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EL Latin America 2016: Boycott by Brazil schools?

Hugo Martins BrasilLanguage schools in Brazil are rumoured to be boycotting ELT products from Pearson and Oxford University Press (OUP) because of the two UK-owned giants’ involvement in school franchises, sources inside the country have told the Gazette. Smaller publishers, especially National Geographic Learning, part of the Cengage Learning Group, are said to be benefitting.

However, OUP made clear to the Gazette that it does not have a franchise operation. Although it does have a strategic partnership with a number of independent private language schools through its Achieve Languages programme, no franchise fees are payable.

It also said that it has no evidence of a current boycott. Although sales declined shortly after the launch of Achieve Languages in 2005, they have now risen back to previous levels.

Achieve Languages, which offers blended learning in both English and Spanish, uses a know-how transfer model, in which schools which undertake to use only Oxford materials are offered teacher training in the method as well as help with marketing for student recruitment and retention. No franchise fees are paid. Over 120 small independent language schools are members of the scheme and, according to Luciane Ferreira, managing director of OUP Latin America, there are no current plans to expand the scheme or to export the concept to other markets.

‘As the franchising model became more and more dominant in Brazil and the large chains began self-publishing and some selling their materials on the open market, we looked for a way to protect our market share,’ Ferreira told the Gazette. ‘We have focused on working with small independent language schools who were threatened by the growth of the franchised chains.’

In 2013 Pearson bought Grupo Multi, a large language school franchise operation, for $500 million as part of a long-term strategy of direct involvement in education which predates their acquisition of Wall Street English in 2009; rumours that Pearson is planning to pull out of ELT publishing entirely remain unsubstantiated. The Pearson press office failed to respond to Gazette inquiries about a possible decline in book sales to Brazil.

Although Brazil is fairly unique in its addiction to method chains, particularly in the junior sector, the trend to self-published course materials is emerging elsewhere. In the UK, for example, it has been adopted not just by large chains like Kaplan, who have a tradition of producing materials for their home market in the US, but even by fairly small summer school operators, though quality varies. The British Council inspection report from one summer school group notes, ‘Some teachers were more and others less enthusiastic about the ... series, which essentially comprise a collection of photocopies taken from current published course and skills books.

‘They felt generally the … materials were not particularly coherent.’

Pic:  Courtesy Hugo Martins