David Graddol, trends analyst

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In this plenary, David Graddol delved into the murky world of the English teaching business, where the imperative is firmly profit over people. He asks, ‘Who benefits from English teaching?’, and answers, ‘Follow the money!’. On that basis, it’s clearly not teachers and learners who benefit. Although the exact mechanisms of how the money moves, especially with the advent of online services and payments, may be opaque, we can still see where the money ends up.

Graddol described one trend to illustrate the sense in which learners are not benefiting, and this relates to the phenomenon of outsourcing. Learners in India receive instruction in English in order to then provide a cheaper labour for bank call centres and the like. But the English instruction they receive is not empowering, because the outsourcers have divided the job into very narrow processes, eg dealing with credit card theft reports. The trainees learn the language needed to deal with just one of these processes, and that alone.

Looking towards the future, Graddol turned to demographics. He showed graphs of population changes by age – dependent children, working adults and retirees. He showed a pattern in which an undeveloped country has a bulge in the young population. Then, as an economy grows there is a bulge in the working-age population which boosts the country’s GDP. Finally, there is a bulge in the aged population which strains the GDP – unless a country can make a bigger return on its remaining working population by moving from agriculture and manufacturing to service industries.

Through these demographic calculations, Graddol suggests that there is, and will be, a ‘zero or hero’ language requirement in the job market. Employers will require either rudimentary English, for waiters for example, or very high level English for high-end service jobs. There is little appetite for B1 –B2 level speakers – which ironically are what most education systems are geared to produce.

I had the impression that Graddol planned to say a lot more on his topic and had found himself short of time, so that there was no rounding off or conclusion to his talk. However, it was very rich with carefully researched material.


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