Ahmed, Ahmed A. M. (2018) Washback: Examining English Language Teaching and Learning in Libyan Secondary School Education. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis critically analysed the influence of the Libyan public examination on English Language Teaching (ELT) and on learning strategies and practice in secondary school classrooms. It investigated the washback of the Secondary Education Certificate Examination (SECE) on ELT teachers and explored practitioners’ perceptions and practices. It also examined washback on students’ perception, motivation, learning strategies and outcomes. Weir’s socio-cognitive framework for test validity was chosen as a conceptual framework for its capability of conceptualising appropriate evidence on how testing constructs (policy & design) are operationalised and interpreted (use) in practice. This thesis describes an interpretative qualitative case study research conducted in the south west of Libya. Data were generated through interviews, classroom observation and document analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two ELT teachers and inspectors, a school headteacher and a representative of the examination office. Group interviews were also conducted with a number of the final year secondary school students within the research context. All the research data were analysed using a thematic data analysis.

The findings reveal that the lack of alignment between the focus of the English SECE and the objectives of the curriculum had a significant adverse effect on the Libyan ELT teachers, inspectors and students’ perceptions about the aim and the value of ELT in the school education and their role within the policy as well as on Libyan school students’ motivation. The study participants held the perception that developing language skills is not the aim of teaching English in Libyan secondary school since these skills have never been assessed in public examinations despite their integration in the curriculum. The Libyan ELT teachers and inspectors prioritised the aim of completing the curriculum through the use of traditional approaches of teacher-centred and Grammar Translation Method(GTM) and teaching to the test rather than meeting the pedagogical objectives of ELT or implementing the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) proposed in the school curriculum. The Libyan on-going conflict, the public examination policy, and teachers’lack of assessment literacy were also significant on classroom testing. Students were largely passive in English classrooms as teaching focused on the SECE. Accordingly, students utilised different learning strategies to cope with the teaching such as prioritising the translation of textbook texts, relying on rote-learning, engaging in test-preparation activities and developing test-taking strategies. Evidence accumulated through this study clearly indicates that Libyan students’ experience of the public examination had a significant effect on their attitudes, perceptions and choice of learning strategies. This finding represented an important implication for developing the socio-cognitive framework for test validity.

The public examination strategies improved the Libyan secondary school students’ examination performance in the SECE but not their English learning outcomes. The examination content and format as well as a social acceptance of cheating all have a significant effect on students’ performance in the SECE and threaten its score validity.

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