Then, why do we persist in using coursebooks?

A few weeks ago I read an excellent blog post written by George Vassilakis which was about how ELT materials are devoid of ideology. There were some very interesting ideas on why this has become the norm. Publishing companies would actually suffer financially if they made the slightest attempt to circulate let’s say a series of coursebooks that would include topics which are considered to be taboo.

However, those coursebooks do not act of their own volition and accidentally drop into the hands of EFL teachers demanding they be used in classrooms without further ado. Somebody actually buys them. In other words, somebody needs to have a thorough look at them, evaluate them according to a great number of criteria, such as their focus on skills and systems, layout, “authenticity”, real-world focus, and, last but not least, topics covered – to name but a few.

Since the majority of teachers do agree that ELT materials systematically skimp – even utterly fail to address – topics which are a bit more provocative (thus conducive to fruitful and engaging activities?), why do we insist on using them? I am afraid this is not an easy question to answer; however, I will try to list some factors that play an important role in reproducing this peculiar yet omnipresent vicious circle. These are the following in random order:

  • Restrictions imposed by the language school itself. EFL teachers working for schools which, for some strange reason show preference to certain publishing companies, are not given free rein over the materials which are to be used during the course.
  • Fear of what the repercussions of using materials off the beaten track might be. For instance, there are learners who tend to be rather dismissive or intolerant to more controversial issues, such as religion, subcultures/countercultures, and their behaviour and comments might even discourage the rest of the class from participating in such discussions once and for all in the classroom. 
  •  Teachers’ lack of education and/or interest on issues other than superficial, trivial matters, such as H/Bollywood lifestyles and the like.  
  •  Lack of teacher training might as well preserve traditional beliefs that want coursebooks to be treated with even greater respect and piety than seminal literary works.
  •  Lack of time on the teachers’ part, of course, to design different materials that could completely eliminate the need for coursebooks to be used as guides.
  •  Underpaid teachers whose efforts have never been appreciated and ergo are not willing to be creative or spend a fair amount of time to design interesting materials.

All of the aforementioned factors are experiential. They solely derive from what I have witnessed and have been told by many colleagues. Nevertheless, the fact that coursebooks do recycle and perpetuate stereotypical concepts is self-evident.

So, should there be some extra standards when it comes to training and evaluating language teachers? After all, they do have a massive influence on learners. Is linguistic awareness, competence and training just enough?


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