Three years ago I started warning my clients and contacts in the field that we’re moving into a new era as far as the character and needs of the ELT field in Greece are concerned. We had already begun to talk about market saturation, institutional changes in the public sector imposed mainly by the EU, commercialization of the field and the “intrusion” of professionals from other fields. As I am writing, in 2006, all this has become a reality.
Very recently, at a dinner hosting both school owners and publishers, the sales manager of a publishing company was stating the opinion that the publishing industry is shrinking drastically, and that publishing companies are cutting down on investment while they have already started rationalizing the cost of personnel, most specifically their sales teams. The same manager was admitting that the junior market is shrinking faster than others, something that most school owners dread to hear. Also, that with the inclusion of foreign languages at the lower levels of primary state education, parents will start asking instead for more specialized services at higher (senior and exam) levels from private language schools, so it is the intention of most publishers to focus more on these segments in the years to come.
At the same time, with the big (dare I say overwhelming) variety of exams offered and recognized by the supreme council of personnel recruitment (ASEP), candidates feel more disoriented, and of course, so do their parents and teachers. And on top of that, an increasing number of state authorities are declaring their intention to exclude ASEP from their recruitment policies and adopt more traditional, but at the same time more substantial criteria, especially as far as professional skills are concerned (World’s Investor Sat. 6/5/2006).
To the above equation you add the sad 77% (hyphen 2005 annual market research) of Greek professional FL certificate holders who cannot speak English, thus shaping a disappointing international profile for the average Greek professional. Then it is easier to swallow that maybe this whole Greek ELT system, that has successfully served Greek insecurity and the need for formal (but not necessarily substantial) accreditation, is coming to an end.
With all the above in mind, the timely question of who is going to survive naturally pops up. As I have always said, what makes a good businessman is his/her ability to transform the vision of the business, and its services, according to the constantly changing needs of the market, but always based on his/her professional expertise. On the other hand, as I predicted at my annual market research presentation back in December, for the decade to come, business viability concerns only a third of the existing ELT businesses in Greece. The reason is very simple.
If schools cannot find an effective way to differentiate their services, profile, performance and targets from their competitors, the market itself already seems able to force Greek frontisteria to do so, fast, flexibly and effectively. By taking out of play a whole generation of school owners of retirement age, and a few thousand more frontisteria which just cannot meet the emerging needs of the saturated and commercialized market, that leaves us with only a third of existing businesses with the strength to face the biggest challenge ever in Greek ELT.
This challenge is called ‘educating our market’. It is widely accepted that nowadays, parents and students believe that whichever school they choose, the main aim of passing an examination will be met. Thus, the rising issue for us as businesses is: ‘Is this really the ultimate target of our school and its students?’ Will English as a foreign language function as a lively professional skill of a European citizen even if English starts from Kindergarten? Can the Greek state, or any state, provide customized training and orientation? Can the nine or ten locally recognized certificates (half of which are completely unknown on a European scale) accredit thorough users? Will the European Portfolio manage to stand out as a self-evaluation tool in the state sector, or will it prove itself to be more homework? And if none of these developments can ensure an outstanding international profile for the Greek professional (especially now that the Ministry is working so hard towards the promotion of a highly documented tertiary education), who is going to do this and how are they going to educate the market about their real needs and the vocational reality of modern Europe?
The ELT businesses that will survive the next few years will have nothing to do with the traditional Greek frontisterio as we now know it. I insist, and will keep on insisting, that to run a successful business, we must have something real to sell and this ‘something’ must answer the real and current needs of the market it services. If the market, due to a long period of disorientation, does not seem to know what its needs are, it is our job to identify them, point them out, explain them, and reassure the market that we are here to help. It is such a waste of time and money to state the obvious with our September advertising, the fact that we train students for exams and that our students will pass. There is no ELT business in Greece that does not deserve to state this honestly, and parents know it. What parents and students do not know is English. Even worse, they do not know how useful English is, and how late it will be when a new employer, somewhere in Europe, finds out, post-recruitment, that the certificate stated in a CV does not reflect real and existing skills.
What all good, viable schools need to promote and affiliate themselves with is teaching English. Teaching an English that can tangibly reflect on functional knowledge, learning targets and specific needs. But before they can promote this oh, so obvious service, they have to start teaching this English again. After all, once they have a real ‘something’ to sell, promoting it and regaining a lost market is accessible to anyone who takes their profession seriously enough.
issue, as the identity and reputation of the field depends on it.