Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
The future of ELT is a common topic in our house — no, really — so I was happy I was going to be able to catch the Future of ELT panel hosted by Regent’s University. Happy, that is, until I actually tuned in and watched and listened with mounting disbelief. The future of ELT looked distinctly like the past and the present and, as then, was dominated by the male voice.
In order to get to the speakers, you had to stay awake through twenty minutes of the most uninspiring intro and then a video about Regent’s. On stage were three men and the male host. Two women were beamed in via Skype. If anything showed that the future of ELT doesn’t lie in technology it was the appallingly bad Skype connection to Padmini Boruah in India which left her unable to hear and often operating on a delay so back and forth flowed badly. She was eventually able to present her points and then hand over to the panel Q & A which she couldn’t hear. Valeria Franca in Brazil seemed to be trying to keep her up to date by typing summaries and, at one point, summarised verbally something Dave Graddol had commented.
Why was someone from the event not doing this? Instead an expert speaker who, as women so often do, facilitated for the comfort of others. What she summarised was merely Dave Graddol blathering on about what he thought about what Padmini had said, he hadn’t asked a question. After Valeria’s summary he then blathered a bit longer with no question. And when Padmini asked him to elaborate on a point (again, unfortunately, leaving the floor to him) there was the tinkle of men’s laughter as Graddol told her he had been agreeing with her. It was extremely uncomfortable to me as a spectator. A man so used to holding court, so accustomed to his place at the front of the stage that he didn’t even notice she had spoken less than him in the Q & A. She was then cut off by the host because of timings. Was it her who had taken up more of the time or was it Graddol? Why was he not interrupted? If he was merely agreeing, maybe he could have done so more concisely.
Perhaps an ELT dialogue written by one of the other speakers, course book author Paul Seligson, would be a good model for him.
Man: Yes, good points, I agree. What do you think about … (insert max 10 words)?
But then, as evidenced all evening, that wouldn’t be an authentic dialogue and Paul did say how much he struggles to write those.
Paul Seligson, it is a mystery to me what qualified him to be on a panel about the future of ELT. Just to complete the set onstage? He admitted himself that he found it impossible to predict after recounting how, when he started out, there were black and white books, BBC World Service and no internet and haven’t things changed since then! A man who has, in his own words, shown his irrelevance had of course not let that hold him back from accepting the invitation to talk about something he knew nothing about. It was like the Ghost of ELT Past, lamenting the disappearance of the good old days when “I started in publishing [and] there were lots and lots of publishers. It was a wonderful thing to go to a conference and every publisher feted you and took you out for dinner and you’d get free dinners, free breakfasts, free everything. It was wonderful and now it’s much more restrictive. It’s much narrower.”
Now presumably he has to pay for his own meals at conferences … just like everyone else. Just like all those teachers who, as Graddol pointed out during the talk, usually have to finance their own professional development and so self fund going to conferences.
Having surely lost any sympathy from anyone listening, but painfully unaware of his privilege, he then went on to describe the past and present of publishing. (emphasis his) “It was all author driven. The publishers came to me and asked me to write books. Now publishers pretty much do what they want to.” Disappearing even further up his own ego, he mourned the replacement of royalties by fees. And how unless you’re an established author it’s very difficult to get royalties.
Firstly WHAT has this got to do with English Teaching or the future of it? Secondly, I’m sorry if this is news to authors, NO-ONE cares about royalties except other authors. It would have been appropriate at a materials writing event but not here. An audience of teachers has no interest in authors no longer receiving passive income on new work. Teachers, like most other professions, also only receive money for the hours they spend at work (and none for preparation, marking, report writing). Dave Graddol sympathised with Paul about how terrible it was that authors now have to create content. I doubt anyone else did.
Dave Graddol’s own section looked at the present trends in demographics in China and the rise of corporations through exams and curriculum influence. Apparently this is much more dangerous to education than the “third party independent” exams our industry has grown. Since Cambridge Assessment rule that field, create the exams and the materials and schools in many countries teach them in their curriculum, why are they any different? Paul later claimed IELTS as a reality check for someone who thinks they know English. What’s reality about writing a short paragraph describing a graph and chucking in conjunctions into a few hundred word essay about whether pollution is the government’s responsibility? IELTS is not reality, as anyone who has tried to come up with something to say for an IELTS speaking question will attest to.
Valeria looked at the situation in Brazil regarding the English level of English teachers which needs to change if the future is to improve. There wasn’t time for a Q&A for her part. This did not happen with the Q&A after any of the three men’s sections and it was much harder for the women to participate with the disadvantage offered by the tech. For me, the only really insightful prediction in the whole event had been from Padmini about the amount of content and information young people have to filter and that the teacher will be the one to mediate that. Basically, the teacher as curator. That shows a way teachers will move with the technology and the changing needs of students and was something worth exploring. In fact, teachers already do that to a certain extent with course books that have to be adapted and supplemented.
Scott Thornbury made some observations about voice recognition and “the elephant in the room”, simultaneous voice translation. And it’s there that I would have thought a talk like this would have started, not been mentioned only in the last half an hour. From this talk it’s clear that if the future of ELT is only being spoken about in terms of the past and present, ELT is going to be squashed by the elephant or one of its cousins. The current model of teaching and learning, that as Valeria showed hasn’t been adequate in Brazil, could be wiped out by voice translation, as long as someone has a smartphone or whatever the next generations of devices will be. As long as connectivity is better in the future than was shown last night.
The solution to the time consuming, expensive hassle of learning English is going to come along and it’s going to come from outside ELT because the industry and those who speak for it aren’t looking far enough ahead or far enough outside their own sphere.