03 January 2008

The Student Quest vs the Teacher Quest - Secrets and lies of Greek ELT

This year we have had the lowest turnout of junior students of the past 10 years throughout the country. This is definitely something to be further observed and analysed, without rushed assumptions. Low numbers of junior students also appeared in 1998 and 2001, but not to the extent of 2007. However, this earlier phenomenon provided enough motivation for a unique research that took place in October and November this year, investigating the overall attitude of the Greek public towards learning foreign languages and the role of Foreign Language Centres in Greece.

The Student Quest
We talked to parents of students in Greece and explained the philosophy behind quality accreditation criteria with reference to the existing criteria for Foreign Language Schools in Greece, coming from schemes like the ones of Secondary education, QLS and HCQLE. The sample below comes from 500 parents (35% Athens, 15% Thessaloniki, 50% rest of Greece).

Important note: This market research took place from 1st October until 7th December 2007. It included parents from schools we service (approx. 20%) and parents from the wider area of each school (approx. 80%). The results talk for themselves, but there will be an in-depth qualitative analysis at a later stage.

Question 1:
Do you consider the existence of such quality assessment criteria important or even compulsory (sine qua non)?
460 (92%) answered compulsory – 40 (8%) answered important

Question 2:
Would you pay 20% more for your children’s foreign language school for the attainment and maintenance of such criteria?
28 (5.6%) – Yes, definitely
124 (24.8%) – No, can’t afford it and for now my job is done without such criteria being followed
138 (27.6%) – These criteria should anyway be compulsory to all schools without us having to pay more for them
210 (42%) – No; If these criteria were met by day schools, private or state ones, we wouldn’t need to send our children to foreign language centres.

Question 3:
What do you believe makes one foreign language centre better than others?
65 (13%) – Same result for fewer hours weekly and less money (value for money)
9 (1.8%) – Methodology and teaching
191 (38.2%) – Nothing necessarily, all do the same job – ours is more convenient/pleasant/cheaper
235 (47%) – Examination results by word of mouth

Question 4:
Have you ever considered private lessons?
372 (74.4%) – Yes
94 (18.8%) – Yes, for later when kids are older and have too much to deal with
34 (6.8%) – No, I don’t believe it’s good for my child

Question 5:
Do you believe in lifelong education – would you attend foreign language classes yourself?
58 (11.6%) – Yes, actually I need to for specific reasons
168 (33.6%) – No, it’s not worth it, I don’t need it in my everyday life or at work
210 (42%) – Yes, if my employment supported my decision
64 (12.8%) – Yes, but I have serious time/money restrictions

Question 6:
Have you heard of the Common European Framework of Reference in Education, the role of personality tests and learning styles, respective methodology and lesson plans, learning independence?
492 (98.4%) – No, what is this?
2 (0.4%) – Yes
6 (1.2%) – I think so

During the same research we also reached the following conclusions:
a) No more than 12-13% of the student population chooses private lessons for foreign languages.
b) Dedicated clients do not get affected by minimal differences in tuition fees from school to school.
c) We learnt about the full range of professional accreditation schemes, criteria and combined-skill tests of organizations like City and Guilds, who have recently appeared here, as well as relevant course providers like Master-D in Thessaloniki, a member of an international chain mainly active in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and recently in Greece. It seems that many of the adults we spoke to were introduced to these through their work environment and the predominant idea is that they represent the private training centres of the near future.
d) Parents do not have a clue about what the average owner or teacher considers their competitive advantage to be.
e) That, though a massive percentage of private language schools are run by people who are under qualified (especially in Attica), the public does not have the criteria to judge.
The Teacher Quest
Another major issue that our field had to deal with this year was a shortage of experienced teachers. Reasons for this phenomenon admittedly lie with the fact that a substantial number of teachers chose the State sector (and privates in the evenings of course) through the latest couple of ASEP competitions. However, by reviewing the impact of different annually agreed teaching hourly rates in Attica and the rest of Greece, we discovered a vicious circle.

We all understand that € 7 / hour is impossible to live on, not just anywhere in Europe, but especially in Greece. However, Attica seems to be the market where school owners created a competitive advantage around their tuition fees the most, thus devaluing their service. It is not by chance that in “posh” suburbs of Attica we found “well established frontisteria” selling the level of FCE for 750 EUR annually, when the average in the rest of the country is no less than 1100 EUR. It is only fair that most of the time, with the programmes imposed by books available in the market, an average school can’t afford substantially higher wages for the teachers.

Once upon a time, a teacher would ensure at least a few hours a week at a school just for her/his IKA. However, it has become more and more of common knowledge that a teacher can be providing undeclared private lessons for slightly more and cover their own IKA through “aftasfalisi”.

At the same time, looking at things from another point of view, in order to make a parent pay more, one has to provide obvious added value. However, I can’t help but observing the following:
a) We have devised business and educational plans, both in Attica and in the rest of Greece, where teachers get paid up to 25% more than average. However, even these schools lost and had to replace some of their oldest (and most demanding teachers), who just refused to do more substantial work than a Teacher’s Book-led lesson, for the extra money. The resistance received at the beginning of the implementation of each plan was immense.
b) Apparently teachers who choose private lessons over FLSs do it just to maintain the comfort of the same old quality for more money (nothing wrong with that for as long as it is acceptable)
c) We are witnessing the creation of a dual speed school ownership and teaching; with the most known ones fading slowly but surely.
I hope all this raw material above is good food for thought and I wish you all a fruitful New Year.

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