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ELT leaders criticise the role of corporations in the sector

The quality of English language teaching globally is being compromised by corporate exam providers, leading ELT experts have said. And the role of teachers is being squeezed by the introduction of more cost effective, technology driven alternatives, they claim.

Scott Thornbury, Paul Seligson, David Graddol, Padmini Boruah, Valéria França, and Julian Kenny at the panel discussion at Regent's University. Photo: The PIE News.

"English is a means to get the job done. Students don’t need the whole package. They certainly don’t need to get to C2"

In a discussion about the future of English language teaching at Regent’s University last week, a panel of international representatives in the field agreed that there is a problem with the “power of corporations”, especially standardised test makers.

“ELT is becoming just another curriculum subject, a profession controlled by testing where corporations are setting their own standards instead of third party testers,” charged David Graddol, director of UK-based The English Company.

“We no longer have course books that are put together by a single, experienced, talented teacher”

“We no longer have course books that are put together by a single, experienced, talented teacher with a vision, who has control over the pacing, the methodology and the approach. That is now being decided by a corporate committee somewhere to fit other kinds of goals and requirements, often standardised testing,” he added.

Paul Seligson, Brazil-based ELT writer agreed. “You no longer see commissioned manuscripts [for course books], they’re being dictated by corporations and telling us as teachers what we’re going to do,” he said.

Elaborating after the event, Graddol added that in a number of countries around the world, national standardised curricula are being put in place, alongside standardised testing, in a bid to improve educational outcomes.

“Those are I suspect being driven largely by corporate interest. They can roll out at scale standardised curriculum online and standardised testing which will work everywhere but governments are struggling politically and in reality to improve educational levels,” he told The PIE News.

Valéria França, president of Braz-Tesol and head of teacher development at Cultura Inglesa S.A. in São Paulo argued that there is no point discussing the future of ELT without understanding how teachers are trained.

Compounding the problem are resources that Brazilians can’t identify with. “Textbooks are being written by Europeans, they’re not relatable to our context,” she argued.

Speaking afterwards, Julian Kenny, chair of the panel and associate director of the Institute of Languages & Culture at Regent’s University London added that an international standard for teacher training that can be implemented on a smaller scale needs to be created.

“It needs to be done in association with people locally, so things are developed there. It’s thinking glocally. That’s what teacher training needs to do,” he told The PIE News.

Graddol also criticised the use of technology by corporations to create flipped classrooms, which he says demote the role of teachers. “It’s squeezing out teachers as unnecessary intermediate costs. The flipped classroom puts what teachers used to do in place where homework was,” he said.

Scott Thornbury, associate professor on the MA TESOL programme at The New School in New York, meanwhile defended the use of technology in ELT distance learning and translation technologies, which he called the elephant in the room.

“Textbooks are being written by Europeans, they’re not relatable to our context”

“We don’t know what’s happening and we need to know. We’re scared it will take our job but they’ll just change. Translation technology isn’t bad news, it can be exciting,” he said.

Meanwhile the role English language plays in the lives of learners is shifting. Padmini Boruah, associate professor in the Development of ELT at Gauhati University in Assam, India, explained that English is no longer considered the language of the elite.

“Now every Indian has ownership of English. It’s very much in our daily lives,” she said. “There’s a consumerist dynamic to ELT learning,” she went on to say. “It’s used as a way to get a job.”

Thornbury also observed that English language learning is being motivated by employability.

“The vast amount of people in the world need English like I need my Microsoft operating system,” he commented.

“I need to be able to manage it but I don’t actually use a 10th of it but I get by. English is a means to get the job done. They don’t need the whole package. They certainly don’t need to get to C2.”

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