ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2

Tuesday 16 November 2010

by Nik Peachey

First, I would like to say thank you to all the people who answered the questionnaire and left comments on my first posting about ELT and the Crisis in Education.

The questionnaire wasn’t intended as ‘research’ but merely to prompt thought and response to some of the issues that I wanted to raise over the course of this series of articles and see where existing opinions differed. You can see the results here and still do the questionnaire yourself and add questions if you wish: http://urtak.com/u/4587

The first of the issues I’d like to dig a bit deeper into is technology, as that’s where much of my own more recent experience lies. I’d like to start with this video of Henry Jenkins of USC talking about what he feels is the problem with schools in the US.

Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins

Watch the video here: The Tech Fix – From PBS Frontline

One of the things he focuses on is school attitudes to failure, but he also believes that more learning happens outside of school than it does inside and that the way much of the technology has been implemented within schools has rendered the technology powerless to meet the needs and interests of students.

He ends with what I believe is one of the most important points, this is that students will need digital skills and digital literacies to function fully in the 21st century. I think this is a vital point and I constantly try to promote the importance of digital literacies in my writing and training work, but many teachers within the field of ELT don’t seem to consider the development of these literacies to be part of their role and many believe that is the job of their first language ICT teachers.

I’m surprised by this attitude because within ELT we spend a lot of time developing a range of ‘traditional’ communication skills based on the assumption that many of these skills aren’t automatically transferred from students’ L1 (just look at the number of lessons and coursebooks you can find that help students to write a letter of complaint!)  and yet teachers seem happy to assume that many of the skills that students need to mediate computer based communications, such as video conferencing or micro blogging, and the development of digital literacies will be!

One of the issues Henry Jenkins raises in the video is the question of whether schools are becoming irrelevant. As more students naturally start to exploit technology for their own autonomous learning, there is a possibility that they will turn off to schools. I was wondering whether this could also apply to ELT. There has been a huge growth in the number of web based providers offering cultural and language exchange websites where any learner of any language can register and find a partner and or multiple partners to peer teach. Some examples are:

This kind of learning takes languages outside the classroom and offers opportunities for ‘real’ communication with native speakers of the language you want to learn, but could these kinds of sites start to offer real competition to existing face to face language schools?

In my questionnaire, only 51% of people believed that schools could offer a personalised education for each students (See results), yet many of these sites can allow students to create their own path through language learning. 65% believed that the classroom was an outdated paradigm for education (See results) , so could this be a realistic alternative?

The last point I would like to deal with in this posting, is that teachers who do use technology in class are often criticized for the amount of time spent getting the technology to actually work. In some ways I feel that this is a fair criticism, but not of the teacher or of the technology. It seems that teachers who do want to use technology in class are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand parents often want their children to learn how to use technology and see it as an important tool for their future, and schools want to be seen to be addressing the use of technology especially within their marketing information, but when it comes to setting the technology up in a way that gives both students and teachers quick, easy and open access, the firewalls come down and the bureaucracy steps in to make this almost impossible. So …

How about you?

  • * How has technology been implemented within your institution?
  • * Has technology been implemented in such a way that it supports your teaching?
  • * What would you like to see changed to enable you to use technology more effectively in your school or classroom?
  • * Do you feel that face to face language instruction could be under threat from online learning providers?

I look forward to reading your comments.


Nik Peachey

12 responses to ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2

  1. […] To read the second part of this posting go to:  ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2 […]

    • sawsan Milad says:

      Teachers who do not use technollogy will be replaced by teachers who continue on and on to upgrade their educational teaching and learning technology skills .This has been my slogan since I learnt to use Tapes.Reels,!16mFilm s. And the computer in the mid 70’s .

      All this is accomplished through the profesional development programs at The Americn Unversity in Cairo

  2. Maria Sara says:

    Hi Nic,

    Again lots to say, but won´t be able to comment properly until later this evening.

    Still CONGRATS on raising the issue. Think it will do ELT a lot of good.

    Hope it is OK if I share the links with the other people working towards the MA in Education from the OU as I mentioned earlier.

    The Module I am currently doing is called: EDUCATION FOR DEVELOPMENT” so although I skimmed through your two articles, I thought it was fabulous that we are getting closer as professions.


    María Sara

  3. Bill Templer (Shumen, Bulgaria) says:

    No discussion of technology can avoid its political economy. In many countries across the Global South, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there is no Internet access in most public high school and university classrooms. There are almost no LCD projectors even if you have a laptop as teacher. You have to buy your own. So farme this discussion in terms of a social geography and social ecology of technology in state-run education. And that digital dearth will get worse under the looming austerity cuts.
    But Henry is right in a basic sense: in Bulgaria, for example, more than 50% of teenagers are online. Yet few classrooms are wired. So it’s clear their ‘e-life’ is much more vital outside the classroom. So is their ‘g-life’, of course, with computer and cyber games a big passion, even honed expertise. And this among kids totally turned off by school learning. And don’t forget their ‘m-life,’ music and its texts and discourses, rarely engaged in most curricula.
    So working-class pedagogies for mass instruction should realize many kids can’t stand authoritarian learning in schools and should use technology outside classrooms inventively.
    Many tweens and teens have digital literacies better than our own by the age of 12, the ‘M generation.’ Even working-class kids in some economies. For language learning, what they do OUTSIDE CLASS is far more important. It’s 165/3, 3 hours weekly in class, 165 elsewhere. So autonomous use of technology for ELT (many options we can introduce students to) outside school spaces seems one avenue, such as italki, as Nik mentions. The trick is sparking motivation to do that, and not just among a slim privileged elite.
    But in countries where there is scant or zilch technology in any classroom urban or rural, and few home computers (like Laos, Cambodia, many corners of the so-called LDCs), books are the best technology around. Rich school libraries, as Krashen continually stresses, should be a major priority.

  4. Nik Peachey says:

    Hi Bill

    Thanks for your comments. You are of course absolutely right in that technology can only have impact where there is the commitment to invest in it within the education sector.

    I’m not so sure that I agree about the books and libraries though, at least not in the traditional sense. I know technology is thought to be expensive, but books are very expensive too. Investment in technology can enable access to millions of books and articles, videos and audio online. If libraries were constructed along the lines of Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the wall’ http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/ then we could enable access to these kinds of resources.

    I know that there are many poor countries where there is limited connectivity, but investment in these kinds of resources can be a better option. Books are expensive, they are difficult and expensive to distribute, the lending and return process can be expensive to administer and they, like technology , have a limited life span.

    I really think the only way to bridge the digital divide is with technology and this must become a priority for any country that wants to develop.

    It’s easy for governments to say they don’t have the money, but we have to challenge the status quo and start rejecting that as an excuse. Technology ‘CAN’ be a cheaper solution for a better education.



  5. […] Nik Peachey In my last post ( ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2 )I touched on the area of digital literacies and made the assertion that these are, at least in […]

  6. Prof G S Rathore says:

    Neither in India nor in Libya could it be possible to use the modern technology, except the use of OHP or POWER POINT during seminars/conferences. There are not many language labs in India and the one in my University in Libya was out of order for two years; the new one getting installed in one year and breaking down again and again waiting for the technical people, who never bothered to value time.
    For normal kind of teaching, it is the same lecturing/blackboard/whiteboard teaching. To me, the use of the so-called new technology is more of a show business.

  7. Nik Peachey says:

    Hi Prof G S Rathore

    Does this mean that you don’t see the need to develop learners abilities to function in a digital world, or that you feel you are able to do this without the use of technology?


    Nik Peachey

  8. Deniz Atesok says:

    Hi Nick,

    I work at a private university in Istanbul but unfortunately we don’t have anything in our classes except from an OHP. There are some computer labs but you need to make a reservation beforehand to be able to use them. The weekly schedule for that is put up on Monday mornings and it’s more like first-come first-served (we dont reserve them electronically; the reservation sheets are put on the notice board). There are also 2 smart classes where there is one computer in each and a mimio which turns the white board into a smart board. Considering that there are over 90 teachers and 1500 students, reserving a class is like winning the lottery.

    There is wireless internet connection only in the canteen area. So, when I sometimes take my laptop or ipad to class, I use, my personal hotspot to have internet.

    As I mentioned above, there are over 90 teachers at my school but only very few of them are interested in ELT technologies. However, it’s a bileteral situation: we can’t criticize teachers for not keeping up with the developments when the school isn’t investing on technology.

    • Nik Peachey says:

      Hi Deniz

      Thank you for you comment and for sharing another perspective on this discussion. I was really struck by your comment “There is wireless internet connection only in the canteen area. ” as this so often seems to be the case in many places. Quite a few places I’ve visited over the last couple of years to do conferences have wireless connectivity in the , cafe, the bar and all kinds of social places and then once you get into the lecture / conference / auditorium the signal disappears! This always amuses and slightly annoys me because it reflects the attitudes towards the technology – that it is there for entertainment and for people to check emails between talks, but when we get into the area where the serious learning goes on, we don’t want people messing around with the internet! This is really sad because it could be enabling so much more learning.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment Deniz.



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