Managing Educational Change in a Turbulent Environment
: The ELTSUP Project in Hungary 1991-1998

  • Martin Wedell

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    One result of the political changes in Hungary in 1989-90, was the sudden switch, within state education, from compulsory study of Russian to a free choice of foreign languages. Most pupils (or their parents) opted to study English or German. Opportunities to study these languages in schools had previously been limited, and consequently there was a severe shortage of trained teachers. The English Language Teacher Supply (ELTSUP) project, was established by formal agreement between the British Council and the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture to counter this shortage through the provision of new, three year, initial language teacher training programmes, at nine Hungarian tertiary institutions.

    ELTSUP's rationale, and initial stated wider objectives were principally quantitative; to increase the supply of trained English teachers to the state education system and so the number of students able to learn English. By the mid 1990s, due principally to the 'turbulence' referred to in the title, it was clear that the above aim would not be met. Project objectives, now became qualitative; the integration of three year programme curriculum change into the existing, still largely unchanged, philologically focussed, four and five year language teacher education system.

    The thesis is a longitudinal, single case study. Its aim is to investigate and analyse the educational change process in one ELTSUP institution between 1991 and 1998. From 1993- 1998, the writer was employed by the British Council at the case study institution. He was thus a participant observer (Marshall and Rossman 1989, Yin 1989), throughout the data collection period.

    The research is grounded in educational and organisational change literature, particularly the work of Fullan (1991,1992,1993) Louis and Miles (1992), Whittaker (1993), Harris et al (1997), Pettigrew and Whipp (1991), Hatch (1997), Webb and Cleary (1994), and the qualitative research writings of Lincoln and Guba (1985), Denzin and Lincoln (1994), Erlandson et al (1993), Coffey and Atkinson (1996) and Crossley and Vulliamy (1997). It is an inductive qualitative study, based initially upon 'etic' and later upon "emic 1 issues (Stake 1995), and consequently had a research focus that evolved throughout the two years of the data gathering cycle.

    The three main sources of data are semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and project documents. The core data consists of interviews, carried out in three rounds over a two-year period with those most centrally involved, the 10 Hungarian implementers of the project. In addition, 22 other people closely connected to ELTSUP, at either national or institutional level, were interviewed. Questionnaires, sent out to past and present students, their school
    supervisors and other British Council contract staff in Hungary, were used to provide further evidence about the wider Hungarian environment and to corroborate interview data. As a participant in the changes under investigation the writer had access to all English language project related documentation, throughout the case study period.

    Data was analysed using a two dimensional framework based on Fullan's (1991) chronological division of the stages of the educational change process, Planning- Implementation-Continuation, and the components of any organisational change process suggested by Pettigrew and Whipp (1991), Content, Context and Process. Together these gave a nine cell matrix, allowing data first to be mapped and then analysed, broadly as suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994).

    The main findings include:

    On educational change projects involving more than one educational culture, and where one educational culture is accepted as bringing with it expertise that the other lacks, aims can never remain purely quantitative.

    Qualitative educational change is cultural change. It is therefore complex and takes a long time. It is rare to find measurable, direct evidence of success in the short-term.

    The necessarily long time scale and the unpredictability of the behaviour of the wider The necessarily long time scale and the unpredictability of the behaviour of the wider environment, make detailed advance planning of the change implementation process impracticable.

    Educational change is an evolving and incremental process. The rate and route of change followed throughout the implementation process is likely to be strongly influenced by, often unpredictable, occurrences at all levels of the environment. If change is ever to begin to become part of the wider educational culture beyond the project, local implementers need to be consistently supported throughout their personal change process. For such consistency to be possible, change instigators need, at the initial planning stage, to understand both what is realistically possible and what their roles within the project are likely to be. They thus need, in outline at least, to understand both the micro and wider change environments.

    Environmental assessment need not be complex to be valuable. It does, however, need to be continuously updated to take account of changes in the wider environment. Cultural change is hard work for those experiencing it. Perceptions of its utility can quickly become negative, without tangible recognition for work done, and periods of stability in which to consolidate new skills.
    Change instigators, expecting (and expected) to operate in a world that increasingly seeks rapid, measurable returns on any investment, find most of the above very difficult to accept.

    Date of AwardMay 2000
    Original languageEnglish

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