The TESOL President’s Blog
As part of a previous blogpost on TESOL 2.0, I argued that “if we are to engage, enrich, and empower a 2.0 world, we need first to understand the changes that are happening both outside and inside the profession.” One of the most significant changes I see today is an increase in the influence of the private sector on education. According to the World Education Forum 2015 Final Report,
while the state plays a central role in the provision of education, the scale of engagement of nonstate actors at all levels of education is growing and becoming more diversified. This is partly the result of growing demand for voice, participation and accountability in public affairs. But it is also in response to the need to relieve pressure on public financing given the spectacular expansion of access to all levels of formal education witnessed worldwide over the past two decades. (pp. 16–17)
For TESOLers, this change means that more of us are working for private companies, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofit institutions. According to statistics from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the percentage of students worldwide enrolled in private primary institutions has risen from 10% to 13.4% between 1999 and 2014. In secondary institutions, the increase has been from 19.1% to 24.8%. With respect to tertiary and vocational education, the situation varies from country to country, but there is little doubt that the new century has seen a worldwide increase in private institutes, language academies, and for-profit universities offering degrees.
Many view the growth of “nonstate actors” as a route to reforming and improving education. In addition to bringing much needed funding, they introduce accountability systems and efficiency monitors. Others, as the WEF 2015 Final Report acknowledges:
feel uneasy and fearful about the motives behind business investment in education. The rapidly developing trend of privatization and marketization of education is seen by many as a threat to the universal right to education. The expansion of profit-making and ‘business’ activities and initiatives in education, and for teaching and learning more specifically, may adversely affect equity in education and social justice more broadly. (p. 27)
This is a fear our field knows. In January 2010, TESOL International Association along with the American Association for Intensive English Programs and the University and College Intensive English Programs association issued a joint statement on “Governance for English Language Instruction at Institutions of Higher Education.” It urged universities “when in discussions with potential external partners” “to be extremely cautious about proposals that foreground economic benefits over assurances of educational quality.”
More recently, we have moved to address the fact that more and more institutions—and businesses—worldwide are offering “TESOL certificates” as a job credential. In 2015, TESOL International Association issued the “Standards for Short-Term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs” as a way for prospective students to gauge the value of what they were paying for and ensure that their certificate will not only help them get a job but do well at it.
While we may have concerns about the effects of profit-motives in education, the fact is that the change is happening, and we must engage it. If we work for public providers, as the majority of us still do, we must realize that the goal of education for all means that more money must be found. Yes, there will be calls asking fewer teachers to do more and suggestions that we hire less qualified teachers for less money. As a profession, we must fight such short-sighted moves.
But we should also open our minds to calls for innovation. We should be constantly looking for ways to improve curricula and make better use of the opportunities for input that students have outside of our classes. We should explore new models for providing training that combine preservice foundations with on-the-job certificate learning. When appropriately integrated into our lessons, technology can move us from being “practice providers” to “educational designers.”
Finally, we must construct new ways of arguing for our worth in a world where career advancement is a business decision, not a civil service placement. We must be able to talk about and demonstrate our knowledge, skills, leadership, and vision. We must show our understanding of our profession and live our professionalism.