Online Conference Colonialism

I’ve written extensively before on this topic, offering both solutions and pointing out the huge problems that exist in ELT vis a vis how professional development conferences take place. I’ll link to some relevant posts at the end of this piece of writing. But I’d like to address the issue of ELT conferences again.

Why? Well, for a while I had hopes that the situation was getting better. Conferences would become more local, more practical and less “sage on the stage”. I had this hope while following the discourse on the topic in the wider ELT community, through my own projects and especially now, given the pressures, exigencies of the current remote teaching focus during the pandemic. But I was wrong. Same old sad professional conferencing dog and pony shows are still at the fore and taking place. Let me explain.

For me, conferences need to be about local teachers sharing professional knowledge. Not a spotlight for “names” representing publishing interests. Not a place for the glittery “experts” to parachute in and hold dominion and glory over the minions, the masses of “locals” who are seen as a commodity.

Conferences should be about conversations by and for teachers. If about professional knowledge, they shouldn’t be “English Only” and let’s take that sign, that discriminatory sign off our conference door. A majority of sessions should be in the local language(s). That’s the best way to learn about teaching. A conference doesn’t and shouldn’t have in its objectives – the improvement of teacher instructional and professional fluency.

Price. Say no more. Online prices at conferences are just way out of wack. Same old gouging and model of only reaching those at the very top of the pile and thus, perpetuating existing prejudices and biases.

But what really got my goat were two conferences marketing their wares. KOTESOL in Korea and CamTESOL in Cambodia.

See anything missing?
What does David Valente know about teaching Koreay YLs?

See anything amiss here? I’ve traveled and presented on all the continents except the Antarctic. I have perspective and really Asia in my mind is the worst in perpetuating what I call the “colonial mindset”. It’s still healthy and strong in online conferences. No parachute needed, just a good internet connection.

Why aren’t Thai and Korean educators being spotlighted and promoted by conference organizers? Well, as they protested to me, it is an “International” conference thus not really needed. Poppycock! Look at your mission statement, your name for jezzsakes. It’s just sad. TESOL should also be ashamed at not holding these organizations to account for being just about western invited guests and expats armchair pontificating about the locals.

There are many TESOL and IATEFL national organizations that are fighting the good fight. Chile. Peru. Algeria. Turkey. Mexico. A few I have experience with. They focus on local teachers and experts. Not spotlight events catering to the teachers (mostly unqualified – just with certificates and unaligned MAs) who swim in their entitlement abroad.

I say all this because I was there, I was in this colonial system and part of its promotion. On many occasions, still partly am. I remember my time at Ewha Graduate School of TESOL in Korea. Basically, well degreed and presentable westerners promoting colonialist attitudes of superiority. I quit after my first year despite all the dinners they paid trying to convince me to stay and help them market themselves as “the best university” in Korea and the world. I do wish them well and do hope they will reform.

My wish is we start re-thinking things regarding our conferences and supporting the development of local English teacher structures and knowledge. Change our mindset about “native speakers” and see how much of what we call present-day ELT is still mired in colonial domination both in act and in language, in jobs, in hierarchy.

I remain hopeful despite the above.

Some of my previous rumination this wide topic:

  1. The Death of Native Speakerism
  2. Tagged articles on ELT Buzz
  3. What if? A new way to think of PD and conferences.
  4. Conference Colonialism
  5. ELT Master – Slave

Also published on Medium.

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