based primarily on workers’ input and suggestions, and supported by exemplary practices reported in the occupational health and safety literature, practical and applicable recommendations for change are proposed.