IATEFL Harrogate 2014: Mitra having a jelly good time

The IATEFL Harrogate 2014 plenaries were bookended by two very chalk and cheese speakers. The opening plenary by David Graddol presented a well-argued thesis on English and economic development, with touches of humility e.g. when referring to his 1997 prediction that corporate decision making would move from economic rationalism to more social justice –

I think I got that wrong. Economic rationalism is alive and well.

David Graddol IATEFL Harrogate 2014 plenary

He goes on to remind us of some elementary critical thinking. Referring to an Education First graph showing a relationship between GDP per capita and English proficiency he asks what is cause and what is effect? We could add is there another variable mediating the other two?

Some very apt questions to bear in mind when assessing Sugata Mitra’s two graphs on distance from Delhi/English, Maths & Science primary school performance in India and number of council houses/GCSE performance in North East England.

What is more curious (apart from the fact that council housing density is a statistic not used by government in this field, it uses something called the Income deprivation affecting children index) is having identified, through his two graphs, some social and economic factors tied to education he jumps to locate solutions at the level of teaching.

There certainly are benefits to be had by looking at how we teach, but as even Mitra shows socio-economic factors dominate (geography and housing). For example, here is a plot of Percentage of GCSE A*-C inc English and Maths against Income deprivation affecting children index (IDACI) in 2009/2010 in the North East of England. IDACI is children aged 0-15 receiving certain state benefits as a proportion of all children aged 0-15 (datasets can be found here).


We see on the left of the graph children high in income deprivation get less GCSEs than children on the right of the graph with low income deprivation, i.e. the more income deprived the child the less GCSEs they get. [update: see this paper for an account of the dominance of out of school factors affecting school achievement Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth by David C. Berliner]

Like the history of the seat of the soul moving from the heart to the brain according to Mitra it is not computers but the Internet which is the seat of education. An intangible entity mere humans cannot treat as a tangible thing (see his interview with Nik Peachy below). And if children can be entertained with jelly by retired teachers in the cloud then so much the better.

Supporters say he is doing stuff, asking important questions, well, as others have pointed out, he is not asking any more important questions, has not built any more than previous generations of people interested in education have done (e.g. Summerhill school and A.S. Neill).

Coming back to David Graddol, the contrast in presentation styles could not be greater. Graddol treats the audience as adults, really makes them think, he situates his discourse in the power structures of today’s society.

By contrast Sugata Mitra is selling his brand of the “education is broken” mantra coming out of Silicon Valley specifically and the neo-liberal doctrine in general. He treats his audience as people predominately to be entertained and entranced.

In the midst of one of the most repressive attacks on ordinary people’s lives, otherwise known as austerity UK, the message of Mitra should be challenged vigorously.

For more comprehensive commentary on Mitra I recommend:

Sugata Mitra: “Knowing is obsolete.” Is it?

Sugata Mitra on edtech and empire

[updatedSugata Mitra and the new educational Romanticism – a parody]

For Harrogate 2014 David Graddol posts:

On Listening to David Graddol on English and Economic Development, IATEFL2014

Harrogate: David Graddol – Economics of English Education

After Day#1 at the 48th IATEFL Conference, Harrogate

David Graddol, trends analyst

English and economic development – my learners in Korea

For Harrogate 2014 Sugata Mitra posts:

IATEFL 2014 Final Day Plenary: Sugatra Mitra

Sugata Mitra, ed-tech evangelist

IATEFL Harrogate Online: Sugata Mitra (part 1)

IATEFL Harrogate Online: Sugata Mitra (part 2)

Baloney Detection and the Grandmas of SOLE

Angel or devil? The strange case of Sugata Mitra

The hornet’s nest plenary

Sugata Mitra at IATEFL 2014 – my reaction

#IATEFL 2014: The Sugata Mitra Debate

Sugata Mitra: The Ignorant School Teacher?

Why we should be afraid of the big bad wolf: Sugata Mitra and the neoliberal takeover in sheep’s clothing

Mitra (2014) future learning

The obsolescence of teachers – the Sugata Mitra controversy

Collected thoughts on Sugata Mitra at IATEFL

The SM debate

‘The Power Of The Unsaid’ With Sugata Mitra @ Harrogate Online

#ELTchat summary on Sugata Mitra and 25 Questions He Needs To Answer

IATEFL 2014: Q and A with Sugata Mitra – Saturday 17.00 BST: a summary

The Death of a Teacher and the Birth of a Facilitator, a Manager and an admirer

Blended learning as a Social Process, Sugata Mitra at Iatefl and the Aftermath

Who’s the Wolf in ELT?

ELTjam meets Sugata Mitra

It’s not beautiful and it’s not noble

Classrooms in the cloud or castles in the air?

Holes in SOLES: Re-examining the role of Ed-tech and ‘minimally invasive education’ in language learning

David Graddol plenary video:

Sugata Mitra plenary video:

David Graddol interview video:

Sugata Mitra interview video:


IATEFL Harrogate 2014 – Chain reaction, Paula Lyra, Mustafa Polat, Feyzan Bedenli

Adam Simpson started the Chain reaction blog challenge as a way of marking this year’s IATEFL conference at Harrogate. See his first post here with Lizzie Pinard who tagged me in the reaction here. As all of the people I know from social media were already tagged it gave me the opportunity to get to know some new (to me) bloggers. Paula Lyra, Mustafa Polat and Feyzan Bedenli kindly agreed. Thanks guys.

Paula Lyra is based in Brasil and blogs here.

1. Please introduce yourself.
I am 58 years old and I have been teaching English at International schools, Language Courses and now I only tutor students at home. That´s why I have the blog- to help people develop their language skills and enjoy in their studies.

2. What areas of the conference are you interested in?
This is going to be the first time that I take part in it, so I don´t know exactly what to expect. I hope to listen to good and experience people talking about developement in the area of English Language Teaching.

I am also not very good with computing skills, so I am not sure if I will be able to access the site correctly or enven attend to the conferences due to my schedule (3 hours behind UK). I am going to need help!

Mustafa Polat is from Turkey and blogs here.

Before starting to answer the following questions, I would like to thank Mura Nava for giving me this opportunity to share about me as part of Harrogate blogger chain.

1. Please introduce yourself.
To briefly mention who I am, my name is Mustafa Polat, and I am currently studying at Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) PhD program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ.

I am a graduate of Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey at the department of Foreign Language Education in addition to my minor in General Management. Due to my interest in business administration and language teaching, I completed my MA at the same university focusing on ‘teaching conflict management as part of EFL curricula’.

As for my teaching experience, I taught English for 6 years at various foundation universities in Turkey starting at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara, then at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul and finally at Ozyegin University in Istanbul. I taught various pre-faculty courses in writing and other skills.

In addition to my studies, I am currently sharing my ideas on my blog and webpage in addition to the twitter account, which I mostly use for academic purposes, by sharing feeds. Just like Mura Nava, I am one of those registered ELT bloggers at Harrogate Online. It has been a really nice experience to meet new colleagues and share ideas by also following several important sessions so far.

2. What areas of the conference are you interested in?
In fact, I am interested in mainly keeping myself updated with all innovations and improvements in the field. it is obvious that IATEFL is one of those cornerstone events to do this in addition to the opportunity to build a network of colleagues sharing similar interests and aims. As a person who could not physically participate in this event, most of these objectives might seem difficult to achieve, but thanks to all possibilities on Harrogate Online, and also most participants sharing their ideas on Twitter, it becomes really easy to do so with the ease of some clicks. More specifically, I am really interested in following sessions related to the current status of English in the world in addition to educational technology, which is one of my special interests. Moreover, there are really reputable and esteemed ELT figures at this conference such as David Graddol, Sugata Mitra, Kathleen Graves, and Michael Hoey who make this event for me worth following closely.

3. Could you tell us about your blog?
Although we are at a time when technology improves and changes everything very quickly and when blogging is said to be almost dead, I started writing for my blog last year in order to share my experience with my colleagues and the ones interested about teaching, technology, Fulbright, graduate studies in the States, and Turkey. Moreover, I am person who closely follows technological innovations and new devices especially produced by Apple, which also urges me to share my knowledge and experience related to how we can use our devices that are an important part of ours today in the areas we are working and doing research. So far, I have felt a great satisfaction by doing this, and it is good to know that a lot of people are interested in what you are struggling to do. This makes me believe that blogging seems to be an obsolete tool for some; however depending on how you use this tool, not form but function, it still prospectively have a long life span at least concerning our field of study.

4. What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?
I think I have said enough and would not wish to take a lot of time of yours reading this, but one of the forthcoming aspects of this conference is the possibility and the opportunity to make new contacts with whom it may be possible to do research and create a network of sharing ideas and experience. At this age when technology erases all borders, I believe this is really significant both for our professional development and also more importantly for potential improvements and advancements in the field of language learning and teaching. Therefore, the conference is really important for me personally and, as said before, it is vital for our field, which makes me really excited about. Hopefully, I may also find the chance to participate in this event physically as well, but thanks to Harrogate Online team, there are so many things and even more you can do online, too.


A late but welcome entry by Feyzan Bedenli who blogs here.

1. Please introduce yourself.

I’m a newly qualified teacher of English in my first year of practice. I work part-time at a language school, teaching kids mostly. I’m looking forward to beginning my new full-time job in a kindergarten, soon. I’m very keen on following conferences and developing professionally.

2. What areas of the conference are you interested in?

My areas of interest are educational technologies and demand high. I’m willing to listen to the related speeches online. I think it’s a great opportunity for us, the newly qualified teachers, to be able to attend the conference “virtually”.

3. Could you tell us about your blog?

I have started blogging as an assignment for an ed-tech course I’m attending. Now, the course ended, but I’ve already got very used to it. Since I’m new at it, all of your comments to my posts are very welcomed. Please check it out at: feyzana.blogspot.com

4. What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

If I were able to make it to Harrogate, I’d make many new friends. So, I hope this chain-blogging and being a registered conference blogger will help me make new connections. I’m also looking forward to reading these bloggers’ reflections post-conference.

IATEFL Harrogate 2014: English as a medium of instruction – zero for the price of two?

Until recently I had not heard of English as a medium of instruction (EMI). And judging by the audience at the IATEFL British Council (BC) signature event (English Medium Instruction: Cure or Curse?) neither have most ELT bods. I say this due to the number of people seeing EMI neither as a cure nor as a curse (see video below).

My interest is that I am involved in an EMI project and today was my first day on it. Though most of the work was proof editing, rather banal, there was an interesting period which involved chatting with a teacher. I was helping proofread their slides for a course on the science in some short stories. An extremely interesting insight into how one teacher is tackling EMI.

But I digress from my main aim to cover my impressions of the BC debate. The bolded questions were (paraphrased) from the audience.

Why is EMI a growing phenomenon, what is driving this and why is it a hot topic?

Naz Rassool identified new technology and neo-liberal economics as two main drivers. She referenced David Graddol’s talk on the impact of the service sector economy on English use. Teresa Ting tried to tie in concerns of being literate enough to be discerning when using the internet.

Jennifer Jenkins bluntly stated money as the driver, in the UK universities want to recruit international students as a profitable venture. In addition massive income is generated by training teachers to be EMI teachers. Outside the anglo-phone world there is more of a concern with the global reputation of the university though she notes that income generation reasons are growing here as well. It is also a hot topic for doctoral studies.

Eddie Williams focused on historical examples such as Africa in the 1960s where there were two main drivers of national unity and modernisation. He noted that EMI is currently a hot topic because politicians are for it and academics are “agin” it (new word for me, means against).

What is the damage done to local cultures by EMI?

There are anecdotes say of local catering staff being quite “intolerant” of foreign students when they were ordering food. Perhaps such encounters demonstrate cultural/language fault lines leading to damage? An audience member mentioned the concern that the official language in Tunisia, Derja, was in danger from French and English.

What is the difference between CLIL (Content and language integrated learning) and EMI and what impacts does all this have for ELT teachers?

Teresa Ting drew differences between CLIL and EMI as being one of difference in aims between learning language and learning content respectively. Hence if the content is already difficult to learn in L1 then it will be doubly (exponentially in various disciplines?!) more difficult in L2.

Eddie Williams stated EMI is the logical conclusion of communicative language teaching (the best way to learn a language is to use it for another purpose) which only works if the teachers have a good understanding of the language and students understand it enough. It is harmful to local languages because they will shrink in technical, scientific and academic vocabulary.

Naz Rassool agreed with Williams point about the shrinking of local language vocabulary in certain domains. She underlined the differences in support (or lack of support) for languages in Europe and in developing countries which had a significant effect on the outcomes.

What is the direction of EMI and what are the learning outcomes?

Jennifer Jenkins noted that the differences between CLIL and EMI that Teresa Ting talked about earlier (language vs content) were beginning to fade. Academic English is still seen as being that of a native standard and perhaps we should not be training non-native speakers to teach in English rather we should be giving cultural awareness training to native speakers teaching to multi-national classes.

Teresa Ting claims that CLIL is working very well because it reduces “frontal” lessons and leads to a “deconstruction of the learning process”. Teachers become aware of the language they are using to teach. Ting says the movement should be to “productive” literacy, to be able to use the language properly.

Williams points out that people read much more slowly in a second language so this will have a major impact on learning outcomes, however, we need more data. He made an interesting observation that native English speakers may be at a disadvantage in this day and age in terms of having no distinctive linguistic marker of identity.

As mentioned before the audience remained on the fence as to whether EMI is a cure or a curse. From my experience today I can see my interest in how non-native teachers approach this challenge in teaching in a second language. The wider organizational, political issues are also key concerns which this video has helped me with.

As Jenkins puts it Can universities eat their cake and have it?

Related reading:

Should English be used as a university’s language of instruction in a non-English speaking country? – British Council post

Englishisation of Higher Education by Duygu Çandarlı

Language and inequality: global challenges to education by Birgit Brock-Utne


A preliminary report from the British Council and Oxford University.

Alcohol, Drink driving, Porn and Happy – IATEFL Harrogate 2014

Titletastic folks, ↑ those four things up top, describe the town Harrogate under notable statistics on Wikipedia. Make of it what you will but I am definitely making it my post title :).

Looking forward to this year’s online events and hoping to blog more than I did last year, IATEFL 2013 and maybe write as much if not more than IATEFL 2012. But no need to rely on me when you can peruse the good folk signed up to blog the online knees-up. Looking through the programme threw up the following timetable:


For people planning to check the Michael Hoey plenary, why not have a gander at my write up of his Lexical Teaching 2013 conference talk.

Here’s to a vintage year.