The world is in economic crisis, the full effects, the actual depth of this crisis, are yet to be seen. What we do know is that it won’t be the super rich who are made to pay for a crisis endemic to capitalism, but the poor, ordinary workers on low pay struggling to pay unmanageable fuel bills. The question is, “How will this effect TEFL workers”
Before answering this question, it is necesary to understand the recent growth in the TEFL industry and also to understand the nature of a debt-fuelled recovery and the viscious attack on workers’ living standards that preceded it.
As Harman summarises:
US Marxist Robert Brenner has shown that American manufacturing profits rates fell from 24.8 percent in the years 1949-1969 to 13 percent during 1980-1990. They made up some of the loss in the decade 1991-2000, rising to 17.7 percent, before falling to 14.4 percent over 2000-2005. Japanese manufacturing profit rates more than halved from the 1960s to the 1990s, and in Germany they fell by 75 percent. The fall in profit rates was accompanied by a decline in the growth of fixed investment—in the US from over 4 percent a year in the 1960s and 1970s to 3.1 percent in the 1990s to 2.1 percent in 2000-2006; in Japan over the same period from over 10 percent to 2.8 percent; in Germany from around 7 percent to 1.6 percent. In the US the proportion of investment going into finance as opposed to production rose from 12 percent in the mid-1970s to 25 percent in the 1990s. In Britain the financial sector grew from about 7 percent of GDP in 1975 to about a quarter in 2000. By then it accounted for around 18 percent of total employment. Investment in finance and business services was less than half that in manufacturing 1975; by 1990 it was four times higher.
In short, capitalism has restored its profits by speculation. Unable or unwilling to invest in further production it has contented itself with a speculation boom. This money has been lent to people on low incomes who have seen their real incomes fall (The US) or stagnate (Europe-Japan) and these loans have helped fuel the recovery. The recovery has finally now reached its limit. Moreover, the reserve army of labour and international divison of labour (the threat to move work elsewhere) has forced workers to increasingly undertake training at their own expense. The expansion of Further and Higher Education is testimony to this trend. Indeed, workers have gone into debt to pay for “extra” education for themselves and their family believing this to be the only way to secure employment. This is not to say employers don’t pay but that there has been a significant shift in who is responsible for training costs, whether it be in student loans or reduced employer contributions (the end of apprenticeships, day release etc).
Now what is significant is the pressure on workers in non-English speaking countries to learn English or provide extra resources for their children to do so. Moreover, more and more academic texts are only available in English and students are graded more and more on their ability to dominate English rather than their actual academic subject. This is further compounded by the growth of American ,British and Australian Univerisities exporting their courses worldwide or importing students from abroad.
So with the crisis what can we expect? Firstly, in the state sector we are unlikely to see any immediate cuts in EFL in most advanced capitalist countries. Investment has not been so great and governments are currently spending rather than cutting expenditure. As the debts rise, however, governments will seek to balance the books by looking for savings in state expenditure, but this is not the case presently. Traditionally, also, this is the best unionised sector of the industry- employiong native teachers on contracts equal to other teaching staff. In weaker industrialised countries, however, state education will suffer as the IMF demands cuts in services as a pre-condition for loans
In the private academies teaching general students there is likely to be an increase in pools of labour willing to teach as Americans, British and Australians attempt to escape unemployment by becoming TEFL teachers (creating a temporary upturn in opportunities for teacher trainers). This may well have a downward effect on wages and conditions in this traditionally non-unionised sector. The sector itself is also subject to bankcruptcy as unhealthy loans and dubious financial practices have paid for expansion. This was evident in Wall Street English and Brighton Idiomas crash in Spain in 2005 and Nova’s crash in Japan in 2007.
In the university sector, the fall in Sterling and the Dollar against major Asian currencies should help the student numbers but, on the other hand, falls in exports from these countries will eventually lead to further economic problems in these countries, especially in Japan which has been so dependent on exports to recover from its own recession
Finally, in the business sector we predict a mini-boom in English contracts as businesses turn to more English classes rather than less. In these uncertain times companies will either close human resources and training departments or seek to “rationalise” their work. English classes being cheaper than many other forms of training, this will be an excellent way for businesses to retain training and training departments whilst cutting real costs. Language service providers can expect a more demanding human resources section (no longer able to commision more adventurous training intiatives) but also a temporary boom in courses.
Of course, we are in the early days of the crisis so far but what is clear is that neo-liberal ideology has been shown to be the Emperor Without Clothes we all knew it to be, our job, as always, is to defend ourselves and expose the lies of “globalisation”. This means standing for true internationalism and against such false ideas of “International English” but that is for another article. The old is dying and the new cannot be born….or can it?