In the last few months, and mainly thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, I have been meeting and interacting with a good number of colleagues about all things digital in general and foreign language education.

There is great excitement in the air about either integrating ICT into educational programmes or, “going all the way”.

Pictures of another reality

I read colleagues tweets and blogposts with great interest. Reading them, you get the impression that they all work in environments where all this is possible:

The Institution

  • Has a budget which allows all this to be available in every class
  • Supports the training/retraining of the teachers
  • Has a system in place which encourages and motivates the teachers to introduce innovations into the programme
  • Pays the teachers well – teachers do not have to resort to extra private tutoring or other work to eke out a living
  • Uses materials which allow for a flexible syllabus and integration of ICT into the learning programme
The teachers
  • Are fully trained and qualified in the principles and practices of teaching foreign languages
  • Are familiar with the new literacies needed in order to put all this into practice
  • Are appropriately rewarded and have job satisfaction which does not only rely on a good remuneration
  • Are eager to continue developing as teachers
  • Are motivated and willing to put in the extra time it takes to continue developing
  • Are self driven and capable of continuing to develop independently

The classroom

  • There is a laptop for every student in every class
  • There is fast internet available – wired or wireless – available to all
  • There is a data-projector installed or a Smart Board for central projection of images, videos, etc.
  • There is central storage capability – a server – where students can leave, find, edit their own and each other’s work.
The Students
  • Are familiar with the new literacies assumed to be in place
  • Have their own PC or laptop at home
  • Have fast internet connections at home
  • Have a level of education that allows them to process instructions for new tools
  • Can understand instructions written in English
Pictures of my reality

I live in Greece and run teacher education centre in the capital. I feel privileged in that the teachers, administrators and directors of studies I get to know best are those who are, in fact, interested in teacher development.

But this is not the majority of the TEFL field locally. The vast majority of foreign language centres is run by teachers who are operating on a teaching licence which only requires them to have a Cambridge Proficiency in English or a Michigan equivalent. No TEFL training is required to set up or manage an institution and TEFL institutions can also be started and managed by entrepreneurs in totally unrelated fields.

This type of school owner/administrator/acting teacher is most often not familiar with TEFL courses available locally or worldwide. They have been doing very nicely, thank you, without them, and they are also not that keen on employing teachers who have such qualifications, simply because they feel threatened by them!

Just the other day, a teacher who recently obtained the CELTA Certificate from my institution reports that she was asked “What is this CELTA?” by a school administrator interviewing her in Athens!

Others report being hired and then being specifically told not to use any of that stuff they learnt on their course, “because it does not work”.

In this particular context, the major innovation at the moment are IWB’s but how they are used is a question I cannot answer. ELT publishers who have jumped on this particular bandwagon are making a mint by producing specific coursebook related software, which may or may not be pedagogically useful or suitable, but which is commonly addressed to the untrained teacher – of course, otherwise, they would not sell.

You may have guessed that the assumptions listed above are simply not part of the local reality. I cannot say whether this is due to poor pay, lack of education or an institution whose microclimate simply does not encourage teacher development.

The Paperless Classroom

Much of this post is inspired by Shelly Blake-Plock’s post on his TeachPaperless blog. Β This is not to say I disagree with his 11 things. On the contrary, I do also believe that technology will not go away, in fact it is probably our future, that meeting strangers is a great thing, and that it is our role to be advocates, campaigners and promoters of, not just technology, but quality in education in general.

Yet I cannot help but feel that his thinking is based on the assumptions mentioned earlier on, which in my particular context just don’t check out!

Parents are in fact often an obstacle to innovative teaching methodologies – they haven’t experienced them and do not believe in them. Hence, they will reward and support institutions which make them feel comfortable and use the “old trusted methods”

There is a vicious circle in this which I am certain you can imagine and so I will not go on with it.

How can we change this picture?

I truly have no answer to this! I have battled all my life, often going against the current, and I think I have had some influence to the local learning context, but this is only at a small, often not influential, individual level.

This post is not intended to answer any questions or to suggest that we should not be excited by new developments.

You can call it a pet rant or a call from the hear but I would like to invite other members of my professional community (my PLN, as it were!) to respond by either contributing their own “Picture” of their local context, or by contributing ideas for a way out of this.

I would be happy to either publish or list any articles/posts that could develop or add to the picture.

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