The theme of our Pre-Conference Event was Unlearning learnt helplessness.Learnt helplessness is like an invisible arm that holds us back from taking action: asking a question, making a suggestion, making an effort to change the situation we are in. As a result,we feel helpless to change a difficult situation. It is a conditioned response as opposed to an innate lack of ability. In fact it acts as a blindfold and blocks us from seeing our potential. It is reinforced by recurrent, negative thoughts that have become so habitual that they are now part of our identity and are therefore invisible to us. It is all around us, deeply entrenched in our societies. Our educational systems all over the world tend to reinforce it, assigning passive roles to learners of all ages and abilities. At our universities students are seen as passive recipients of knowledge-this is reflected in the words used for’student’ around the world. In Hungary, for example, the word for student is ’hallgató’ literally ’listener’.
There would need to be a greater emphasis on non-conformity and divergent thinking in education. Students all over the world should be encouraged to question what is around them, rather than to just regurgitate the knowledge that has been passed on to them.How can this be done? What can be the contribution of English language teaching to bringing about the changes? The PCE will be a forum to reflect on the issues and to share best practice in classroom tasks, projects and teaching methods which can help students and teachers to shake off learnt helplessness and to start believing that that they can make a difference.
We had the opportunity to explore the theme of Unlearning learnt helplessness in the company of:
- Jim Scrivener
- Paul Shaw (from Disabled AccessFriendly)
- Adrian Underhill
This was followed in the afternoon by a question and answer session with David Crystal, the Patron of IATEFL