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Deficit Paradigm‏‎ in TEFL

Children GraffittiThe Deficit Paradigm has been used to explain why students misbehave in class and underachieve.

Essentially it means that the reason students perform badly is because they have problems with their families, their backgrounds, their community and/or their culture. They lack certain stabilizing elements and the theory goes that to raise their achievement levels they need to have those missing elements put back.

This is often contrasted with deficiencies in teaching and teachers.

In other words, some educationalists and politicians are saying that it is the fault of the community and the family that a child cannot learn and that it is not the fault of the teaching system. This has been used to justify certain budget decisions by educational authorities.

Deficit Paradigm & TEFL

If you accept the idea of a deficit paradigm, whether it has an impact on TEFL or not is open to debate. According to theory, the deficit paradigm will have an effect on all education and will not single out any specific subject.

This being said it might be worth noting that many students pay to study English in private schools; certainly it is hard to ascribe the deficit paradigm as a cause of learning problems when the student or their family is paying for (and thus presumably supporting) their education.

On the other hand there are students studying English at state school and here there could be a case for bringing up the deficit paradigm. Some of these students will come from poorer or less supportive backgrounds, for example.

What difference does this make to the TEFL teacher? In all honesty, probably very little since the teacher is likely to be able to make very little difference here. If the deficit paradigm does exist and is genuinely the cause of problems in school, then the remedy does not lie with the individual teacher…

Image © Chris Devers

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