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Title: Exploring inequalities in English language education in China : a comparative case study of English-major students from a sociological perspective
Author: Yang, Zi
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 9941
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Education plays a vital role in shaping social structures and influencing social mobility in a society, and thus educational equality is a concern for many societies. Considering the compulsory status of English from basic to higher education in China and its symbolic meaning in Chinese society, this study regards it as a window to explore educational inequality and its association with social structures. This study investigates the roles played by family, geographic divide, and institution, and the way in which the three interplay in structuring the educational pathways of individuals and shaping educational inequality. This study describes a qualitative case study of 36 students of different social milieus in an elite university. Data from the case interviews is complemented by classroom observation of three secondary schools within the educational system hierarchy, classroom observation of the elite university, teacher interviews from the four educational institutions, and collected documents. I draw on Bourdieu's conceptual tools of different types of capital, field, and habitus in order to understand the complexity of educational inequality in China. The data present striking differences in the educational trajectories between social groups. The success of higher-SES students is partly ascribed to the richer volume and types of their families' cultural capital, and the inclination for their families to transfer abundant economic capital to their children's embodied cultural capital. The interview data suggest that disadvantaged students rely heavily on formal education and are inscribed with institutional habitus due to the scarcity of educational resources obtained from family. More importantly, for advantaged students, their family, secondary schools (previous field) and the elite university (current field) work together in a consistent way, resulting in a positive momentum that contributes to a sense of belonging and fitting-in to the elite university. On the contrary, for marginalised students, contradictions and disconnections are found between secondary schools and the current elite field in terms of institutional habitus and practices, which to a large extent can be ascribed to the stratified school system and geographic divides. This situation leads to a negative momentum for them, which causes feelings of alienation and a sense of disorientation when encountering the elite field. This academic disorientation is evident in their transitional period. Their habitus is identified by a transformative tendency with easier access to dominant cultural capital and habitus. However, the transformation is circumscribed by their huge efforts made in overcoming the initial difficulties and their families' lack of capital. Some special cases in my study suggest a more equal admission policy and the critical role that institutions play in compensating for a family's lack of capital. This thesis concludes with suggestions for more inclusive practices for institutions and policy makers in China to achieve a more equal educational context.
Supervisor: Brindley, Sue Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: English language education ; Sociology of education ; Second language teaching and learning ; Educational policy ; Higher education