Coronavirus COVID-19 will probably impact how we live our lives for many years to come. But what might that mean for the future of English language teaching?
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and is often used by businesses for strategic planning. This article from MindTools tells you how to do one.
N.B. I work in private language schools, so some of the ideas here may apply only to that branch of English language teaching. Please add your ideas to the comments.
Working online has long been discussed in ELT. We have many experts knowledgeable about teaching online, including how to put together successful long-term online and blended projects. They can help us to develop our teaching and course offers, and to work out how to be more resilient in the face of possible future pandemics.
Live online teaching through platforms such as Zoom puts teachers and students (or trainers and trainees) on a more equal footing: it’s harder for one person to physically dominate the classroom when your videos are the same size. This could encourage greater sharing of ideas and help students/trainees to feel more involved in their learning.
Teachers around the world, not just in ELT, have proven that there is a huge determination that education will continue, regardless of the limitations put upon us by, for example, the current virus situation. This desire to experiment and try out new things, and to reflect on what does or doesn’t work, is a great opportunity for all of us to learn from each other.
While we are forced to try new things, we also try to recreate physical classrooms in an online space but get frustrated when we meet limitations. It’s important to realise that online teaching creates new demands on teachers, and thus requires new types of support from managers and trainers.
Access to appropriate resources for teaching and studying online varies greatly, including access to the Internet. If all members of your family are working and studying in the same space, how can they concentrate? If there is only one laptop, who is allowed to use it? And if there no access to the internet, what other options are there for students? Can schools provide the technology and internet access teachers and students need? Even where they can, are they willing to do so?
Finally, and most importantly, the lack of prior ‘crisis planning’ and relevant training has created an incredibly stressful situation for many teachers and schools. The current situation has highlighted the precarity of private language schools with many having to lay off teachers, often with no warning or promise of further support. The lack of previous training in how to use online technologies meant a steep learning curve. The ongoing risks to our long-term mental and physical health are exacerbated as we deal with stress caused by having to adapt quickly, feeling that we must continue for our students’ sake despite the physical demands of increased screen time on our eyes and bodies.
However, there are some positive aspects to this new situation; ones I hope continue after Coronavirus. For example, it’s easier than ever to invite guests into our classrooms (with appropriate safeguarding measures). We can connect classes up remotely, as people in lockdown or quarantine seek new forms of social contact. What better way is there to give students a real purpose for speaking English than communicating with classroom visitors? Online teaching also provides an opportunity for students in different countries to form friendships that will hopefully endure.
Since moving online, I’ve seen all kinds of new ideas for teaching, training and socialising – necessity really is the mother of invention. In particular, organisations have started regular training sessions or meetings via Zoom; opening up discussions and sharing in ways I have never experienced when training online. This may have existed before, but it seems much more common and accessible now.
Many teachers and students have found that online lessons are not as bad, or as difficult, as feared, which opens up new opportunities for future teaching. Schools that were previously only bricks-and-mortar will be able to broaden their businesses, and teachers will have more freedom to teach in a variety of new ways.
The move to teaching online happened abruptly and, for most of us, with minimal planning. Many of us rushed to use the first technology we came across in order to get through the crisis, without carefully considering the implications of choosing and using that tool. Technology providers have been put under a lot of strain very quickly. Security flaws have been publicised, and these concerns (rightly) won’t go away in a hurry. We ask teachers and students to share their data, without necessarily being clear about how this affects their privacy. This may continue to push power towards large organisations, and/or mean that teachers and students avoid online lessons as security and privacy concerns become clearer.
Safeguarding and inclusion have also been difficult to consider in the rush to move online. Safeguarding is our ability to provide physically and mentally safe environments for teachers and students, as well as maintaining this safety over time. We need to minimize the risk of potentially dangerous or stressful experiences online. Inclusion is ensuring everyone can access lessons we are providing. On a logistical level, this is the availability of technology and tools, the strength of internet connections, the technical knowledge and awareness of teachers, students and parents, and whether the environment at home is conducive to motivated study or focussed work. Inclusion also means accessibility for students with a range of needs, for example, dyslexia, autism, and visual or hearing impairments. If we don’t consider safeguarding and inclusion as part of our online provision, we risk alienating students and teachers, excluding them from areas of education, and even of longer-term damage to their wellbeing.
Most worryingly, the global recession that is bound to come means non-essential spending will be reduced. For many companies/businesses, this may be English lessons; meaning there will probably be fewer students to go around. Teachers may lose hours, or more highly-paid family members may lose their jobs meaning that teachers need to find better-paid work. The future of the private language school industry and its employees is more uncertain than ever.
I don’t want to finish on a negative note though. What this crisis has made eminently clear to me is just how supportive we are as a community of teachers. I have a lot of hope for the future. We have an opportunity to rethink so many areas of our lives, and how we deliver English language teaching and training is no exception. I hope that this initial SWOT analysis has given you some ideas. What would you add?
Sandy Millin is the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz in Poland, and the former curator of the IATEFL blog. She is also a CELTA trainer and materials writer. She has self-published three books: Richer Speaking, ELT Playbook 1 and ELT Playbook Teacher Training. She blogs regularly at http://sandymillin.wordpress.com and tweets @sandymillin.
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