Obstacles to bilingual education

A case study of policy appropriation in a lower secondary school

  • Osa Lundberg
Keywords: Bilingual education, Policy implementation in education, Formulation- realization- and transformation- arenas


The purpose of this paper is to present some of the main findings from my thesis (Lundberg, 2015) that concern the policy formulation and implementation of bilingual education in a multi-ethnic lower secondary school in an urban suburb in Gothenburg, Sweden. This school was strategically chosen for its pedagogical approach towards social and linguistic diversity1. This article examines the formulation and appropriation of a bilingual and bicultural education program and what obstacles exist with regards to implementation of bilingual education in the realization arena. The theoretical impetus comes from the sociology of knowledge which examines how social policy connects to social practice by applying the concepts of formulation, realization and transformation (Lindensjö & Lundgren, 2000). Data was derived from interviews and participant observations between 2006 and 2009 with three different ninth grade classes from same school. The results show that in the formulation arena the policy was in favor of active bilingualism (a holistic and comprehensive approach throughout the curriculum), strong support for mother tongue education, and creating in students a bicultural identity. However, in the realization arena, the bilingual education program was reduced to the employment of bilingual teachers who provided mother tongue tuition. Support for the bicultural and multilingual development of students’ language and culture was never fully incorporated into the ordinary teaching and instruction. This was due in part to obstacles in the formulation and realization arenas (Lindensjö & Lundgren, 2000). Five types of obstacles to the appropriation of bilingual education were observed. Two primary obstacles in the formulation arena were 1) a strong separation of languages, and 2) bilingual teachers as representatives of diversity. In the realization arena the following three obstacles were observed: 1) teacher resistance to polylingual education, 2) insufficient study support for mother tongue tuition, and 3) a monolingual norm. In sum, the overriding obstacle is an overall lack of consensus about the aim and purpose of bilingual education. The discussion develops issues concerning the gap between what should be versus what could be in both the formulation and realization arenas (Lundberg, 2015).
How to Cite
Lundberg, O. (2017). Obstacles to bilingual education: A case study of policy appropriation in a lower secondary school. Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies, 11(3), 29-54. https://doi.org/10.17011/apples/urn.201712104583