Teaching in times of crisis The impact on teaching, the role of technology and more thoughts…
Time to adopt a
different approach to Teaching of English as a Foreign Language? What is the
role technology can play in education in the current socioeconomic context?
If you thought that the most controversial issue
currently is to what extent technology can help learning, you must feel happy
in your ivory teaching tower. The harsh socioeconomic reality of the past 5
years in many parts of the world is leading to a shift in education with many
repercussions in the field of EFL that are expected to be felt in the years to
Having taught for more than 20 years, I
have seen quite a few approaches and theories aiming at optimizing
teaching and helping learners to achieve the best possible results. Yet, the
lingering economic crisis in conjunction with the developments in learning
technology seem to be making the reviewing of an approach to TEFL more
Background I live in Greece, which in the past five
years has seen a dramatic change in terms of priorities, opportunities and
resources available. What used to be a heavily exam oriented area with students
in need of certification –for example, employment even as an assistant at a
super market required a B2 C.E.FR. level certificate- has also shifted into
learning English aiming to serve the prospect of migrating abroad or being
employed by a multinational company which takes mobility for granted.
The drop of income by as much as 40 percent,
unemployment (roughly 25%) and heavy taxation, has made family budgets
reallocate amounts of money which was traditionally invested in education to
very basic survival needs such as food and electricity bills. This means less
opportunities for education, shorter courses and more pressure on students and
teachers to achieve goals.
Finally, schools and in particular schools of
foreign languages, saw their budget plunging with the number of registrations
decreasing dramatically and fee payments standing in arrears as the average
working class family struggles to make the ends meet.
This trend has often been
reflected on mottos such as “Achieve more with less” indicating higher
productivity and more effectiveness with lower budget and less resources.
What’s ahead? The following are a few thoughts on the changes
that are imminent: The
teacher The teacher resumes the role of educator. Thanks
to technology, he/she relinquishes the role of authority – the main source of
knowledge - and becomes a guide, a facilitator, a mentor and a supporter.
He/she often absorbs all the aftershocks of acute family problems stemming from
poverty, unemployment and unstable financial and social conditions. (For more about
the teacher’s role see post on Wiziq blog
technology is here to stay, then what?)
design Given that learners will have to develop a wide
range of competences in order to be competitive on the market, 21st century
skills/competences should be developed
in the EFL classroom. Firstly, because EFL has always been more flexible and
open to innovation and secondly, because learning technologies seem to have
been adopted to a greater extent by EFL teachers compared to teachers of other
register and other long forgotten parts of the syllabus could be reinstated to
help learners achieve better communication. More real life tasks such as teleconferencing
and writing texts for leaflets or the social media could be introduced.
The tsunami of mechanistic
drills – used extensively by many teachers for exam preparations- will gradually
recede. Focus on grammar will give way to activities that cater for learners’
more meaningful use of the language and more opportunities to produce language.
technology An indispensable part of everyday life for large
parts of the global population especially the younger generations, makes
technology an ideal gateway to learning since it offers easy access and abundant
exposure to L2. Educators though, will have to fight hard to get rid of the
concept that tablets and laptops are there for playing games. Instilling the
notion that technology is a tool for learning may take time and effort but it is worth it. Given the dwindling prices of electronics and that most teens own a gadget –
sometimes far more sophisticated than the teachers have-, technology can give them access
to knowledge in ways (video, audio, animation, text) they are familiar with.
Autonomous and life-long learning
Maybe this is the key
to combat student dropouts or long pauses of absence due to economic hardship.
Technology offers opportunities and abundant educational material (see Resouces below) to help learners
maintain a good level of their English while they are away from classrooms. In
addition, it facilitates exposure to L2 anywhere, anytime (as long as there is
internet access). Developing learners’ analysis and synthesis skills (critical
thinking skills) instead of tolerating plagiarism (copy-paste) is one of the
first steps to learner autonomy.
Resources A dowry bequeathed from prosperity years, equipment
( IWBs, projectors) and books should be exploited in the best possible way. A
rediscovery of the existing libraries supported with free access to online materials
and online libraries can help learners to overcome the problem of limited exposure
or reliance exclusively on a book – since they cannot afford to buy others.
Free or affordable
EFL/ESL material is abundant on the Internet and could help learners to work on
certain areas. However, a careful selection should be made by the teachers who
can guide learners with focused activities to serve specific learning goals. A
prerequisite for this is to develop “digital citizenship” skills in order to protect learners from
“deadly” hazards and wasting their time on the www.
A generation of young
people in Europe has been receiving contradictory messages. In Southern Europe,
they have been branded as PIGS (an acronym used to describe the countries in
deep financial crisis but clearly indicating a racist mood) and lazy while
their families struggle to make a living, often working long hours to make a
few Euros. Their Northern European counterparts are often given the impression
that the “Southerners” are wasting valuable resources at the expense of the
The best way to bridge
the rift before it becomes too deep is to encourage and further support the
existing projects with schools from different countries. Communication,
collaboration and cultural exchange can dispel myths created by the gutter
press and shortsighted politicians.
A few closing thoughts
Teachers are often
ignored, underpaid or treated as second class citizens who do tedious tasks.
Yet this crisis has shown that politicians, bankers and businessmen have failed
miserably to find a way out of the current situation mainly thanks to dogmas
and rigid responses to complex issues. It is our duty as educators to help our
students – especially the underprivileged ones- to keep their minds open to
learning and new notions that will help them build a better future for the
generations to come. A second part with more thoughts will be posted soon. In the meantime, you are welcome to share on this blog your experiece from teaching under similar conditions.