Annual conference: the value of English and our oldest delegate
14 May 2014

Hard to describe our second major session of the day, save to say that it was an interesting romp through a not-too-distant future where everything we do is connected and children born post-2002 expect things to be entirely interactive and think nothing of hacking into their toys.

Opinions have been rather mixed on this session, with some delegates slightly bemused about how to apply the information to work, and others having thoroughtly enjoyed it.

In the latter camp was Suzanne Sparrow, owner of her own school in Devon and undoubtedly the oldest delegate in the room, at the age of 89. "I am really enjoying this: somebody else usually comes but she couldn't this year so I thought I'd come instead. It's really interesting and I particularly enjoyed the technology briefing although I wasn't expecting to."

The other major session of the morning had three experts in the English Language market: Anna Searle of the British Council, Samuel Vetrek of Student Marketing and Michael Carrier of Cambridge English Language Assessment. What followed was a really interesting sprint through facts and figures to do with English worldwide.

Anna said it was a time of significant growth for English, with 1 in 4 speaking the language across the world. 1.5bn were learning the language which was expected to rise to 1.9bn by 2020.

She said there were three channels to learning – public education, private education and self access, the last of which was growing. The largest learner markets were India (311.6m) and China (218m). Emerging economies and developed countries recognized the economic value of producing large numbers of skilled graduates able to communicate in English and this was starting to influence government and educational policy.It was a common language for trade, convenience and dialogue.

Students wanted English for social networking, access to HE and career prospects. "Improved English skills give the government more money to invest in English training, and English skills drive up salaries," she said. In addition, corporates needed English skills and wanted to employ people who already had those skills.

Teacher education courses were important.

Samuel Vetrak said export driven economies required English and 55 per cent of non native English pseaking employees use the language every day at work, with 75 per cent of world mail written in English."

"The more people speak English the better life they have," he said, in terms of well-being, social, financial and education.

However, he said the market was now quite saturated and people needed high proficiency, and centres might in future look not at volume of students but other products. "It's much more English for juniors, younger age groups for specific purposes."

Michael Carrier said there was a high demand from citizens and high aspirations for employment, mobility and education, with low outcome from schools systems. Teachers needed to be upskilled and students needed to spend more time – two hours a week in school was not enough.

He said people wanted 21st century skills -- not just English but what's wrapped around it "like snakes and ladders". These included creativity, critical thinking collaboration and communications.

This had implications for schools thinking about students' perceptions of what they needed.

English as a medim of introduction in universities was going to "washback" into secondary schools, opening up new markets but would need new training for those delivering courses.

He also talked about digital learning trends and how that would change the role of teacher and design of courses and classroom, and how employers demanded staff with all these skills. Learners had technology in their hands at all times.

He talked also of competition from Google Glasses and Google Translate changing the ways we teach. "It's going to change how we create value for them and they create value for us."



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