We don’t need no education

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The Irish government say EFL should be part of education not tourism. As parents, we agree, say Melanie Butler and Ron Ragsdale

The student experience must be at the centre of everything we do, right? Wrong.

At a recent conference, Sarah Cooper of English UK highlighted “student experience” as the most important element of language travel.

As parents with daughters interested in language learning, we disagree. If we’re going to spend money to send them to language schools overseas then we hope they’re happy and we want them to be safe. But the object of the exercise is for them to make progress.

Too many language schools see themselves as being in the travel business. Too few agree with the Irish government (see page 7) that they are in English Language Education. The government believes teachers terms and conditions impact on learning. Most Irish language school owners don’t seem to agree.

In a report on the sector, one provider commented, “We refute that (the) morale of employees impacts the service.” Yet a 2015 OECD study found that, “students attending schools where teachers … have better morale are less likely to be low performers.”

Another school owner said, “Teachers can always move to where better conditions are.” But teacher turnover is negatively correlated with English language tests results, according to research on 600,000 students in New York.

And finally, “the (typical) English Language class size of 15 is superior to that of secondary level schools.” However, smaller class sizes have only a small positive effect on learning, slightly less than teaching mindfulness, according to an analysis of 80,000 studies involving 300 million students.

The smaller the class, the higher the cost per student. Spending that money on higher teacher salaries or paid teacher preparation time is likely to yield better student outcomes, according to the OECD.

Ireland is introducing compulsory minimum standards for English Language Education, and the educational research suggests they are right. Yet EFL in Ireland is no worse than in other countries. Indeed, it is better than many.

This month’s award for ruthlessness goes to some dodgy Chinese schools who, as we report on page 6, have found a way round government requirements for teacher qualifications. They hire unqualified teachers from abroad, get them to work illegally on holiday visas, fail to pay them and when they complain, dob them in to the immigration authorities.

Who cares about the impact on learners!

In search of real learning progress, parents are turning away from private language schools. The super-rich send their kids to be educated in posh private schools overseas. The well-off turn to private international schools while the struggling middle-class queue outside the local state schools which offer CLIL or bilingual education.

This is bad news for language schools.

But not for teachers. As Colin Bell of the Council of British International Schools reports on pages 14 and 15, such schools will need another 210,000 teachers over the next twelve years. The COBIS solution is to run training courses that lead to British qualified teacher status.

EFL teachers are welcome to apply.

Image courtesy of Max Pixel