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Volume 16:9 September 2016
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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Washback of the Public Examination on Teaching and
Learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at
the Higher Secondary Level in Bangladesh

Ph.D. Dissertation in English (Applied Linguistics and ELT)

Md. Enamul Hoque, Ph.D.


The way in which public examinations influence teaching and learning is commonly described as washback in applied linguistics. Washback influences a variety of teaching and learning areas directly and indirectly, either positively or negatively, or both. The key objectives of the study were to examine washback as a phenomenon relating to those areas that were most likely to be directly affected by the HSC examination in English. The study set out a number of research questions, and answered them to achieve the objectives of the study. The whole study is presented in this thesis divided into six chapters, each chapter incorporating specific issues of the present study.

Chapter One outlines the background information on the general context of the research and identifies the various components of the problem to be studied such as relationship between teaching and testing, statement of the problem, significance of the study, objectives of the study, research questions, definition of terms, limitations of the study, structure of the thesis, etc.

Chapter Two covers the theoretical framework of washback relating to the significant areas of the present study. The central issues include the philosophical and empirical bases of testing and washback.

Chapter Three presents the literature review of a number of empirical studies carried out on washback in different countries and cultures. The review reveals that washback is a complex phenomenon and has negative or positive relations to teaching and learning EFL. The findings of those studies have shown that, in most of the cases, tests narrow down the syllabus and curriculum, influence the selection of lesson contents, alter teaching methods and materials, but some have indicated that tests have limited or no impact on those areas.

Chapter Four discusses the research design and methodology employed in this study. It focuses on how the different types of data were collected, analysed, and presented. A mixed methods (MM) approach was used for data collection and data analysis. The questionnaire (quantitative method), in-depth interview, classroom observation (qualitative method), and analysis of documents were used to collect data. Five-Grade Likert Scale (1932) was used in the questionnaire to elicit responses from the respondents. The subjects, 500 HSC students and 125 English language teachers, were selected from 20 higher secondary colleges by using the simple random sampling method.

Chapter Five presents the findings, and their interpretation. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 18.0) was used for quantitative data analysis. Qualitative analysis involved the use of the constant comparative method and inductive logic while quantitative analysis in this study involved descriptive statistics (e.g., frequency counts, means, standard deviations, skewness, kurtosis, median, mode, etc.). The results are sectioned and discussed with reference to the research questions.

Chapter Six presents the answers to all the research questions, the findings of the study in brief, recommendations and implications, and the conclusion.

The study indicates that the curriculum corresponds to the textbook, while the EFL public examination does not represent the curriculum and textbook that there is a negative washback of the HSC examination on EFL teaching and learning. The areas mostly influenced by washback were found to be those related to the immediate classroom contexts: (i) teachers' choice of materials, (ii) teaching methods, (iii) classroom tasks and activities, (iv) perceptions of teachers and the learners on the examination, (v) teaching strategies, and (vi) learning outcomes. Based upon the findings, this study put forwards some recommendations for promoting positive washback on EFL teaching and learning at the HSC level. Some of the major recommendations are to: (1) provide testers, examiners, curriculum designers and teachers with extensive professional development opportunities, (2) monitor the teaching and learning activities in the classroom, and check the test related materials whether they enhance EFL learning, (3) align the curriculum and syllabus with the content of the test to assure that students have studied the required contents of the syllabus before taking the tests, and (4) discourage commercially produced clone tests materials.

The study is potentially significant in that it offers educators and policymakers insights into English language teaching and learning at the HSC level.

Most importantly, it highlights the voices of teachers and students, the very important people at the centre of the teaching and learning process. It finally advocates the needs for further research on the potential areas of washback.

The General Context of the Research

The Bangladesh education system is characterised as being examinationdriven. Under this system, examinations are of exaggerated importance. At various levels of education, be they secondary, higher secondary or tertiary, it is a common practice that teachers teach to the test. Not only are most courses tailored to examinations, but the teachers’ and students’ attention is also correspondingly directed at the skills which will be tested in the examination. Furthermore, test scores are viewed both as a marker of students’ academic success and as the premise to their future career. Testing is generally accepted as an integral part of teaching and learning. It is one of the basic components of any curriculum, and plays a pivotal role in determining what learners learn. Tests also play a central role in deciding on what to teach, and how to teach. Candlin and Edelhoff (1982) assert that learners learn most when they are quite precisely aware of how their efforts are to be judged and evaluated.

It has long been widely recognised that a high-stakes test such as the HSC public examination can have a major impact on educational systems and on the societies. Pearson (1988) points out that “public examinations influence the attitudes, behaviours, and motivation of teachers, learners and parents, and because examinations often come at the end of a course, this influence is seen working in a backward direction, hence the term ‘washback’” (p. 98). In addition, washback has been generally perceived as being bipolar – either negative (harmful) or positive (beneficial). The research investigated washback of the HSC examination on teaching and learning English as a foreign language.

This is only the beginning part of the Dissertation. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Md. Enamul Hoque, Ph.D.
Department of English
Jahangirnagar University
Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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