Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.12B, 28-34
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
Disparity between Ideals and Reality in Curriculum
Construction: The Case of the Lebanese English
Language Curriculum
Kassim Ali Shaaban
English Department, American University of Beir u t, Beirut, Lebanon
Received November 6th, 20 13 ; revised December 6th, 2013; accepted December 15th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Kassim Ali Shaaban. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
2013 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Kassim Ali Shaaban. All Copyright ©
2013 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
This paper describes the disparity between the principles, guidelines, suggested themes, organization,
methodology, classroom activities, and assessment outlined in the thematic, content-based English lan-
guage curriculum adopted by the Lebanese government in 1997 and the classroom realities and other
contextual factors that have hampered its proper implementation. The paper shows that the curriculum is
designed in line with international ESL/EFL standards as it has clear goals, objectives, and performance
indicators as well as sound perspectives on instruction, material selection and adaptation, and evaluation
guidelines. These perspectives are based on widely accepted theoretical views in language acquisition and
best practices in English language education. However, the content-based curriculum normally demands a
high level of language proficiency and content and pedagogical knowledge from teachers, and it is highly
dependent on the availability of adequate resources and ongoing professional development programs. The
educational context in Lebanon still suffers the effects of the 1975-1990 civil war in these areas, which
has made the implementation fraught with all sorts of problems.
Keywords: Content-Based Curriculum; Lebanese Educational Context; Implementation Issues
When committees consisting of academic experts, research-
ers, and practitioners are entrusted by their country’s educa-
tional authorities with the vital task of developing a curriculum
for a certain school subject, they normally start by identifying
the country’s general educational philosophy, its overall devel-
opmental priorities, goals of teaching that subject, and the
available human and physical resources. Their next move
would be to consider international trends and research findings
in their field, model their work after well-known successful
experiences in other contexts, and create a unique product that
is compatible with global educational trends and, at the same
time, addresses the needs and special characteristics of the local
context. No matter how hard committees try to produce an ideal
product, only the process of translating the curriculum into
classroom teaching and learning will reveal if there are glitches
in the system in the form of inherent shortcomings or contextu-
alized implementation problems that need to be addressed. In
most instances, both inherent and contextualized issues emerge.
It is for this reason that educational experts consider curriculum
evaluation as a regular, natural procedure in any educational
context (Bradley, 1985; Brandt, 1981; Eisner, 1979).
Periodic curriculum evaluation is usually carried out in order
to ensure that the educational process of teaching and learning
is proceeding in a smooth manner, that the set educational goals
and instructional objectives are achi eved, and that ti mely reme-
dial measures are introduced to deal with unforeseen problems
and to keep the learning process on track. The process of
evaluation involves collecting in a systematic manner, all per-
tinent information for the purpose of assessing and evaluating
the effectiveness of the curriculum in contributing to successful
learning experiences (Marsh, 2004; Nichols, Shidakar, &
Singer, 2006; A-Jardani, 2012). The task of evaluation could be
entrusted to specialists in the Ministry of Education, external
examiners, or the primary stakeholders (schools, teachers, and
students) among other possible entities. Researchers in the area
of language learning could also be involved in the process on
their own initiative.
Curriculum evaluation includes all aspects of the curriculum
and its implementation: instructional objectives and learning
outcomes; classroom interaction and teaching methodology;
resources and facilities; textbooks and other instructional mate-
rials; teachers; and assessment.
In this paper, we will offer an evaluation of the current Leba-
nese English language curriculum, which has been in place
since 1998, and the issues and problems that have arisen during
the process of implementation. The study will apply content
analysis to the curriculum document and, at the same time,
synthesize and analyze the evaluations of the curriculum by
interested researchers and concerned practitioners (Bell, 1999;
Kripendorff, 1980; Marsh, 2004). The curriculum evaluations
were taken from special reports, journal articles, and theses on
the subject.
Background of Curriculum Development
A new English language curriculum was an urgent need after
the civil war came to an end in 1990. During the civil war, the
whole educational system was in shambles, and every educa-
tional institution was doing things the way it desired without
any supervision or guidance from educational authorities. The
public education system was the main victim of the war as it
reached a state of near collapse (Bashshur, 2004). Private edu-
cational institutions, on the other hand, went through all kinds
of tribulations, but they managed to survive, sustaining minor
damages. The Lebanese government that came to power after
the 1990 Taif Agreement set as its agenda the total develop-
ment and reconstruction of the country; it looked at education
as the means for reconstructing the Lebanese identity and re-
building the Lebanese citizen. The development of new curric-
ula in all subject matter areas, entrusted to the Center for Edu-
cational Research and Development (NCERD) was seen as the
most efficient way of bringing the country up-to-date educa-
tionally and having it rejoin the civilized world (NCERD,
1994). The new curricula were intended to bring about a new
educational order where people come together under one uni-
fied national and educational agenda without restricting the
diversity, openness to other cultures, and creativity that allowed
the country’s institutions to survive, though not unscathed, all
the tough times (NCERD, 1995). In language education, diver-
sity and openness meant moving in the direction of trilingual-
ism through: strengthening the mother tongue, Arabic, as the
symbol of identity; teaching one foreign language as of Grade 1;
and introducing a second foreign language as of Grade 7
(Shaaban & Ghaith, 1999; Diab, 2006; Zakharia, 2010).
The end of the civil war and the introduction of a new recon-
ciliation accord that stressed unity, development and recon-
struction brought to the forefront the importance of the English
language locally, regionally, and internationally (Shaaban,
1997). The traditionally French-educated sectors of society
were demanding English, without giving up French that was
cherished for its historical and cultural value. The curriculum
had to be different from what was before due to the rising needs
for higher levels of proficiency in a globalized world and the
use of the language as a medium of instruction in subject matter
areas. As such, the new English curriculum had to address all
these needs and cater to people’s demands and expectations
regarding the best possible outcomes for English language
teaching and learning. Internationally, the standards and learn-
ing outcomes movement had started to take hold at the time the
development of a new curriculum was being considered, and
espousing its principles and systematic approach would have
been a step in the right direction.
Curriculum Construction
A committee of 35 Lebanese English language and literature
experts and practitioners participated in the project of curricu-
lum development; they consisted of university professors, Min-
istry of Education English language experts, and classroom
teachers. The author served as the General Coordinator of the
project, chairing a Coordinating Committee of 8 members and a
General Committee that added another 26 classroom practitio-
The first task of the General Committee (henceforth the
Committee) was to critically review and evaluate the old cur-
riculum that had been in place since the year 1968; it followed
the audio-lingual approach, which was rooted in behaviorist
psychology. Language learning was thought of as a form of
habit formation achieved through pattern practice and drilling
activities. The approach ignored the development of thinking
and study skills and authentic communication; the absence of
these elements contributed to the development of a language
education system based on memorization (Shaaban, 2005). The
1968 curriculum has not managed to prepare students ade-
quately for the use of English as a medium of instruction in
mathematics and sciences in schools and as the language of
university education in general. It has helped students develop
their basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) but was
not as successful in developing their cognitive academic lan-
guage proficiency (CALP) (see Cummins (1979) for an expla-
nation of the differences between BICS and CALP).
The Coordinating Committee then looked at publications re-
flecting international trends in teaching English as a second/
foreign language. More specifically, the Committee considered
the English National Curriculum in England and Wales (Carter,
1991); the Threshold Level for Modern Language Learning in
Schools (Van Ek, 1991); and the American Council of Teachers
of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines. The
Committee was also fortunate to get access to and consult
the draft of the pre-K-12 TESOL standards that was being
worked upon at the time. The Committee’s ultimate purpose
was to create a curriculum that would incorporate international
trends in ESL/EFL curricula and apply some of its principles
and practices in the Lebanese context in a way that does not
negate the independent character of the curriculum as deter-
mined by the Lebanese context and the immediate needs of the
The Curriculum
The Committee aimed to produce “a working curriculum that
espouses modern theories of foreign language acquisition and
recent trends in curriculum design and teaching methodologies”
(Shaaban & Ghaith, 1997: p. 200). The final product was The
English Language Curriculum which introduced “a thematic,
content-based curriculum that stresses skill integration, coop-
erative learning, autonomy in learning, cultural awareness, and
study habits” (Shaaban, 2005: p. 118). The following pedago-
gical principles provided the guidelines for the curriculum:
Learning language is learning to communicate; language use
varies according to context, academic and other purposes, and
medium; learning language gives exposure to a new culture
allowing for understanding, appreciation, and respect for cul-
tural diversity; effective language learning occurs when stu-
dents engage in meaningful, purposeful, and relevant tasks; and
integrated language skills make for better learning (NCERD,
1998: p. 5).
Structure of Curriculum
Goals and Ob je ct i ves
Three goals were set for the curriculum: social interpersonal
communication: academic achievement, and social-cultural
Open Access 29
interaction. These goals were translated into seven objectives:
interpersonal communication; academic communication; pre-
paration for college; critical thinking; intercultural understand-
ing and appreciation; positive attitudes towards target language
and culture; and working with others. These objectives were
then turned into measurable learning outcomes and labeled as
performance tasks.
The basic idea behind having a thematic, content-based cur-
riculum was that “integrating and organizing instruction around
meaningful themes would be effective in achieving the com-
municative, social, and academic goals set for teaching English
in the country” (Shaaban & Ghaith, 1997: pp. 200-201). In choos-
ing themes for the curriculum, there was a deliberate decision
to choose socially and developmentally appropriate themes
taken from the learners’ immediate learning context, such as the
self and the other, family and friends, and the neighborhood in
the lower classes, and gradually moving into more encompass-
ing themes that constitute part of the learners’ expanding
awareness of the world they live in and the issues of close rele-
vance to their lives, such as knowledge society, mass commu-
nication, new discoveries, the environment, human rights and
so forth at the higher levels. Some of the themes, such as the
environment and discoveries, would be readdressed in higher
classes to be dealt with in more depth.
“The curriculum aimed at involving learners in their own
learning by engaging them in meaningful and interactive per-
formance tasks as they acquire a wide range of language forms,
structures, and functions needed for immediate success in an
all-English curriculum at all levels of instruction” (Shaaban &
Ghaith, 1997: p. 201).
Integration of language and content was to be achieved
through using “the two approaches of parallel scheduling and
thematic units proposed by Block (1993)” (Shaaban & Ghaith,
1997: p. 202). Parallel scheduling and thematic units do not
require much coordination on the part of the ESL and subject
matter teachers; teachers may teach the same or similar topics
of study but assess each subject separately. Integration serves
the purpose of helping students build strong background
knowledge about a certain topic, see it from different perspec-
tives and in different genres, and develop significant linguistic
and academic knowledge and skills.
In order to encourage classroom interaction and communica-
tion, the curriculum suggested the use of cooperative learning
(CL) teams of mixed abilities in carrying out learning activities
in the classroom. “Essentially, cooperative learning constitutes
a series of pro-social learning structures, which involve learn-
ers’ working together in order to achieve some common goals
according to the principles of simultaneous interaction, positive
interdependence, individual accountability, and team reward”
(Shaaban & Ghaith, 1997: p. 202).These pro-social structures
have been reported by CL scholars and researchers to promote
social interaction, self-confidence, active student engagement,
and academic achievement (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Slavin,
1990; Kagan, 1992). The CL “Learning Together” model of the
Johnsons and the Structural model of Kagan were adopted be-
cause of their being easy to grasp and apply by the faculty and
students. Emphasis was on the use of context-free student in-
teractive structures such as find someone who, talking tokens,
mixer review, numbered heads, inside-outside circle, round
robin, think-pair-share, three-way interview, student teams
achievement divisions (STAD), jigsaw I and II, and Co-Op
Co-Op (for more details on these and other CL structures, see
Kagan (1992); Shaaban & Ghaith (2005)).
In terms of language teaching methodology, the curriculum
committee recommended that the communicative goals of the
curriculum could be best realized through the adoption of com-
prehension-based approaches to foreign language teaching such
as the Total Physical Response (TPR) (Asher, 2009), the Natu-
ral Approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983), and the Language
Experience Approach (Dixon & Nessel, 1983) due to the im-
portant role of input in the acquisition and mastery of all skill
modalities, especially at the lower levels of proficiency.
Instructional Materials
The curriculum recommended that material writers and teach-
ers receive training in how to select and adapt instructional
materials that could be extracted from a variety of sources. The
ultimate purpose is to have instructional materials that are ap-
propriate to learners’ age, interest, and culture; taken from au-
thentic sources, representing different genres and modes of
spoken and written language; exploitable by teachers and stu-
dents, and, above all, relevant to the theme under study (Brin-
ton, Snow, &Wesche, 1989). The Committee provided samples
for material developers to follow, emphasizing the need to se-
lect texts from different genres (newspaper and television re-
ports, essays, debates, movies, art work, documentaries, etc…)
and from various sources (encyclopedias, textbooks, magazines,
videos, live debates, etc…).
The main principle followed in assessment in the new cur-
riculum is that tests should “include texts and activities which
mirror as closely as possible those which students have been
exposed to and/or are likely to meet in their future target situa-
tions” (Weir, 1993: p. 65). Another principle was that traditional
tests that engender anxiety in students should be avoided and
replaced by alternative assessment techniques that are part and
parcel of the teaching process. This principle is easy to follow
as the Lebanese curriculum has adopted the principle of auto-
matic promotion in grades 1 - 3 and facilitated promotion in
grades 4 - 6; this would allow classroom teachers a great degree
of freedom in evaluating their students as long as they help
them attain the objectives set in the curriculum. The teacher can
thus use a variety of methods of assessment, especially those
that fall under the heading of “alternative assessment” in addi-
tion to traditional assessment techniques (for more on assess-
ment in elementary school in Lebanon, see Shaaban (2000)). In
higher classes, teachers were called upon to ask questions that
require students to provide descriptions, personal interpreta-
tions, analysis, and critical and creative judgments. Teachers
were also encouraged to use performance testing whenever
possible. Finally, tests need to be based on the instructional
objectives and performance tasks identified in the curriculum
for each grade.
Curriculum Reality as Seen by Practitioners
If we go by official documents and reports, we can safely
Open Access
assume that neither the Ministry of Education nor NCERD has
carried any evaluation or revision of the curriculum since its
introduction in 1998. The analysis presented below is partly
based on my own observations as an English Language special-
ist who had been heavily involved in the process of curriculum
development and in many conversations with practitioners who
had attended teacher-training workshops conducted by the
American University of Beirut. I have also consulted published
reports, research articles, and theses.
The review of available materials and conversations with
stakeholders revealed that there are controversies, if not out-
right problems, in the following areas: Structure of the curricu-
lum; goals and objectives; use of cooperative learning as a
framework for classroom interaction; themes around which
lessons are built; methods of teaching; teacher training oppor-
tunities and practices; the quality of the textbooks produced by
NCERD; and the availability of needed resources and facilities.
Structure of the Curriculum
There was near unanimity among scholars and researchers
that the new curriculum is a step in the right direction as it is
has taken into account local needs, international trends, and
second language acquisition research (Bacha & Bahous, 2010;
Esseili, 2011; Ghaith & Shaaban, 1999). An evaluative report
of the English as a first foreign language curriculum prepared
by the Lebanese Association for Educational Studies (LAES)
praised the curriculum’s underlying principles and methodol-
ogy (LAES, 2002). Ghaith & Shaaban (1999) described the
curriculum as “the first serious, systematic effort that has pre-
sented a detailed plan for English language teaching in Leba-
non” (p. 360). However, they warned that “after years of disso-
ciation from advances and new theories in English language
teaching and learning, the English language teachers might find
the curriculum overwhelming, ambitious, and even discourag-
ing as it comprises principles, con- cepts, expressions, and prac-
tices that are totally unfamiliar to them” (p. 361).
Goals and Objectives
Most researchers and scholars considered that the organiza-
tion of the curriculum into goals, instructional objectives, and
performance tasks at the cycle level as well as at the grade level
is in line with the communicative approach to language teach-
ing and learning (Esseili, 2011; Ghaith & Shaaban, 1999;
Shaaban; 2005). The introduction of thinking skills, study skills,
and cultural awareness were also considered positive develop-
ments. However, the goals and objectives were criticized by
LAES (2002) on the grounds that “the extensive emphasis on
academic language learning for the purposes of higher edu-
cation reflects an underlying philosophy that places higher
value on tertiary education than vocational and technical educa-
tion” (p. 273). The report adds that “The Curriculum objectives
do not sufficiently reflect the language learning needs of the
noncollege bound students heading for the workplace, where
English language skills are becoming increasingly important (p.
273). Another criticism leveled at the curriculum was that
“some objectives hierarchically at a higher level are, in fact, ei-
ther the same as lower level objectives or subordinate to them”
(LAES, 2002: p. 274).
There is a great deal of truth in the first two remarks, and any
future curriculum revisions should make sure to address them.
As for the third point regarding repeated objectives, it is obvi-
ous that the researcher has overlooked the curriculum’s clear
statement that “the curriculum … is going to be spiral in nature.
The same concepts and skills will be taught at various times
across the grades, but with increasing levels of complexity and
sophistication as we move up” (NCERD, 1998: p. 6).
Cooperative Learning
CL as a systematic approach to managing student group
work was found to be difficult to apply after only a short pro-
gram of training. According to the participants in a study by
Sab ‘ayon (2012), most teachers in public schools were asked
to apply CL without understanding its principles or receiving
proper training in its classroom applications leaving them one
option which is “to rely on … the images of their previous lan-
guage teachers and the teaching trend followed in the school”
(p. 116).
The report by LAES, (2002) states that CL is useful for
groups of mixed ethnicity and linguistic background, but it
poses problems in classes of students who share the same lan-
guage background because in this case “any potential commu-
nication problems can be resolved using the mother tongue,
making negotiation of meaning, a key aspect of second lan-
guage learning, in English unnecessary” (LAES, 2002: p. 272).
The report also points out that since the curriculum calls for
learner-centered classes, students replace the teacher as models
for English pronunciation, grammar, and expression for their
In fact, these two issues raised would not be problematic if
the dynamics of CL are applied properly. In the first case, the
teacher, who is viewed in CL as a facilitator, should ensure that
English is used to carry out classroom activities. The concern in
the second case is unfounded since the teacher is always there
as a resource person and a facilitator. Furthermore, since the
groups are heterogeneous in terms of language proficiency,
students in the team who have a relatively high proficiency
could serve as good models for their peers.
One of the criticisms of the curriculum in the 2002 LAES
report is that there are too many themes in some grades and not
enough themes in others: 2 - 6 themes in primary grades, 13
themes in some intermediate grades, and 19 themes in grade 10.
It was argued that the fewer the themes, the easier it is to de-
velop thematic units that form a coherent whole and to provide
for both horizontal (across themes) and vertical (across grade
levels) linkages that will make learning more meaningful.
One of the issues the author raised in his report to the
NCERD Director was that the writing teams totally misunder-
stood the stand of the curriculum regarding the themes. It was
envisioned in the curriculum that students in primary grades
needed to develop concepts, attitudes, and values in addition to
learning content. As these concepts, skills and values are essen-
tial, sticking to few particular themes and dealing with them in
depth was recommended. Furthermore, at all levels, material
writers and teachers could concentrate on some themes rather
than others after engaging the students themselves in the choice.
The high number of themes was meant to allow teachers, mate-
rial writers and students to make choices. Unfortunately, many
teachers and coordinators looked at these themes as the only
Open Access 31
possible ones and tried to work with all of them; such a practice
defeats the purpose of using themes. Again, this is an area that
calls for revision in the curriculum to clarify things and maybe
avoid confusing practitioners by allowing too many choices.
Another issue raised in the literature was that of coordination
between English and subject matter teachers. Teachers have
reported that there is no coordination with subject matter teach-
ers regarding which themes to exploit or how each teacher
would present instructional materials. Again, this is another
weakness that needs to be redressed.
Shaaban & Ghaith (1999) remarked that the disparity between
the curriculum and the NCERD textbooks was a very serious
problem the teachers had to face on a daily basis. They added
that “overreliance on texts from encyclopedias in some grades,
absence of scope and sequence and gradation, scarcity of coop-
erative learning activities, and no clear evidence of exercises
promoting critical thinking and study skills are all examples of
serious deviations in textbooks from the curriculum plan” (p.
361). In fact, there is lack of scope and sequence among text-
books and within the same textbook as a result of the lack of
coordination among textbook writing committees in different
cycles and among those working on the same cycle.
Orr (2011) observed that state schools use national text-
books [developed by NCERD]. In contrast … private schools
usually prefer imported texts … which they claim are more
appropriate; a belief not always substantiated” (p. 3). Both im-
ported and local books do not seem to be compatible with the
Lebanese context. Esseili (2011) remarked that for the private
and public school teachers she had interviewed for her Ph.D.
study, the main challenge was the textbook. As the curriculum
allowed for the use of any instructional materials as long as
they serve the curricular objectives, some schools used books
prepared by foreign publishers, others used textbooks produced
by publishing houses and the majority used the books produced
by NCERD. Private school teachers felt that decisions on book
adoption were top-down and not based on any objective criteria.
The teachers felt that “students’ needs and background in addi-
tion to teacher qualifications are not taken into account”
(Esseili, 2011: p. 133). Books intended for use in the USA (an
ESL context) were imported lock, stock, and barrel for use in
the Lebanese context (EFL). “Educational objectives in these
textbooks were designed for an American, not Lebanese, audi-
ence; were created to meet US assessment tests, not Lebanese
official exit tests; and included classroom assessment materials
for US, not Lebanese, teachers” (Esseili, 2011: p. 133). Further-
more, teachers felt that the books were culturally inappropriate
introducing themes the teachers themselves do not understand,
such as “garage sale”, “western life”, “US currency”, and
“American folk traditions.” Needless to say, these textbooks do
not fit a Lebanese content-based EFL program, as the topics
about history, geography, and local traditions do not match with
the same topics in other subject matter c u r ricula.
Regarding textual content in textbooks, one of the major
principles guiding the curriculum was that the themes and texts
to be explored should relate to the students’ immediate envi-
ronment and be developmentally appropriate, especially in the
elementary classes;“the choice of themes for each grade took
into account the topics taught in other subject areas in addition
to interest level and developmental and intellectual characteris-
tics of the age group” (Shaaban, 2000: p. 308).Adoption of
books meant for use in the US or any other country outside
Lebanon would be in violation of this essential principle and
curriculum guidelines. Skipping such culture-specific topics or
adapting them from a comparative cultural perspective could
help decrease the negative impact of the topics.
As for public school teachers, the problem was that the text-
books called Themes, the NCERD books they were using, were
put together by people who have not been involved in textbook
writing before. A look at the books shows clearly that there is
no clear scope and sequence and no gradual development in
structure and theme complexity. In one book, for instance, all
the selections were taken from Encarta. When the author wrote
to the NCERD Director a report that was critical of the “flat” or
“chaotic” organizational structure of the textbooks, the latter’s
response was that he was aware of the existence of such prob-
lems but that the imposed time constraints left no room for
drastic revisions.
Esseili (2011) stated that the public school teachers viewed
the NCERD textbooks as “total failure”, “worthless”, and “not
enough to create a solid foundation in the English language” (p.
Teachers’ Qualifications and Professional
There is much talk in the literature about Lebanese English
language teachers’ English language proficiency and their pre-
service and in-service professional preparation and develop-
ment. The author himself has conducted in the 1990s inservice
training workshops for EFL elementary school teachers in re-
mote areas of Lebanon and found that the teachers were having
difficulty understanding what he was saying and asking him to
speak in Arabic. As a result, he recommended to NCERD that
such teachers should receive language training before any at-
tempt to teach them methodology; the result was a single brief
experiment of offering 35 teachers 65 hours of English. The
experiment was considered helpful despite its brevity, but it
was deemed too costly to continue. The reasons for these prob-
lems is that about 40 percent of these teachers do not have a BA
in English Language and/or Literature and the percentage of
MA holders who could serve as coordinators and leaders is
rather small (13%) (Orr, 2011: p. 6). Orr reports also that an
average of 12 percent have not received any in-service training
whatsoever (p. 7).
Najwa Sab ‘Ayon (2012) conducted her research on the cur-
rent state of the teaching of English in Lebanon on public High
School teachers whose teacher certification “Kafa’a” is usually
done at the College of Education at the Lebanese University.
She concluded that these teachers start their professional ca-
reers on the wrong foot as the program of study for their Eng-
lish language Teaching Certificate is characterized by “margin-
alizing the observation and practicum parts of the program as
well as emphasizing the theoretical, traditional content of the
course and the trainers’ adoption of the same traditional teach-
ing methods” (p. 117).
The situation of EFL Professional development in private
schools is a little better as teachers normally come from elite
English-medium universities where they receive training in new
methods of teaching, including communicative teaching and
cooperative learning with a strong practical component in the
form of observation and internship. Furthermore, their schools
Open Access
provide professional development, though in a sporadic, non-
systematic way. Nabhani and Bahous (2010) studied the pro-
fessional development activities private school teachers were
involved in and concluded that they were not effective. Partici-
pants in the study described these workshops as “fragmented,
inapplicable in the classroom in terms of time and space con-
straints, and inconvenient as they are almost always scheduled
after a school day. Another complaint voiced by the participants
was about the lack of follow-up by supervisors or experienced
colleagues on applying what had been learnt (Nabhani & Ba-
hous, 2010: p. 207).
Orr (2011), who himself has been part of teacher training ac-
tivities in Lebanon, described these activities, in both public
and private schools, as too theoretical in nature. He added that
“given the predisposition to focus on theory, it seems unfortu-
nate that in-service training does not seem to take full advan-
tage of the opportunity to make the link to practical classroom
application. The same problem was noted with pre-service the-
ory classes at university…. The problem here seems to be one
of failing to situate the learning in actual classroom practice” (p.
11). Orr (2011) reported also that in his experience in Lebanon
as a trainer and an observer, professional development “provid-
ers often make decisions based on guesswork and predeter-
mined ideas and materials, rather than extensive knowledge of
the people who will receive training or feedback from training”
(p. 2).
Though this situation is not unique to Lebanon, it remains a
major issue that needs to be addressed if the curriculum is to
achieve its set goals and objectives because the teacher remains
the most pivotal element in the teaching and learning process
(Egbert, 2006; Reid, 1999).
Teaching Methods and Techniques
According to Sab ‘Ayon (2012), the teachers whose classes
she observed seemed to be operating totally outside the pe-
rimeters set by the curriculum in terms of teaching methods or
classroom management. She reported that “the participants
drew mostly on traditional methods with few instances of group
activities, not all of which were successful or achieved the ob-
jective” (p. 117)… She also wrote about some disturbing disci-
plinary practices such as resorting“to their negative images of
strict harsh teachers when punishing their students such as ask-
ing students to stand up in the corner of the classroom or to
copy the reading text three to four times on paper” (p.117).
One criticism of the curriculum in the area of methodology is
that the guidelines for how to integrate skills were not clear.
Some practitioners even questioned the cultural awareness
principle and suggested that in the age of globalization and the
growth of English in the periphery, one should concentrate on
the students’ culture (Esseili, 2011). This attitude is not helpful
as exposure to other cultures is a natural occurrence if teachers
use authentic materials from the center and if literature is used
as a source of thematic texts, which the curriculum encourages
(Nasr, 2001).
Resources and Facilities
The curriculum encourages the use of audiovisual aids, a
computer laboratory, an LCD projector, and the Internet and
other digital devices. While the acquisition of all these aids may
not be problematic for many private schools, other schools,
especially public schools do not place them on their list of pri-
The curriculum also calls for the adoption of CL as a frame-
work of classroom interaction. But in many schools, this could
be rendered impossible on account of very large classes and
seating issues (Esseili, 2011). Yaghi (2012) reported that “most
public schools are traditional with classes organized in rows
because, in most cases, they … do not provide enough room for
group-focused classes or interactive patterns” (p. 152). Simi-
larly, Esseili (2011) reported that teachers in her study com-
plained about the lack of resources at their schools. Some of the
teaching units require the use of multimedia, but these schools
have “no LCD screens, computer labs, or sound systems” (p.
Although the curriculum calls for an assessment of all skills,
teachers are interested in grammar, vocabulary, reading and
writing only as these are the skills and language elements tested
on official national examinations. As a result students’ listening
comprehension and speaking abilities, especially in public
schools, are not adequately developed. Furthermore, teachers
are unhappy that grammar explicit teaching is delayed till
Grade 4 because they feel that they need to prepare students for
the official examinations early in the process of language
learning (Anonymous, n.d.).
On the basis of the points raised above, it can be concluded
that, despite the fact that the Lebanese English language cur-
riculum has been developed by language experts and classroom
practitioners in line with international standards, many factors
in the Lebanese context have hampered its effective implemen-
tation. The fact of the matter is that Lebanese high school
graduates, especially from public high schools, have low profi-
ciency levels in English. Sab ‘Ayon attributes this weakness to
one possible explanation: the poor implementation of the cur-
ricular reforms … and the use of more traditional teacher-cen-
tered practices of teaching instead” (p. 120). But it is really
more than that. It is the clarity and accessibility of the curricu-
lum’s principles, objectives, methods, and assessment; the
quality of teachers; the instructional materials; assessment; the
periodic, systematic revisions of the curriculum; and the will-
ingness of schools and educational authorities to commit to
long-term investment in human and material resources.
It is important to note that, after 15 years of implementation,
no serious measures have been taken to address the issues iden-
tified and raised by practitioners. The curriculum designers
stressed repeatedly the experimental nature of the curriculum
and the need to introduce revisions based on feedback from
practitioners, experts, and researchers. It is also equally impor-
tant to stress that it is not too late for curriculum revisions on
the basis of reports from the field. It is never late for putting in
place a systematic, continuous, professional development pro-
gram; for introducing technology into English language teach-
ing; for revising textbooks to ensure smooth gradation within
the various units in a grade and from one grade to another; and
for dealing with many other issues that are bound to come up in
a dyn amic syste m .
It is commendable that the Lebanese educational authorities
Open Access 33
Open Access
are moving in the direction of trilingualism and introducing
modern curricula for that purpose. However, there is fear that
the already existing gap between rich and poor, symbolized by
the gap between elite private and missionary schools, on the
one hand, and public and commercially-motivated and run
schools, on the other, is widening. The resultant deepening
socioeconomic schism could create resentment that could lead
to violence that threatens the fiber and fragile unity of Lebanese
society. The government needs to work hard on rehabilitating
the public educational sector to allow it to attain some degree of
parity with the private sector; if this is not done, foreign lan-
guage education, and especially English language education
could turn into a tool of discrimination rather than a vehicle for
enlightenment and national development. Developing or revis-
ing curricula to provide learning goals and objectives, method-
ology, teaching faculty, facilities, and tools of implementation
that are accessible to all is the key to societal harmony and
Al-Jardani, K. S. (2012). English language curriculum evaluation in
Oman. International Journa l of English Linguistics, 2, 40-44.
Asher, J. (2009). Learning another language through actions (7th ed.).
Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Pro duc tio ns.
Bacha, N. N., & Bahous, R. (2011). Foreign language education in Le-
banon: A context of cultural and curricular complexities. Journal of
Language Teaching and Re s ea rch , 2, 1320-1328.
Bashshur, M. (2004). Higher education in the Arab states. Beirut:
Unesco Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States.
Bell, J. (1999). Doing your research project (3rd ed.) Buckinghamshire:
Block, C. (1993) Teaching the language ar ts: Expanding thinking through
student centered instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Bradley, L. H. (1985). Curriculum leadership and development hand-
book. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Brandt, R. S. (Ed.). (1981). Applied strategies for curriculum evalua-
tion. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Brinton, D. M., Snow, M. A., & Wesche, M. B. (1989). Content-based
second language instruction. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
Carter, R. (1991) The national curriculum for English. London: The
British Council.
Cummins, J. (1979). Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguis-
tic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other mat-
ters. Working Papers on Bilingualism, 19, 121-129.
Diab R. (2006). University students’ beliefs about learning English and
French in Lebanon. Sy ste m, 34 , 80-96.
Dixon, C. N., & Nessel, D. (l983). Language experience approach to
reading (and writing). Hayward, CA: Alemany Press.
Egbert J. (2006). Learning in context: Situating language teacher learn-
ing in CALL. In P. Hubbard,& M. Levy (Eds.), Teacher education in
CALL (pp. 167-181). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Eisner, E. W. (1979). The educational imagination: On the design and
evaluation of school progr a ms . New York: Macmillan.
Esseili, F. (2011). English in Lebanon: Implications for national iden-
tity and language po l i c y. Ed.D. Dissertation, Purdue University.
Ghaith, G., & Shaaban, K. (1999). The prospects and problems of the
new Lebanese English language curriculum. In F. Ayoub (Ed.), The
new curricula in Lebanon: Evaluative review (pp. 351-364). Beirut:
Lebanese Association for Educational Stu d i e s .
Johnson D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1989). Cooperation and competition:
Theory and research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.
Kagan, S. (1992) Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Re-
sources for Teachers Inc.
Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). The natural approach: Lan-
guage acquisition in the classroom. New York: Pergam on Press.
Kripendorff, K. (1980). Content analysis: An introduction to its meth-
odology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lebanese Association for Educational Studies (LAES) (2002). The
English as a first foreign language curriculum. In Evaluation of the
new educational curricula in Lebanon: Assessing objectives, struc-
ture, and lesson distribu ti on (pp. 272-307). Beirut: Author.
Marsh, C. (2004). Key concepts in understanding curriculum (3rd ed.).
London: Routledge Falmer.
Nabhani, M., & Bahous, R. (2010), Lebanese teachers’ views on con-
tinuing professional development. Teacher Development, 14, 207-
Nasr, N. (2001). The use of poetry in TEFL: Literature in the new
Lebanese curriculum. CAUCE, Revista de Filologia y su Didactica,
24, 345-363.
NCERD (1995). New framework for education in Lebanon. Beirut:
NCERD (1994) Plan for educational reform. Beirut: Author.
NCERD (1998). The English language curriculum. Beirut: Author.
Nichols, B., Shidakar, G., & Singer, K. (2006). Managing curriculum
and assessment: A practical guide. Ohio: Linw orth Books.
Orr, M. (2011). Learning to teach English as a foreign language in
Lebanon. Near and Middle Eastern Journal of Education, 2, 1-14.
Reid, D. (1999). Investigating teachers’ perceptions of the role of the-
ory in initial teacher training through Q methodology. Mentoring and
Tutoring, 7, 241-255.
Saba ‘Ayon, N. (2012). Lebanese English as a foreign language teach-
ers conceptions of teaching and their practice in Lebanese public
high schools. DPhil Thesis, University of Sussex.
Shaaban, K. (1997). Bilingual education in Lebanon. In J. Cummins, &
D. Carson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of education. Vol. V: Bilingual edu-
cation (pp. 251-259). The Netherlands: Kluwer Publications.
Shaaban, K. (2000). Assessment of young learners’ achievement in ESL
classes in the Lebanon. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 13, 306-
Shaaban, K. (2005). English language teaching in Lebanon: Challenges
for the future. In G. Braine (Ed.), Teaching English to the world:
History, curriculum and practice (pp. 103-113). Mahwah, NJ: Law-
rence Erlbaum Associates Incorporated.
Shaaban, K., & Ghaith, G. (1997). An integrated approach to foreign
language learning in Lebanon. Language, Culture and Curriculum,
10, 200-207.
Shaaban, K., & Ghaith, G. (1999). Lebanon’s language-in-education
policies: From bilingualism to trilingualism. Language Problems and
Language Planning, 23, 1-16.
Shaaban, K., & Ghaith, G. M. (2005). The theoretical relevance and
efficacy of using cooperative learning in the ESL/EFL classroom.
TESL Reporter, 3 8, 14-28.
Slavin, R. (1990). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and prac-
tice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
TESOL (1997). ESL standards for pre-K-12 students. Alexandria, VA:
Van Ek, J. A. (1991) The threshold level for modern language learning
in schools. Malaysia: Longman.
Weir, C. (1993). Understanding and developing language tests. New
York: Prentice Hall.
Yaghi, R. (2012). Lebanon: A personal journey from professional de-
velopment to GIS implementation in an English language classroom.
In A. J. Milson, A. Demirci, & J. Kerski (Eds.), International per-
spectives on teaching and learning with GIS in secondary schools
(pp. 151-156). New York: Springer.
Zakharia Z. (2010). Language-in-education policies in contemporary
Lebanon: Youth perspectives. In O. Abi-Mershed (Ed.), Trajectories
of education in the Arab world: Legacies and challenges (pp. 156-
184). New York: Routledge.