I received the comment below, from “Anonymous”, in response to a previous post, “The Urgency of Teachers Sharing Resources: A Moral Imperative”. http://bit.ly/ohRH7p
Comment from Anonymous: “I firmly believe in free software philosophy and I love to apply it to different things like content but, Share, is it good? Should I share for free as in free beer, not as in freedom? Not at all!” (end of quote)
Firstly, “Anonymous”, thank you for the humorous way in which you make your point. I admit that I laughed, before it dawned on me the seriousness with which you make your comment.
If we were in a debate, it would not be enough for me to say we have a difference of opinion. That’s obvious. What is not clear, however, is what evidence supports our differing opinions.
I gather that you find free beer to be acceptable, which extends to free content, and is even inclusive of the freedom to use the content as I wish. At this point, you draw the line, and would not share – for free – for nothing – “gratis”, the products of your intellectual interaction with the content. You would expect to be compensated (paid) for your work.
To be honest, I also expect to be compensated (paid) for my work. In this regard, we actually share the same opinion. But here’s where we differ: whereas you expect a monetary reward for your efforts, I expect the reward of helping someone, to do something, that they would not have been able to do, without the free access to, and use of, the free resource I provided.
I know you ask me the question: “Why”? Why am I not interested in economic profit?
Here’s the answer: In my ten years of being an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I have met an incredible number of teachers who could not speak English, could not write a paragraph in English, yet were teaching students, English.
I asked myself what the problem was. Literally, I said to myself, “Thomas, what is the problem?”
The answer to the question is not complicated. It has three parts.
First, poor quality training is the first thing that happens. Imagine what kind of EFL teacher you will be, if your EFL teacher, can’t speak English? Answer: You will most likely be an EFL teacher, who can’t speak English. It’s not rocket science.
Well, that’s the first part. Poor quality teaching is perpetuating itself, in a vicious cycle, generation after generation.
That brings us to part two. Now, what’s the second part? Answer: Resources.
Resources such as books, manuals, videos, etc. have a price. English Language Teaching resources are expensive. I’m not just talking about Chile. I’m talking about all over the world. We live in a globalised world that has fully embraced the profit motive. I read somewhere that the ELT industry in England alone has an annual turnover of more than two Billion pounds. That’s big business.
What’s my source? OK, that’s a fair question. If we were in a debate, I could not make a statement like that without being asked for my source of information. So, here is my source:
Michael Carrier, Head Global English at the British Council
Quote: Michael Carrier said, ““English Language Teaching is a major profession that affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, while in the UK the ELT industry brings around £3 billion in student fees, accommodation, publishing and ancillary spending to the country.” (end of quote)
Have you heard of the British Council? How did they do last year?
British Council: “Last year we engaged face to face with 18.4 million people and reached 652 million. We are a non-political organisation which operates at arm’s length from government. Our total turnover in 2009/10 was £705 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the British government was £211 million. For every £1 of government grant we receive, we earn £2.50 from other sources.” www.britishcouncil.org
(ELTons 2011 Winners Announced, 24 February 2011) http://bit.ly/f4SPg3
Go into a bookstore and look at the prices. Pick up a coursebook, or maybe a “How to Teach (Reading/Writing/Listening/Speaking/etc.)” manual. After looking at the price, you either make a sacrifice to pay for the material or you wistfully put the excellent resource material back down, and leave the store, empty-handed.
Why empty-handed? Because there are only a handful of countries in which teachers are paid enough money to have income available for purchases like ELT resources. It’s called “disposable income“, and that is something teachers generally have very little of. Our income is usually committed to paying the bills for the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.
Yes, I realize I may possibly not be going to win an ELTONS award next year, and that the British Council will not be contacting me to write a book on debating (my passion) anytime soon.
By the way, you did download my free ebook, “Teaching Debate in Chile”, http://slidesha.re/cSVP9N, right? And you did get your free copy of my free e-book about “Boudicca, England’s Warrior Queen, http://slidesha.re/jW3Sa7 right? And of course you got a copy of my free love story, Looking for Catarina, http://slidesha.re/dYc3KT right?
By now my point must be clear to you. Three quality books, use them or modify them as you like, and you paid, how much? Nothing. If anything I’ve shared with you is terrible, or not good, or worthless to you, you lost…nothing.
I am motivated to do this (share freely with you) because I have met huge numbers of English teachers who aren’t capable of teaching English in English. For those teachers who try to help themselves, they can’t get their hands on high-quality teaching materials because they don’t have the money.
So, what can I do? How can I help? Literally, I ask myself, “Thomas, what can you do?”
My answer has been to make my own “best-quality” teaching resources freely available. No strings attached. Use it if it works for you, modify if it needs to be modified, and please, share with your colleagues. Share. Share, aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would puit it.
You see, in addition to the two aspects of the problem of a vicious cycle of poor quality teaching producing poor quality teaching, and high costs of excellent resource materials, sharing is the third obstacle that teachers face.
Teachers are forced by circumstances beyond their control to compete with each other, rather than collaborate. If you get a better job than me because you are a better teacher, then why should you share with me, and risk losing out to me?
If your school gets more resources because it is better than my school, why should your school share with my school?
If your nation gets more financial rewards because it has better results than my nation, why should your nation share with mine?
As you can see, a change is needed if we are to seek substantial improvement for our students. The change is quite simple.
Somebody needs to share. Somebody needs to give it away. Just like a free beer will bring you a new friend, free English resources will bring you a better teacher. That means you are better prepared to meet the challenges you face in this world.
Finally, if you are better prepared, there is a high probability that you will make this world a better world for everyone to live in.
So, what do teachers of English as a Foreign Language have to do? All we have to do is what we were taught to do in kindergarden: Share.