3 Reasons ELT/EFL Teachers Should Share: Should I Share For Free? Not At All…

Wordle_Tagcloud_for_OER_course (Credit: Google images)

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

Michael Carrier

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.

IB Learner Profile

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.


About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Education, EFL and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 3 Reasons ELT/EFL Teachers Should Share: Should I Share For Free? Not At All…

  1. An interesting point of view and I enjoyed reading it.

    Except that I VERY MUCH don’t agree in the idea of teachers making materials and giving everything away for free. All it will mean is that owners of large corporations may lose out, perhaps,

    on one less corporate paid yacht,
    one less crate of champagne at their extravagant – back-slapping self indulgent “galas”…
    or having to buy one less guest-wing for their CEO’s mansions

    however the core reality is that FREE will certainly force too many authors into completely leaving this profession or into starving to death.

    English Teachers are consistently paid very badly, all over the world. The main problem is the lack of respect for the actual work that goes into teaching another language. There simply are too many unqualified teachers, backpackers and housewives vying for the same jobs, weakening the pay scale of those who are qualified and skilled. Governments want their populations to speak English but won’t pay for the training or for the quality of teachers needed.

    When I look around me, around this world of language institutions that take on untrained teachers while charging as much as they can, who demand more and more and give less and less back, then sincerely I wonder if this age we are living in now will one day be referred to as the “Return of the Parasitic Kings, Queens and Lords…”

    But back to the point: English Materials Authors are also consistently paid very, very poorly (most publishers take between 97% and 90% of the “profits”) and despite the <b<incredible billions made (e.g. Pearson ELT), their actual authors earn very little for their work.

    The power of these significant power-houses means that if an author protests to outlandish demands then they are cut off and replaced by some other mug who simply wants to be published.

    In my opinion, YES, some materials can and should also be freely available, especially books which have already been in print for 10 years or longer and have already returned significant earnings for author and publishing house or materials like you and I do on blogs, websites and e-communities – HOWEVER for the authors who provide a significant number of others with a viable way to do their jobs more easily, more professionally – who in fact, give the “unqualified” a way to receive an income from their work, then they should be paid.

    It doesn’t have to be a lot, but we will enter into all sorts of economic crisis if we begin to suggest that a handful of folks should work for free while others just sit back and simply enjoy.

    In my opinion, as the ELT-4- companies keep their eyes on the prize of ever-making more and more cash, they are already simply hiring less and less quality staff. And making lesser decisions regarding their selection of new authors – based on choosing those who are willing to take on less and less of the pie over the ones who can do the work – so fat cats get fatter.

    However this ignorance, in the end, is an opportunity. In the end as their quality levels drop year after year, it provides an ample opportunity for real talent to break through this disaster of a cycle.

    However one author doing everything alone, (e.g. your e-books or the various others who have dipped their toes in – very talented writers in our field), is probably not the BEST-way forward.

    At the end of the day, all of our students are still looking for professional materials, not just in content but in presentation.

    While these students don’t necessarily know the difference between the different houses, nor do they care, what they do “see” is that a book that is published or presented online by professionals versus one being made available “freely” has a significant easy to recognize “look.” They think this look equals quality… It sort of reminds me of GM tomatoes (pretty but tasteless).

    But on the other hand, they also see that so much of what is on the ‘net (not always, obviously) is oft-times completely worthless or just marketing drivel…

    In my opinion, the absolute most ideal solution would if top-skilled educators in our field, all across the world, grown tired of years-long-abuse by the publishing houses, simply banded together and got rid of the greedy, lazy middle-men busily churning out their mediocre textbooks that don’t work.

    A cooperative and/or a union could be created, made up of writers/editors/curriculum designers/etc and together, they should get deep into self-publishing using a “brand””label” as a group – and together they could, effectively, just as within the Music Industry, significantly lower the costs of the materials, make them more accessible to those in developing nations and other teachers, while they themselves begin / keep earning enough to eat…

    (And I do believe there are a handful of folks working on this.. (I’m not a part of them but heard through the grapevine and I very much applaud this initiative).



  2. Thank you kindly for your response. It is well-received and highly valued.

    Firstly, we both agree with our assessment of the ELT publishing industry. It is thriving and well. It is making literally billions of dollars/pounds.

    Whereas I went from this point (a thriving industry) to my implications, you have analysed, in depth, an additional layer that I didn’t touch. You attempted to shed light on a deeper question, namely, “Why is the ELT industry thriving?”

    Your insights exceed my personal experience. However, I am content to harbor the suspicion that not much research would be required to provide evidence that you are correct in your assertions. That’s important.

    Why? Because it changes your views from mere opinions into undeniable, unavoidable facts. Therefore, I concede the argument about exploitation in the ELT publishing industry.

    Personally, I am aware that ELT as a field, in general terms, subscribes to several myths which leads to bias rearing its head in several aspects. Pride and prejudice, maltreatment and maliciousness, discrimination and exploitation, however, will not be eradicated by waiting on better days to come along.

    If positive change is to come, change that’s good for you and good for me, change that’s good for all of us in the land of ELT, then each one of us, individually and collectively must actively do something.

    If we accept doing nothing as an option, then we should not be surprised when we get the same results we’ve always gotten. Those results (as we have both clearly pointed out), are expensive materials of questionable quality, poorly paid ELT authors and materials writers, and worst of all (in my view) poor teaching directly traceable to this vicious cycle perpetuating itself.

    Now we ask the final question: Quo vadis? If we have such clarity of understanding about the problem, then surely the solution must be equally clear. We have put forward two solutions, you and I. My solution is a simple one: Share.

    Share, inside and outside the boundaries of our discipline: ELT. We are living in an interconnected world. Ideas that come from seemingly unrelated sources can be of great potential value to someone else. Let me give a case in point, a personal anecdote.

    A year ago, an article I wrote was rejected for publication. The publishing world had decided my project wasn’t of good enough quality or originality. They found nothing new was being said or brought to light. Just more of the same was the verdict.

    So, I buried my work in an electronic storage file. A month ago, I shared it on my Slideshare site, and made it available to my PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Result so far has been 1500 online reads, 20 downloads, and a lot of positive feedback. And yes, I was contacted asking if they could publish the article – with no changes.

    I know – this is a long story and a longer post. Yet I must confess that even if I didn’t have this story to tell, I would still be sharing. And it has been my experience that I am not alone. There are countless others who share.

    Sharing makes two people better – the giver and the receiver. That’s enough for me.

    To conclude, I beg your forgiveness for this response of mine. It’s an entire blog post in length, maybe even two. Too long, no matter how I try to justify writing it. So I won’t, because I can’t.

    Just let me finish by saying that I believe, sincerely, that we both have done what many others have done before us, and will do, after us. What have we done?

    We have found personal answers for complex problems. We are both comfortable with our solutions, but if we are honest, then we must realise that there are other solutions, just as good as ours, if not better.

    The challenge may well be our acceptance of that notion, namely, a widely diversified response to a complex problem, on multiple levels, simultaneously. Instead of a single “Way” forward, we need to conceive of multiple “Ways” forward, with equal validity for all ways…

    Again, I thank you most kindly for your response Karenne. As you can see, it has been incredibly thought provoking and enrichening.

    Let me hasten to apologise in advance for anything that I’ve written here that may possibly offend you, in any way. Clearly, it was not my intention to do so, as I hold you in the highest of esteem and regard, both personally and professionally.

    You were quite kind to me in the early days of my blogging existence. I freely and openly admit that much of what I know about what makes a good blog post worth reading, I learned from observing you.

    Best regards,


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