This TLO blog comes to you from (currently) warm and sunny South China, where we recently wrapped up the third TESOL Symposium in China, and the first in Guangzhou, at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. The symposium was sold out, with more than 400 attendees from all over China, as well as from Vietnam, Russia, and the Philippines. TESOL’s Executive Director, Dr. Rosa Aronson, and TESOL President, Dr. Deena Boraie, also spoke at the symposium, which was a great opportunity for me to learn more about TLO in China, especially as the theme for the event was “Envisioning and Creating the Future for English Language Teaching.” As I noted in my plenary talk, history is littered with failed predications, so envisioning the future can be a very tricky business—but creating the future can be even more precarious!
In my workshop, we touched on the development of teaching and learning online in countries like China and Africa, which have relatively low rates of what is referred to as “Internet penetration.” For example, in an article in PC World earlier this year, Michael Kan reported on the most recent figures from the governmental China Internet Network Information Center. According to the Center, in the first half of this year alone, the number of Internet users in China rose by another 26 million, bringing the total to 591 million, making an Internet penetration rate of 44% of the population.
However, Kan did note that in China’s rural areas, Internet penetration is only 28%, but that’s nearly double for the Africa region, which was still at around 15% last year, according to Internet World Stats. And according to the McKinsey consulting group, India’s Internet penetration rate, by March of this year, was lower still, with about 120 million people online in India, making a penetration rate of just 10%. But the McKinsey report also noted that within just a couple of years, by 2015, that could nearly triple, to around 330 million.
The global average Internet penetration rate last year (June 2012) was around 34%, with the USA at nearly 80%. So, we can see who are the “Digital Haves” and the “Digital Have-Nots,” which is having a direct and dramatic effect on the future of TLO globally, as the latter become the former. But one of the most “fortune-telling facts” that came up in my discussions during the symposium here in Guangzhou was the fact that every other person in the world is now in China, India, and Africa. Planet Earth’s population hit the 7,000,000,000 (seven billion) mark in October 2011, with a total of around 3.5 billion in those three regions—and that does not include the millions more who have left their Chinese, Indian, and African homelands (as me and my family have done) to make their way in the new world.
Those population numbers mean that what happens in those three regions could have a profound effect on our future, and raise many enormous questions and considerations, including the potentially explosive growth of TLO in the “other half” of the world, which I discussed in my previous TLO posting on November 6. In keeping with the theme of the symposium, “Envisioning and Creating the Future for English Language Teaching,” I envisioned a future in which TLO would enable teachers and learners in rural and resource-limited environments in China, India, Africa and elsewhere to engage in teaching and learning in ways that were impossible before.
I also claimed that it’s entirely possible that within our lifetimes the historical trend of North America and Europe setting the developmental agenda for the rest of the world could be reversed. For some, this was an exciting possibility; for others an ominous prediction. What do you envision for the future of TLO?