Liaquat Channa, the Mittal Institute’s Syed Babar Ali Fellow.
Liaquat Channa, an educational linguist, joins the Mittal Institute this academic year as the new Syed Babar Ali Fellow. His research interests include language and education, hidden curriculum and language textbooks, language teacher identity, language in education policy and planning. He is a Fulbright alumnus, and completed his Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education with a concentration on teaching English to speakers of other languages and World Language Education from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining the Mittal Institute, he was a Professor in the Department of English at Balochistan University of IT, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS) in Quetta, Pakistan. We spoke to Liaquat about his research and what he hopes to accomplish while at the Mittal Institute.
Mittal Institute: Welcome, Liaquat! It has been a long journey to get you here, after the pandemic caused multiple delays. What drew you to apply to the Mittal Institute fellowship in the first place AND remain committed to joining us?
Liaquat Channa: Yes, it has quite been a long journey! I wanted to join the Mittal Institute in 2020. Then, the pandemic hit the world, and everything shut down. I wanted to visit virtually. For one semester, I personally delayed it too, due to a family matter. But I knew I would not fully ‘live’ the dynamic research culture that the Harvard campus physically offered. The Mittal Institute had the same perspective. So, we both waited until the campus actually opened.
What attracted me to LMSAI was the intellectual apparatus, global networking, and scholarly space. They could help one do what one really loved in the South Asia context, and conceive or produce something. Because I followed the Mittal Institute on social media, I heard about fellows doing amazing work and partaking in the Harvard’s vibrant research culture. I also had the similar intentions for the fellowship. I have been lucky to get the fellowship and now ‘live’ Harvard. This has been possible to a great extent due to the unwavering support that I have received from the Mittal Institute administration in general and Selmon Rafey and his previous team, and Danielle Wallner in particular.
What attracted me to LMSAI was the intellectual apparatus, global networking, and scholarly space. They could help one do what one really loved in the South Asia context, and conceive or produce something. I have been lucky to get the fellowship and now ‘live’ Harvard.
Mittal Institute: Can you give us a high-level overview of your work? What project are you focusing on during your time here?
Liaquat Channa: South Asia is a highly multilingual region, and English is the most dominant language. Because English is considered a ‘key’ to social upward mobility, almost every parent/person has the ‘English fever.’ Thus, South Asian countries, including Pakistan, initiate teaching English either as a subject or using it as a/the medium of instruction, beginning in the lower grades. In Pakistan, for instance, English is now taught as a compulsory subject in Grade 1 and onward in the government schools. In some provinces who have implemented the Single National Curriculum (SNC)—a recent curricular reform—it is used as the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics subjects in Grade 1 and onward.
Here at the Mittal Institute, I am working on the English language textbooks that are prepared by the government textbook boards, and are used for teaching the English compulsory subject matter in Grades 1 to 5 in the government schools. I am currently focusing on the Sindh province in particular and may add the Balochistan province later. In my project, I am problematizing that the English textbooks are ‘innocent’. I believe textbooks, in general, are highly powerful tools that shape identities, perspectives, and worldviews. Thus, the English textbooks do not only teach English, but they also have and convey certain ‘hidden curriculum’—unwritten culture. More specifically, I am focusing on the gender aspect in the hidden curriculum of the English textbooks and arguing for pictorial justice.
I believe textbooks, in general, are highly powerful tools that shape identities, perspectives, and worldviews. Thus, the English textbooks do not only teach English, but they also have and convey certain ‘hidden curriculum’—unwritten culture. More specifically, I am focusing on the gender aspect in the hidden curriculum of the English textbooks and arguing for pictorial justice.
Mittal Institute: You focus upon English as a/the medium of instruction to explore postcolonial contexts, often with an attention on Pakistan. You also have focused on teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Can you elaborate on this, and share why you are committed to English as a focus language?
Liaquat Channa: English is considered ‘oxygen’ for staying alive ‘successfully’ in my country. I am committed to understanding how and why English plays such a role in social and linguistic justice.
In Pakistan, we have mainly three educational systems: government schools where English is now a compulsory subject and also a medium of instruction (after the SNC has been implemented in some parts); (elite) private schools where English is the medium of instruction; and religious seminaries that neither have English as a subject nor as a/the medium of instruction (they may have English in both forms if they follow the SNC in the areas where the SNC has been implemented). These three systems are for three different strata of Pakistani society and produce three different types of citizenry in terms of their English proficiency/accents, their chances for social upward mobility, and their active and inclusive participation in Pakistani society.
My research, either as a solo or co-author, has aimed to understand the complex contextual dynamics where English generally impacts people and/or communities in educational contexts, with a particular focus on government schools/universities.
Mittal Institute: Can you talk to us about your own educational journey – what excites you about the field, and when did you discover your passion for educational linguistics?
Liaquat Channa: My attachment to teaching English and studying its placement in language policies and plannings in Pakistan dates back to the time when I was a student in a government school. I come from a very humble background. I myself started learning English as a compulsory subject in Grade 6 and onward. I know what English means to people like me. I wondered (and still do) how anyone who spoke and knew (only) English was highly respected; how the people who were educated in private schools were the ones with lucrative jobs and in the ‘drivers seat’; why the postcolonial countries, such as Pakistan, espoused monolingualism and took ‘language as a problem’ orientation rather than ‘language as a resource’ or ‘language as a right’ approaches in their language policies. From social and linguistic justice perspectives, the ‘English power’ just intrigued me in every sense.
The attachment has evolved as I have grown. My M.Ed. in English Language Teaching in the University of Glasgow, U.K. and Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education with a focus on TESOL and World Language Education—made possible by the Fulbright Commission and the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan at the University of Georgia, U.S.—expanded my perspectives. Not only was I introduced to debates on the role of language in educational systems, but I also read educational linguistic scholars who worked on a array of important topics: busting native speaker myths; talking about postmethod pedagogies; showed the impacts of linguistic imperialism; arguing for just and equitable multilingualism; contending decolonizing language policies and plannings; rejecting raciolinguistic ideologies in language education; liberating language and education from center-centered approaches; and encouraging subaltern educational linguistic scholars to act. They have highly (and still do) inspired me and offered me multiple avenues to think of my work with respect to the role of English in the Pakistani educational context.
Mittal Institute: What are you most looking forward to at Harvard, both professionally and personally?
Liaquat Channa: I see Harvard as the place to grow—to grow in every sense by being a humane professional and a humble human being.
Mittal Institute: What are your aspirations following your fellowship?
Liaquat Channa: I am lucky that I could make it to Harvard. I do want to profusely thank Syed Babar Ali and his family for making the fellowship possible for students like me to be here. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I also want to thank Zehra, my spouse, Dr. Mumtaz Channa, Dr. Razak Channa (a former Syed Babar Ali Fellow), Dr. Syed Abdul Manan, Manoj, Uncle Shaheen, Javaid Aziz Sir, and Latif Sahib for making it easy for me to happily ‘live’ Harvard. After the fellowship, I would want to attempt for writing/editing a book on the themes that I am currently working on and/or am passionate about.