What’s inevitable is that in the next 10 years ESL as we know it today will cease to exist. On one front, fewer and fewer teenagers would need rudimentary English lessons as they would’ve acquired enough English through their exposure to Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Facebook, Youtube and the general and incrementing use of the internet and technology. In fact, urban children are growing up with so much English around them that they’re in effect, growing up as bilingual children. They would’ve acquired enough English from their surroundings that any attraction to attend English classes would be to improve their cognitive, creative and communicative skills in their target second language. We’ve seen what a couple of decades of TV-babysitting and an over-reliance on highly stimulating technology for entertainment has done to young people in Western countries. As their economies progressed their intellectual capacities declined.
In a previous blog I wrote about the inevitable evolution of Higher Education as more and more of the target market of Western universities choose to remain in their home country while non-native countries like Malaysia and Singapore will begin to attract foreign students from emerging new markets. With an abundant number of educated professionals who speak, read and write English to near-native proficiency and with the benefit of knowledge transfer from Western countries through twinning programs, countries like Malaysia and Singapore have what it takes to take it up one notch and give Western universities a run for the money, at least, for students who an overseas education experience is a birthright.
This doesn’t mean that American and UK higher-ed will be complete losers. In fact, I believe this trend will shuffle things around a bit and make it a win-win situation. While Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore offer an attractive overall package for an overseas cultural and educational experience the main takers will be students going for their first undergraduate degree. The US will continue to remain an attractive option for graduate and post-graduate studies due to their tradition of “liberty and freedom” and perceived meritocracy in higher education. I believe the same will hold true for the UK as they have still managed to maintain a reputation for not indiscriminately sacrificing ethics and quality completely at the altar of capitalism.
I personally believe that it’s a good thing for Australia to tighten visa requirements for students. Australia’s proximity and weather and her use of English throughout make her more convenient as a Western destination compared to Northern America or Europe. By imposing very high requirements they will inadvertently speed up what is inevitable : that India, China, Singapore, Malaysia and the Internet in co-operation and synergy can and will fulfill the region’s need for undergraduate study.
If not for the years of freedom away from family, the lower exchange rate ,the closer proximity and the previously relatively easy way of obtaining a PR, Australia would never have been a choice education destination. Eventually, Australia might have to imitate Malaysia’s MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) program and open its doors this time for a flood foreign revenue by offering itself as a retirement paradise. Since wealthier, older Asians with their own policies from their home countries would not be a burden on Australia’s healthcare nor pose competition to the job market, I have a feeling Australia with its abundance of land for real-estate development will fling its arms wide open to welcome this very different demographic group.
With Australia out of the way and the US and UK focussed on doing what they do best (research,academic vigor and debate, innovation, high standards and expectations) what will be left of the ESL industry? We all doubt that people would happily settle for their children being taught English by strangers they meet on Facebook, watching Annoying Orange, more Sponge Bob Square Pants or playing more hours of Halo.
The ESL industry will have to bring itself in line with the teaching standards expected of a local university; no more random pieces of board advertising English Tuition nailed into those poor tree trunks all along a road or classes taught by teachers who get D’s for their English (yes, I was once asked to sieve through applications of teachers while working in one of the language chains here).
The ESL industry would have to evolve itself to become a support network to provide Academic Skills Pruning for students who have set their sights on entering the highest quality undergraduate programs with their eye on US and UK graduate and post-graduate studies. In essence, ESL has to evolve to become a Humanities and Language Arts study for bilingual children.
One model of doing this is to offer high-quality K-12 reading programs that are benchmarked to levels of literacy in the US and the UK followed by themed and project based learning providing the scaffolding for vigorous academic training. I’m thinking, “International Baccalaureate for the adolescent’s soul” kind of standards and learning outcomes.
The outcomes for these themed and project-based learning should answer the clarion call of 21st Century Learning Skills outlined by leaders in Education today. Using CLiL, ESL (by then it would officially evolve to EAL) would become a premium product offering a level of learning and study which trains a learner’s higher order thinking, communicative competence, both oral and written and elementary research design abilities.
I know what you’re thinking : that ESL teachers are not up to mark. It’s unfortunate to admit this but ESL or not, a teacher is a teacher and there are certain expectations of intellectual, creative and cognitive capacities. Given, it is difficult to design a teacher training program that can “produce” the sort of Dream Teacher as study after study has failed to pinpoint the exact things that are duplicaple in what makes a great teacher. In fact it will take too long to train a teacher given the rate of the emergence of new information and disruptive technologies.
Perhaps we will soon have to give in to the reality that no amount of “licensing” and “certification” can guarantee teacher quality and just establish a new conception of not labeling “teachers” but to acknowledge that anyone who can offer learners what they want is a teacher. E-learning will evolve in the way I described in a previous post and form a significant part of the landscape in the testing and assessment of 21st Century Education.