15 October 2006

The educational product

I have been working with ELT businesses for a fair while now. My first task is usually to deal with viability issues and, in specific, to encourage ELT businessmen and women to respect the business side of their school, monitor and measure cost centres, manage human resources, ensure their profit margins and market their identity effectively with respect to the needs and purchase power of parents. Of course, the most difficult part of the task has been to point out all this as the means to improve the owner’s quality of life, as time spent more productively brings more income, and thus more free time to look after their personal lives and their personal goals for self-improvement.

To achieve this target requires the development of lots of internal and external marketing systems and procedures. However, nothing can beat the universal principle of creative differentiation. Differentiation can attract consumers’ attention, meet their needs more effectively, improve customer service. Differentiation can mean more creative marketing, achieve a faster response time to customer requests, and, more to the point, establish an outstanding identity.

The Greek ELT field allows little space for differentiation. However, the problem is definitely not lack of creativity! The problem is a) the size of the field and b) the homogeneity of the businesses that service it. In a few words, the problem is this: the product of the field is highly standardized, almost fixed, serving a specifically narrow target. This means that at times of financial crisis, like most western societies are currently undergoing, consumers narrow their criteria down to value for money. Such a highly standardized product is strictly limited by its target, in our case examinations, so added value during servicing is overlooked.

As a result, the job description of the field, as defined by its name, ELT, has little to do with today’s reality. When the field was established, the conditions of its development dictated its formation. People needed to learn English, not only to enter a professional sector through certification, but indeed to be able to use English as a personal tool of expression. The latter is exactly what faded over the years due to false targeting. This loss dragged with it all the relevant factors and parameters, including qualified human resources, criteria of operation, methodology of servicing. Worse than all this, it has left whole generations of consumers not knowing what to expect nor what they need: the substantial product of ELT, a live tool of expression, so necessary nowadays in the immediate globalised economic environment. Influencing factors, including the State, foreign universities, publishers and associations have encouraged this phenomenon, both for the right and the wrong reasons.

Nowadays, Greece has millions of certified language users, the lowest exportability and investment rates in Europe, the lowest rates of cultural awareness, the biggest percentage of population that has never crossed the borders of the country and the worst national marketing and self marketing in the world. We might take pride in the fact that we have more linguists than France or Spain, but realistically, we need more communicational and self-marketing tools than those larger, richer countries. Instead of focusing on building these tools, we spend enormous amounts of money preparing armies of students for papers recognized solely by our country.
Bearing all this in mind, the need for differentiation of the product itself is obvious. A new and improved product will differentiate the field. It will allow the development of a new field within the field. The circulation of this new product will, in time, provide adequate tools to re-train the market. And then, just maybe, a new generation of opportunities will present themselves to schools, publishers and trainers, but most of all to language users throughout the country, allowing them to maximize their potential. It will take time, like anything. Good things always do.