“We would like to bring about a mindshift for the language industry in Malta… to encourage schools and teachers to position themselves differently, to be inspired by others and to inspire others in turn, to continue to enhance and improve teaching techniques and outcomes.”
– Daniel Xerri, Chairperson of the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Monitoring Board at the Ministry of Education and Employment in Malta.
And so began one of the opening speeches that kicked off the second annual ELT Conference in St Julian’s, Malta last weekend. (Next year’s event will take place in the same location, 24-26 October, and will also include the first ever Inspiring ELT Professional Award.)
A good year for Malta
Nearly 82,000 international students came to Malta to learn English last year, and not only did the numbers increase, but the variety of nationalities did, too.
With 42 language schools on an island that is only about 300 square kilometres, Malta is small but mighty, and packs a punch in terms of quality language education. Making sure it stays that way, and in fact, improves year on year, is a central mission of the ELT Conference.
As Josef Formosa Gauci, CEO of the Maltese Tourism Authority (MTA), declared, “We must maintain and strengthen the professionalism of the English language sector.”
Xerri further stated:
“We believe that these schools need to be provided with more support in order for the ELT industry in Malta to continue prospering. If we want this industry to contribute even further to Malta’s economy, then there should be provisions in place that facilitate the process of attracting students from an even wider variety of countries.”
“It is in recognition of the fact that the quality of our teachers needs to remain our first priority, that last year the EFL Monitoring Board decided to start organising an annual ELT Conference,” Xerri explained.
Teaching digital natives
That decision was clearly a wise one, as the results showed. Last year’s event saw 270 people in attendance, and this year, the conference drew in 330 people.
An overriding theme that appeared throughout this year’s ELT Conference was the importance of connecting with students, and tapping into what makes them tick.
This might require instructors to modify their teaching styles to the needs and tendencies of a group of students, or an individual (as several seminars illustrated through a wide variety of practical examples).
And more and more, it is beginning to require them to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom.
“Technology raises the expectations of learners,” said Steve Lever of Express Publishing in his session on teaching digital natives.
Indeed, conditions in the classroom are changing, as freelance teacher trainer Pam Borg so well illustrated in her energetic best practice session on interactive whiteboards. Teachers must adapt not only their lesson plans and curriculum, but also their expectations of what students want or are willing to do in terms of engaging with technology in class.
However, challenges lie ahead. Although they were first invented in 1991, many teachers still don’t use interactive whiteboards because they are intimidated by the technology, or not well trained on how to use it. Other times, the problem lies with the schools because the Internet connections are not always reliable in all classrooms.
Pre- and post-learning experience
From a recruitment perspective, not all prospective students will be aware of the level and sophistication of technology which will be used in the school where they intend to study, but one thing is certain: teacher quality contributes to retention and ultimately, student success, which will naturally be fed back to a student’s home town via their agent, family, or themselves (and we all know the power of alumni recruiting). But the more this information can be shared before a student arrives at a school, the better.
Additionally, communicating information or generating excitement about certain teachers or classroom environments before arrival can help students feel more confident or enthusiastic. For example, a school can invite students to join their online social community before arrival, such as a Facebook page where teachers can participate, or where current or alumni students can share their experiences with prospective students. Posting pictures or short videos of the technology used in the classroom is a great way to showcase how advanced a school is. Or, imagine the positive impression a future student can have when he or she reads posts from other students about passing a tough exam or getting the chance to practice their English during one of the fun activities the school helped arrange.
Recruiting agents who visit schools on fam tours often have the opportunity to meet with teachers and visit their classrooms, and therefore, can also be a useful source of information for prospective students.
How will our industry evolve?
But ultimately, is a teacher even needed for a student to learn? This was the shocking question Jeremy Harmer (author, teacher trainer and expert in ELT methodology) posed in his keynote address.
Many of today’s modern learners are self motivated, curious researchers who can find almost anything on the web. Those focused on the bigger picture often have enough self discipline or incentive to learn on their own. But as a number of conference speakers concluded, ultimately their success seemed hinged on three main factors:
- giving students access to technology;
- teacher intervention in cases of error correction;
- teacher enthusiasm and their ability to adapt to the behaviours and desires of today’s learners.
We are in the early stages of a unique time in history, a unique chance to experiment with new technology in teaching, as well as new methods of teaching and of learning including Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). How will our industry meet this challenge? How will we evolve as an industry?
The message from Malta is clear: we must continue to adapt in the face of change, and inspire those who teach the future leaders of the next generation.