So long training!

During our 2006 research what was specifically noticeable was the crisis training is undergoing. While once upon a time ELT professionals could take pride in being one of the best and most frequently trained professional fields worldwide, 2006 could be characterized as the most critical year for professional ELT trainers in Greece, based on interviews to 5 accredited professional ELT trainers in Athens and Thessaloniki, and 370 school owners also in Athens and Thessaloniki.

My standard professional attitude has always been that of judging processes and phenomena by result. To explain why training (among so many other ELT related professions) is going through such a major crisis, we have to analyse a series of parameters and most specifically:

What is nowadays perceived as training in Greek ELT
Which are the universal needs that are met by training as an one-off or on-going solution
How these needs apply or appear in Greek ELT nowadays
What can be done

a) What is nowadays perceived as training in Greek ELT? Training per se can only be interpreted as a development tool. Professional development requires targets, processes, keeping up-to-date with methodological trends and meeting the aforementioned targets more precisely, faster, successfully and more flexibly to achieve customized and individualized solutions, so that end receivers of our service receive a higher value for money. However, the majority of school owners and ELT teachers claim to have attended multiple training sessions throughout the year, just by attending publishing product knowledge sessions and book presentations, or even the free examination reform updates, which should also be included in the product knowledge sessions. This is a form of training and it is great that it is provided for free, but it covers only a tiny piece of the training needs of a professional.
b) Which are the universal needs that are met by training as a one-off or on-going solution? The reasons companies throughout the world train their staff and that professionals on an individual basis enrol in training programmes could be outlined as follows:
I. Product knowledge
II. New staff’s smooth incorporation into the corporate organogramme
III. New market trends
IV. On-going development / added value performance for the clients
V. Productivity and methodology
VI. Accreditation

I. Product knowledge
Product knowledge usually refers to the product or service that the professional offers or to the tools that the professional uses. In our case, the service offered has been highly standardized for years and is only related to specific certificates. The private language teaching sector has followed the state curricular standards, mainly because of pedagogical reasons that relate to the age group of ELT students. This means that we are talking about a set academic year, a rather standard number of years to reach the first certificate and the subsequent perception that “the student finishes English” in the way that they finish school with an “apolyterion”. There has been little and narrow space over the year for “ELT product” variations, mainly depending on the variations of the end target which is the certificate. Where there has been space for product development meeting variant needs of professional and adult students, the average school owner and teacher have just amended the corpus standard curriculum of the younger learners, hardly responding to the specific needs of the adults, which explains why the adult market is still so poor and only responding to the need of a “recognized” certificate for their career.
As far as products that serve as tools are concerned, as I mentioned above, they are supported by on-going presentations and usage training sessions sponsored by the publishers, thus serving regular product updates for the teaching community and sales targets for themselves.

II. New staff’s smooth incorporation into the corporate organogramme
It is common knowledge that the average ELT business in Greece has evolved rather spontaneously, with no recorded HR structures and definitely no recorded procedures and performance measurements to be met. Incorporation of new staff into the business reality is done equally spontaneously, without any methodological lines in place as there are no targets and procedures to be met. The average employment contract is as long as the academic year and there is lots of space for correctional moves based on experience.

III. New trends
Talking about new trends in Greek ELT we can only talk about new forms of language user accreditation and recognition, but not about new market trends. So far little, if anything, has been done towards serving the linguistic and communication needs of parts of the market who are not interested in state recognized accreditation by schools. Thus, there is no need for further training, as examination bodies cater for the training of teachers and their updates frequently and most importantly for free.

IV. On-going development / added value performance for the clients
Added value to the client and personal development should always be a parameter we constantly check and invest in. However, reasons of recession along with high standardization of the needs of a badly trained or faithless market make on-going training a rather expensive investment in the value for money relation. Experience and unofficial coaching offered by the owner of a school can effectively ensure the minimum requirements. Buying an undoubtedly valuable training programme on “how to teach young learners”, is no good value for money any more, first because financial restrictions have grown immensely, second because few school owners want to invest in staff that by no means can be seen as permanent.

V. Productivity and methodology
Training is usually one of the end tools to ensure productivity and methodological improvement. It definitely requires a target plan, observations and monitoring and most of all the time, resources and money to accommodate those procedures. These parameters live far from Greek ELT reality.
VI. Accreditation
A usual reason why professionals seek further training is to obtain some specific form of accreditation that would add onto their competitive advantages. Within the ELT field the only accredited qualification required is the “eparkeia” (coming from either a university degree or proficiency certification). When the whole market knows that any recognized teacher can get their students to meet exams requirements, time and money pressure keeps them from seeking further accreditation, simply because the market is not interested in further competitive advantages of this kind.

c) What can be done
The most important thing for all ELT professionals is to realize that what has made training less desired is value for money. Even small luxuries are welcome only at times of wealth. The rest of the time any added value service is purchased to add tangible potential for profit. Many teachers and school owners keep saying that nothing new or fresh has been offered training-wise over the past decade. That is not true, as Greek ELT has produced trainers of outstanding value and expertise over the past two decades. The problem is not that training is flat, but the fact that the ELT product itself is flat and too standardized in Greece.
Another thing is that trainers are framed and have associated themselves with specific products, methodologies, accreditations, spontaneously responding to market needs several years ago, which, however, do not correspond to current needs of the ELT market.
ELT training in our decade has to signify a wind of change. Training should give something that professionals do not possess; unfortunately they do not feel so, simply because they possess enough for what they are expected to give. That actually might not be true, but that is what everybody feels like and as I have said, I prefer to judge things by result.


Copyright© 2007  Yannis Stergis
Republication or use of part or all text without written permission from Yannis Stergis is strictly prohibited.