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North America: no ‘one size fits all’ approach to ELT

The days of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to ELT delivery in North America are over but stakeholders predict positive growth for 2024.

Panellists discuss ELT in North America at The PIE Live North America. Photo: Roger Harris Photography

Since before the pandemic, the average student at ILAC has jumped by ten years

Leaders from the ELT sector across North America came together at the PIE Live North America conference to discuss the future of the sector, sharing learner trends and opportunities for growth and recovery.

Christopher Mediratta is president and chief operating officer at ILSC Education Group – which operates language schools in Canada, the US, Australia and India.

Sharing with the audience the recovery comparison across the markets, Mediratta said that its schools in Canada are sitting close to 80% of where they were in terms of student volume prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visa processing challenges in 2023 played a part in the stunting of this growth, said Mediratta, as this led to many bookings that didn’t ultimately come into schools.

“We see the government taking proactive steps in Canada to fix that and we see positive growth coming in 2024,” Mediratta added.

Meanwhile, in Australia, where ILSC Education Group has five locations, Mediratta said schools there are “well in excess” of where they were in 2019 when it comes to student volume, a success he partly puts down to government policy.

“They understand that you start in language and you go on to vocational, where you go on to higher education and that could ultimately be part of a migration pathway. I think Australia has done an exceptional job of that.”

Meanwhile, recovery in the US has been more challenging for its schools – now sitting at around 60% of the student numbers schools experienced pre-pandemic.

At the moment, demand is coming from the long term student that is interested in matriculating onto to higher education pathway partners. However, Mediratta fully expects to see the return of the “short term student” in 2024.

It’s a trend that some are seeing already, not least Haviva Parnes, EnglishUSA past president current head of operations for the US at EC English Language Centres.

High rates of visa refusals to the US has had an impact on the sector and the types of programs students choose to study, said Parnes, often leading to demand for shorter courses and english plus courses that mix language learning and other components ranging from STEM to surfing to dancing.

“The one size fits all of language learning is gone. You can’t just teach general English anymore. That’s that’s not going to cut it.”

Parnes gave the example of EC’s 30+ program, noting that students on this course expect unique content and materials to suit their age.

She also highlighted an increase in students seeking a “full concierge” service including help with housing, activities, tourism, and everything else that falls under the umbrella of what will help them achieve their final goal – whether that be onward study or finding employment in their home country.

“All those different motivations can’t just be lumped into a bucket anymore. We have to really focus on what that student wants, what their motivation is, and how we can really deliver that to them.”

Meanwhile, pre-pandemic to post-pandemic, the average student at ILAC has jumped by ten years, shared Carolyn Bercu, director of strategic pathway partnerships at ILAC Canada.

Bercu never imaged that online learning would become the new norm, even preferable, but said that the pivot to online has granted ILAC access to a new market – or rather a new market access to ILAC.

Online is a phenomenal option, but we do have to have that flexibility for students who want the in-person environment

“They never would have been able to afford to leave their jobs, leave their families, leave their homes, leave their comfort zone to come and study English,” said Bercu, adding that this new student persona is one which has long term goals of higher education and eventually immigration to Canada.

“Now, because of the access to the online, they can finish their job, feed their kids, get the kids to bed and then study online with us. And that’s that’s the trend that’s really stayed.”

Sara Davila, ESL research and assessment policy analyst at IELTS USA, predicts the shift to online is here to stay, and explained how this demand for online and hybrid options translates into assessment too.

“Students are looking for the same level of validity, the same level of quality, the same level of outcomes, and reliability that you would get in an in-person learning environment.

“So they don’t want to give up anything if they’re going to do that assessment online.

“Online is a phenomenal option, but we do have to have that flexibility for students who want the in-person environment, for students who want to be able to come together, to be able to go to a centre where not only do you have privacy, you have human guidance, you have access to the internet, stable power resources,” said Davila.

“Those things are not going to go away.”

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