28 November 2006

The educational product no.2 - Re-energizing a dormant industry

To date, whenever somebody asked “so what exactly do you do?”, the most natural answer that came out of my mouth is “re-energizing dormant educational businesses”. The influence of seminars I had attended myself was, of course, obvious in this answer. However, the extent of the problem I was coming up against as a consultant reached the edges of the whole private language school field and not only specific businesses. The reasons are known – I have analysed them often over the past few years, but so far the solutions have only reached the hands of a few owners and educators. They do now have a substantial competitive advantage in a dormant field, but the actual process is a real struggle, having to swim through the murky pulp of a turbulently sinking field and the resistance of existing or potential markets and clients.

My own experience of running a company, as well as social circumstances of wider interest, played a specifically enlightening role in 2006. At the end of 2005, I gave out for the second time to my readers the results of our annual research. Maybe the most outstanding element of this research was the fact that 77% of adult certificate holders in Greece do not feel they can confidently and effectively use the foreign language they have been certified for.

Followingly, in the summer of 2006, we came across a sad phenomenon in my own company. Advertising a specific number of new posts, we received a large number (about 450) of CVs in application. Unfortunately, the short-listing procedure was too easy. You can easily tell where parents’ money goes when a BA and MBA holder proves to be unable to write competently either in Greek or in English or both. Half of all the applications we received were directed to us via e-mails addressed apparently to a large number of businesses at the same time as ours, and not ‘Bcc-ed’, but blatantly ‘To-ed’. Worst of all, though we specifically asked for a European Passport CV, also giving instructions about where to download the template from, only 10% of the CVs were along the lines of the specifications we asked for. Interviews were even more disheartening, but, as my colleague Paul says, this is an everyday situation when he interviews teachers as well.

During the whole summer and in September as well, we all, as a nation, have been experiencing the beginning of a possibly violent forthcoming ‘educational reform’ with Mrs. Marietta Giannakou bearing the heaviest globalization cross. Also, this autumn, some shocking news reached my ears from our educational Guru European State, the UK, realizing educational gaps with long-term side effects for culture and economy. I was in the UK, and my friend Nick Blinco, Development Director of the University of Birmingham, was admitting to me that traditional benefactors of the University from around the world have started to hesitate giving their donations, seeing the bad quality of graduates that Universities in the UK feed the employment market with. And the whole problem is contained within the overestimation of accreditation and certification against what graduates CAN actually DO.

What all the theory around the CEF-R hadn’t managed to do to my brain, a few words that day did, and I rushed back to Thessaloniki, calling about 20 of the short-listed candidates for our vacancies in the summer. I politely asked for an add-on interview, which, literally speaking, was just one question: “Right, Mr or Miss xyz, I appreciate your certificate, BA and MBA. Could you explain to me, specifically based on the above qualifications, what you CAN DO for yourself?”

The catch was not in what they CAN DO, but in the expression ‘“for yourself’ of course. This is where every educational system has failed, and our industry, ELT in Greece, fully, half or not-at-all recognized, is part of this system. Because amongst the majority of our ‘frontisterio graduates’ what they CAN all DO is successfully earn points within the ASEP assessment system. What sadly only a few of them CAN also DO is use the foreign language as a means of communication, self-promotion, and self-marketing in fact. The language is a tool to help you point out your background, knowledge, “paideia”. So the skill you acquired over a number of years is your tool to success. The language has also got some principles to help you do this effectively, based on the culture and trends of the native speakers, as long as anything like that has been taught to you, by somebody who CAN DO it.

While a student or user acquires a skill, a business acquires clients and students, successful or less successful ones. They are the tool to success for the business, as long as the educational business doesn’t prove to be one of those that all they CAN DO is advertise high exams pass rates. That, every educational business CAN DO, as every certificate holder can successfully meet the ASEP requirements. How does the educational business use the knowledge gathered from the presence of successful graduates, though? Which future problems of the latter does it cater for? How does the educational business cater for its own marketing by boosting its client’s self-marketing potential?

It is more vital than ever before to realize that an educational business’s service is maximizing its students’ social and self-marketing potential through teaching an educational item for the latter to use as a tool. The role of education in the EU is going to become a burning hot issue pretty soon. America’s prevailing steps are strongly based on realism of what candidates CAN DO and judgment by result. However, America lacks ‘Academia-for-all’. Europe still has it, but only just. States and state sectors are confused, dependant on forces and trends that are more temporary than markets, but their systems are too consolidated to provide valid feedback at the same time. Private sectors are forced into flexibility, and our humble little ELT is the carrier, if not the Holy Grail, of a set of skills fully compliant with our newborn globalised world. Your students are your product and by maximizing their potential you maximize yours. Their potential is maximized not only by the actual skill they acquire, but by the whole educational experience at your school. As a young parent, I can’t help noticing that children reproduce ten times more experience-related attitudes than you would expect.

If you happen to be the ‘product’ of an outstanding educational experience, point it out! I’m sure what you do is not ALL you CAN DO!