Main Theme

Rethinking policy and practice for English in complex linguistic landscapes 

We are excited to be bringing the New Directions in Language Assessment conference to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.  Africa is young, vibrant and linguistically rich: there are over 750 million people from diverse cultures, 70% of the population is under 30 years of age, and with a linguistic spectrum of over 2,000 language varieties, the continent has some of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world. Embarking on a new era in innovation, trade and education, new generation Africans are leveraging their linguistic repertoires to create opportunities and open doors for themselves and their communities. 

The New Directions conference aims to explore language and language assessment within this complex context, and to understand the challenges and opportunities for language assessors and language education reform. The conference aims to connect stakeholders in the region with counterparts from around the world and provide a platform for the exchange of ideas between policy makers, academics, and educators at global, regional and local levels. In particular, New Directions sub-Saharan Africa 2024 seeks to showcase innovative language testing and policy work in the region and put sub-Saharan scholars and practitioners on the international language learning and assessment map. 

Join us in Nairobi, Kenya, from 24-26 September 2024 for an exciting event driven by discussion on the power of policy, the role of English and English assessment in a complex linguistic context, and how language assessment can reflect and support positive change. 


Moving the Needle: Influencing assessment policy to serve multilingual communities 

The focus of our overarching theme for the conference is language policy and language assessment policy in the context of complex linguistic landscapes such as sub-Saharan Africa. What consequences do language use and education policies have on learners and the education systems in this environment? How can assessment policies reflect and strengthen the linguistic capital of Africa? How can research influence policy making and decisions around tests and testing? 

The Now Narrative of Africa: English and modern African identities 

Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want sets out ambitious goals that include an African virtual and e-university, Encyclopaedia Africana, and the recently established African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Africans are talking to each other and talking to the world, and young Africans infuse the many languages they speak with their own diverse identities, forward looking and not rooted in past legacies. This strand explores what English means to Africans and the role it has to play in modern African identity, considering in particular how English language testing can reflect this and how it can be leveraged as a passport to opportunities within and beyond the region. 

Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want


Linguistic chameleons: Multilingualism and plurilingualism opportunities and challenges 

The linguistic repertoire of African speakers manifests itself within and across communities (multilingualism) and within individual speakers of diverse languages (plurilingualism). Plurilingual Africans navigate multiple languages and language communities as the linguistic landscape changes. These linguistic chameleons adapt to an array of communication contexts to blend in and make meaning by drawing on their linguistic inventory and cultural competencies. The African concept of Ubuntu translanguaging (Makalela, 2016) recognises this interdependency between different languages and ways of knowing: in multilingual contexts, one language is not complete without the others. This sub-theme considers how the valuable communicative skills of multilingual and plurilingual speakers can be reflected in language assessment and drawn on in the learning process, the challenges of multilingual testing, and how learners can adapt to monolingual test demands when necessary. 

Technology and language assessment and learning in Africa: A double-edged sword 

Weak and limited infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa has led to early adoption of technology such as mobile phones and this opens up potential solutions for language testing and learning for millions across the continent. This is frequently counteracted by a number of challenges such as computer literacy skills, high barriers to internet and hardware access, and international payment difficulties in some countries. 

Pre-conference day 

On Tuesday, 24 September 2024, we will be running a range of activities aimed at teachers and educators, as well as main conference participants who might be interested in the topics we aim to explore. These range from practical application of language assessment principles and technology in the classroom, to access and equity in research in the area of language teaching, learning and assessment. 

Empowering stakeholders: Community engagement and access  

In the lead up to the main conference, we consider language assessment stakeholder empowerment from two broad perspectives: drawing people into the discussion and giving them a voice; and providing access to learning and platforms on which to share their research and knowledge. In the first instance, stakeholder engagement from an African perspective is widely consultative and iterative, no less so in terms of education policy and assessment reform and we explore examples of this in practice. Secondly, accessibility to academic literature, research outputs, and assessment literacy is limited for many in the region, while African scholars face obstacles to sharing their work and accessing platforms for international exposure. Experts and practitioners in these areas will be sharing their experience and expertise on a number of topics including: 

  • Stakeholder engagement practices and outcomes  
  • Open Science and Open Access initiatives for the region  
  • Efforts to bring African scholars into the wider language assessment professional community 

A focus on teachers 

Educators are at the chalk face of successful language learning and knowledge of assessment and technology equips them to positively impact their students’ learning trajectory and skills for future employability. We offer a range of practical workshops specifically aimed at teachers addressing topics that include: 

  • Performance testing in the classroom 
  • Leveraging technology for assessment for learning in and out of the classroom 
  • Assessing young learners 
  • Item writing for teachers