The English Language Teaching industry is reeling at the announcement that China, South Korea, Japan and several countries in South East Asia have followed the example set earlier by most countries in Europe and abolished compulsory English instruction at primary and secondary school levels. The number of countries in the world that continue requiring students to learn English as a second or foreign language as part of their public schooling has now dwindled to a bare handful, and speculation has become rife about the future of global ELT publishing and EFL teacher employment.
Cathy Sidebottom, Senior Global Marketing and Sales Manager for major publisher Percy Shortman, appears to remain optimistic about her company's prospects.
"While it is true that most countries are now scaling back requirements for English language instruction in their public school sectors, we note that these schools are still planning to offer English as an elective subject," she said, speaking from one of Percy Shortman's franchised Instant Language Coffee Shops in Hong Kong.
"We also expect our current growth in private English education contexts to continue and to in fact increase dramatically. With our own planned expansion to begin opening private primary and secondary schools globally alongside our private universities and coin-operated English boothes in subway stations, we feel we will continue to have a strong market for English language learning materials and programs."
However, not everyone shares Ms. Sidebottom's optimism - including even those who believe in the rumours that Percy Shortman and CUPs (Collective University Presses) are getting ready to launch military coups to topple governments globally and reinstate politicians willing to resurrect the compulsory English frameworks.
"Well that's that, then, ain't it?" claimed Marvin Swansong, President of the ELTPOL (English Language Teachers Paying Off Loans) association, which boasts a worldwide membership of 200,000 teachers.
"We're for it now. The writing's on the wall, and most of our members can actually read it and correct the poor punctuation. We're stuffed. It's going to be a colossal disaster, especially when our members are forced to return to their home countries and apply for unemployment benefits alongside defaulting on their student loan repayments. Things were turning bad enough when places like Spain and Poland decided to ditch their compulsory English programs - but Asia? That was supposed to be safe ground - a safe future, even for teachers with bugger all real teaching qualifications."
"McDonald's appears to have raised its casual and part-time rates, though," he added wistfully.
Right, okay - a Ravenesque attempt at satire that probably doesn't come off all that well. My humble apologies in advance...
But seriously, do you think it would be a good idea for countries to stop requiring their students to study English in their public primary and secondary school programs? Would it be fairer (and more effective) to offer English as an elective subject only? What do you think would happen if governments worldwide DID actually start to abolish compulsory English instruction in their public school systems?
Also - for those of you aware of current developments and an ability to read between the lines - what do you think of the idea of traditional ELT publishers expanding beyond materials to start applying their own tests, buying up online social networks and even opening their own school franchises?
Image at top courtesy PAP Blog