Monthly Archives: September 2009

Radical Anthropology Group

We would like to draw readers’ attention to this fascinating group of academics/activists who give some really fresh perspectives on the problems of today and how they might be tackled. We were particularly impressed by a piece:Managing Abundance, Not Chasing Scarcity, The Real Challenge For The 21st Century”. It appears to us that the whole issue of languages and the false choice between international communication or safeguarding “minoritylanguges” can be seen in the same way. By sharing resources and respecting each other’s languages we can also move to develop effective management of international communication.

It is also worth reading Chris Knight’s (founder of the group) analysis of the work of linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Conrad and the “Flagging Fortunes” of the British Council in Zimbabwe

“He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased.”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 3

The library and the information centre, usually packed with students, were barricaded with heavy security gates and deserted yesterday. The Union flag had been removed from its pole.

David Blair reports for The Daily Telegraph 11 May 2001 on the temporary closure of the British Council offices in Harare, Zimbawbe.

It seems that reporting on Africa has never really left the paradigm of Conrad.  Those that have read the book will recall that Kurtz the leader of a vicious murderous group of “natives” is not black but a Westerner, a Westerner who has lost his mind. The suggestion being  that “The Dark Continent” is savage and that it robs the brightest people of their reason. How else could you explain this irrational assault on a community learning reource? How else could you explain the rapid degeneration of Zimbawbe?

We at Marxist TEFL, would argue, however, that only by dispensing with Conrad’s racist notions of Africa, can we understand the attack on the British Council and the economic and political decline of Zimbawbe. An economic and political decline largely created by people outside the country rather than within it.

When the British Council set up its offices in Harare 1981, the long hard bloody  struggle against a white supremacist government had just been won. Robert Mugabe, who had spent 11 years in prison for his opposition to the government and who had led forces in the “bush war” against Rhodesia, won the 1980 elections promising reconciliation between warring factions (namely the white landowners and busineses, his party (Zanu) and a rival group (Zapu), who had fought alongside Zanu in the war of independence). Mugabe slowly dismantled the white state and after a terrible civil war in Matabeleland where thousands died, Zanu and Zapu finally merged to form Zapu PF and effectively create a one party state.

Despite the conflict bewtween Zanu and Zapu, Zimbawbe was able to achieve some remarkable progress: According to Wiki:

From 1980 to 1990 infant mortality decreased from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced from 128 to 58 per 1000 live births, and immunisation increased from 25% to 80% of the population. Also, “child malnutrition fell from 22% to 12% and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrollment rate than average for developing countries.

Mugabe was held up as a model African leader, showing the way for others to follow. The Queen granted Mugabe the title of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1994 for his services to the commonwealth . At this time they had to be fully  aware of the allegations against him concerning human rights abuses in the civil war in Matabeleland. They were also aware of his extreme catholic views on sexuality (very little difference between him and the current pope on these matters). Things which only seem to have been discovered after the “grabbing” of white-owned farms without compensation.

The most serious problems for Mugabe then started in 1990 when, in his attempts to speed up development he borrowed money from the Economic and Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) sponsored by the World Bank and IMF. In return for much needed currency, he had to radically restructure the national economy in the interests of external investment. Of course, wherever the IMF goes it takes misery with it, as was the case in Argentina, and despite growth rates of 4.5% (down on the 5% of the previous decade) this meant job losses in key industrial sectors and cuts in education. The 1990s saw a a number of strikes and between 1996 and 1998 there was a popular revolt of workers and students and there was also a movement of the rural poor, veterans of the war for independence, who started to invade white-owned farms.

This is significant for two reasons. Firstly, the growth of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a direct socialist challenge to the leadership of Mugabe and organised within the trade unions and secondly, an angry group of the dispossessed ready to take the law into their own hands. It is over the issue of land reform, however, that Mugabe outflanked the MDC.

Up until 1997 there had existed a UK scheme to fund black Zimbabweans purchasing land from white owners. The scheme was created by Margret Thacther and was part of the Lancaster Houe agreements. The scheme was in part a compensation for the land grab by the white colonialists and a way of helping white “Rhodesians” , post-independence, repatriate with some healthy return for their pillaging. The in-coming Labour government reneged on this arrangement, however, arguing that the money had been ill-spent. Now clearly the money had been used to buy farms for the poltical and military allies of Mugabe, but the removal of the funds meant Mugabe had to take action to repossess the farms without compensation. He had to do this in order to ensure his loyalty gifts for his powerful friends. The war veterans movement provided the perfect cover for this strategy and Mugabe was able to present himself (the puppet of the IMF) as an anti-imperialist.

Unfortunately, the MDC slowly moved to the right, incorporating NGOs and white farm owners in its ranks. Instead of deporting MDC supporters to face tortue and imprisonment, the UK government started supporting the MDC. The leader of the MDC, one-time trade unionist, Morgan Tsvangirai, started talks with the US and IMF about Zimbawbe’s future. The battle between Mugabe and his enemies was quickly turned into a battle against British imperialism. The support for the MDC and Human Rights was presented as an intrusion into Zimbawbean politics. Mugabe became an avowed homophobe, playing to the prejudices of a deeply and conservatively religious population.

Sanctions by the US and EU (originally over farm dispossessions) completely wrecked the country, not rigged elections or mismanagement of the farms (this latter part clearly did not help though). In his attempts to maintain power, Mugabe has stoked up anger amongst the dispossessed, transported them around the country in their “fight against imperialism”. Of course the farms only ever land up in the hands of his friends. Sanctions have only worsened poverty and generated more violence. The attack on the British Council offices in Harare was just one more futile but heartfelt strike against the enemies of Zimbawbe.

But is the British Council blamless? It is a representative of the British government. A government that is actively blocking investment into the country, investment the country so desperately needs.  In addition to promoting, UK interests, the British Council also promotes and sells IELTS. IMF cuts and British and US sanctions have ravaged Zimbabwean higher education while the British Council promote IELTS as a gateway to studying abroad. And of course, with all other languages outside Zimbabwe having disappeared.

If you are planning to study, live or work abroad, you will need to take an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Exam.

they will have to prove their competency in this colonial language in order to escape the poverty of their country.

Since 2008, there has been power sharing between Mugabe and the MDC, tensions still exist within this ruling coalition but some “order” has been re-established. Farms are not being occupied and negotiations are in place to lift sanctions. Of course, “mismanagement” is one of the key issues which will have to be dealt with before lifting sanctions but the Union flag is starting to flap happily in the wind again.

As Zimbabwean activist and academic, Brian Raftopoulos, says:

On the one hand there is a global superpower, espousing liberal democratic values, but policing a global economic agenda producing widespread global improverishment; on the other hand this system of global inequalities is breeding an authoritarian nationalism in countries like Zimbabwe.

There is no strange dark power driving people mad in Africa. Hiroshima and Aucshwitz were products of  so-called developed countries. The madness which aflicts Africa is the madness of global inequality. The modernisation thesis is a cheap cover for exploitation. Those who believe that the British Council is aiding development by “providing study opportunities abroad” (ie making a lot of money) need only remember that a certain Robert Mugabe attended Oxford University in 1952. Fat good that did anyone.


Filed under Uncategorized

James McCrostie delves deep into TOEIC Japan

We have covered James McCrostie’s work elsewhere on these pages, in his excellent reporting on the Berlitz strike  for the Japanese Times. This piece on TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), published in the same newspaper, in August 2009, is even better. It is a brilliant example of persistence and investigation, something so often missing from modern journalism (churnalism).  The article continues a theme outlined in our report on Cambridge Assessments, where we asked where the huge “surpluses” from these non-profit making examinations go. James’s article begins to answer these questions with respect to the organisation responsible for “championing” TOEIC” in Japan, IIBC.

Readers with a faint heart should be warned beforehand that 100 million yen is the equivalent of about 1 million US dollars.


Filed under Uncategorized

Finding a place to start. Guest Piece by Sara Hannam

Below is an extract from Sara Hannam’s Improving EL teacher pay and conditions: joining forces, joining unions and finding a place to start…..the discussion. The full article can be read on her blog. We invite you to further the discussion here or on Sara’s blog about how to campaign for real change


An Introduction of sorts…
This is not an easy post to write. The reason is that I cannot apply the same approach I would have done half my life time ago (that’s when I was 20). Back then, I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed super active leftie bolstered by the like-minded people in the political groups I was a member of at the time. The pleasure at meeting similar souls never lessens, I am happy to say, though their profiles have evolved a bit since then. Some of the groups didn’t survive the challenges of the modern world and disbanded, or disappeared into sectarian infighting, so I left them behind – I have always been interested in linking up, not fragmenting. But some did survive and being part of organisations that promote the real potential for change is certainly a crucial part of my life. I am sure you’d guessed that already.

This blog is is a personal challenge as the readership is more diverse, so I have to pay careful attention to all the different relationships people have with the idea of collective political action. I am pretty sure I won’t convince everyone so there’s no point pretending. And perhaps the difference is that I don’t see my role as convincing anyway. I would have said at 20, with all the enthusiasm of the newly converted, that you *must* join a union because it is your social(ist)-anarchist-revolutionary duty (no clues as to the organisations I have been involved in as it will change how you read this post). I stood up for what I believed in (still do) but my courage was a faster runner than my need to explain. I still feel it is a political responsibility and to me that is self-evident, but it is no longer always transparent what that means as unions have come in for a lot of flack over the last 15 years or so (more on that later). Plus, sometimes people resist things outside the structures of a union and succeed, so its not an all or nothing situation. And of course for some, risking being part of a union could mean losing their job or worse.


Filed under Uncategorized

Tower Hamlets Lecturers Win Dispute

After four weeks of all out strike action, Tower Hamlets College lecturers have won their battle against compulsory redundancies. We are delighted, it is fantastic news for all of us. What is not clear, however, is where that leaves the college ESOL programme. The community were fantastic in their support of the striking workers and this support was reciprocated by striking workers giving some ESOL classes during the dispute.  It is vital that, as Brown tries to push the costs of bailing out the bankers onto workers (through pay restraint and redundancies in public services), workers and the communities they serve come together to resist. This means Tower Hamlets lecturers not forgetting the community that supported them and continuing to fight for ESOL classes.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Alex Case replies to our call to “Build an Alternative to Harrogate”

Alex Case, creator of the most popular independent TEFL blog had this to say on the Alternative Conference:

Re the IATEFL stuff, saw your announcement on BELT Free (via a Google alert- gotta love and hate Google at the same time!- as I rarely go on BELT Free) and had a couple of ideas:

– Call it IAltTEFL (the letters don’t have to stand for anything, just as long as it’s like IATEFL but Alternative is understood)
– Make the theme “Themes that would never be allowed in IATEFL (or are at least seriously under represented)”, which should give people a bit of ideological space to express themselves in, as should hopefully the name. Should get something nice and offensive from Sandy (Sandy McManus) as well
– Ask bloggers to post one thing within that remit on every day of the IATEFL conference (either stuff they wrote themselves or guest pieces, or just comments on others’ IAltTEFL pieces), then have a Blog Carnival of those pieces to tie them together afterwards

As you suggested, very happy to lend my blog to the task. Organisational and networking talents you will have to find elsewhere though! Do you want to officially announce it here or there, and if there do you want me to write it or will you write a guest piece?

All fantastic ideas, Alex. We also working with TEFL networker, Karenne Sylvester, and the network she has created in order to generate more ideas.  Once things are clearer we will get in touch. Great to have you on board.


Filed under Uncategorized

Cambridge Assessments: The very profitable business of a non-profit making organisation.

In 2006, some four hundred years too late in our opinion, public schools (that’s private schools in less Orwellian language) were finally challenged to justify their charitable status. This charitable status allows them to avoid paying taxes (currently about 90 million pounds of revenue lost to UK public funds). Since 2006, however, it appears that, under government pressure, all public schools are having to justify their charitable status. Unfortunately, the charity commission responsible for reviewing such status is itself peopled by the very products of such elitist schools. They have a view where the perpetuation of elite institutions is okay as long as they provide the odd scholarship for less well-off students or let the local comprehensive share some facilities. Imagine the sacrifice, letting the “great unwashed” use their Olympic size outdoor swimming pools.

Little wonder then that the charity commission never casts its eyes on Higher Education. And it is here that we come to, perhaps, one of the greatest beneficiaries of this “education” loophole in tax legislation: Cambridge University, and its highly profitable commercial operation, Cambridge Assessments. Cambridge University is said to be the richest university in Europe with a financial endowment of 4.9 billion pounds. Cambridge Assessments, responsible for Teacher Training certificates (CELTA/DELTA) and the Cambridge suite of ESOL examinations (KET/PET/FCE/CAE/CPE) generated a “surplus” for the university of 25 million pounds for the tax year ending April 2008. Now, of course, such surpluses are all for the “public good”. This money helps maintain those beautiful buildings and helps create new dynamic research centres like the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics (3 million donation). For those of you who wish take advantage of this particular public good then you only need apply to the post-graduate programme. For those British and European candidates successful in their application (you will need a first degree), it will cost you 3,492 pounds per year for an M.Phil (only post-grads allowed in the centre). “Overseas” students will have to pay 10,752 pounds. Moreover, non-native English Speakers will, of course, have to demonstrate their ability to undertake the course by passing an IELTS exam, price 105 pounds payable to Cambridge Assessments (who else?). Fortunately, Cambridge University Press, another non-profit making arm of the university are on hand with a copy of Objective IELTS (18 pounds) Objective IELTS workbook (8 pounds) Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS (8 pounds) and Common mistakes at IELTS (6 pounds) … to help you through the exam.

All in all, everywhere you look you see the tentacles of Cambridge University stretching into all aspects of the language industry, squeezing out profit wherever possible. And if you associate what they do as in the public good, then you can have little quarrel with them making a “surplus” to reinvest in their palaces of learning. Not surprisingly, we at Marxist TEFL do not believe an elite, unaccountable, self-serving organisation, dedicated to the accumulation and expansion of capital, can serve the needs of language learners. Cambridge University is no different from Microsoft plc, (in fact, it is considerably less generous than Bill Gates in returning some its enormous profits to the less advantaged) and no amount of shiny publicity about research can hide this truth. It, like all the public schools, should be stripped of its charitable status immediately. Perhaps with the extra revenue, English as a Second Language really could be taught to all those in the UK who need it and programmes started to regularly send British school children from working class families abroad to learn other languages.


Filed under Uncategorized