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It's hard to believe I'm in Brazil, in what seems like only a few days after India, but here I am. I'm in Sao Paulo, the commercial center of Brazil, and, to a large extent, of Latin America. I'm staying in the center of Sao Paulo, an area that has the look and feel of a US city, with lots of big office buildings, an incredible array of stores and restaurants, people of all races (including many Japanese-Brazilians), and loads of US-style graffiti tags, plus a fair share of aggressive beggars (but fewer than downtown San Francisco). I haven't been out to the favelas yet, where the majority of Sao Paulo's poor live, on the outskirts of town (described by Brazilians as the "suburbs," a word that has a decidedly middle and upper-middle class connotation in the US).
I'll be visiting some telecenter projects in the favelas next week and will report back then. In the meantime, I wanted to share a bit about an amazing conference I just attended.
The conference was organized by Yázigi Internexus (http://www.yazigi.com.br), a Brazilian organization that franchises private languages schools in several countries. Yazigi has some 300 schools in Brazil alone with about 70,000 students, including children, teenagers, and adults that study in after-school and after-work programs.
I got invited to speak at Yazigi's biennaul national language teaching seminar based on a paper I had written for TESOL Quarterly called "The Changing Global Economy and the Future of English Teaching" (http://www.gse.uci.edu/markw/global.html). I was somewhat surprised to get an invitation based on a particular paper -- and to a private organization's seminar no less -- but, after visiting here and attending the conference, it all fell into place for me. Basically, the Yazigi organization is being confronted by, and is highly representative of, almost all the issues that I discussed in the paper, and for that reason getting to know about the organization was fascinating for me. I hope that it will be interesting to some of you as well, as I think it illustrates the way new political and economic trends are affecting issues related to language, education, and technology.
First, Yazigi represents the trend of privatization of government services. Brazil is simply not able to meet the growing demand for English language training through its schools or other public institutions. Yazigi and other private organizations have picked up the slack, not only through their teaching programs, but also through (in Yazigi's case), teacher training, research, professional development, and curriculum development. Though a commercial organization, Yazigi serves a highly public and social role. Just to give one example, in addition to offering per-fee courses for the well-to-do, Yazigi has also set up (in partnership with local non-governmental organizations) 10 schools in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, where English classes are offered to the poor for free or at nominal rates. The medium- to long-term plan is to open up 300 of these centers, one for each of its 300 regular franchises, using facilities provided by NGOs and partially volunteer labor to make them self-sustaining.
Another trend that Yazigi represents is the globalization of the English language, and of the English teaching industry. With the number of non-native speakers of English now surpassing the number of native speakers of the language, "ownership" of the English language is passing out of the hands of the US and Britian, and this is reflected in several aspects of Yazigi's work. Yazigi has a strong focus on content-based language teaching to promote and support Brazilian's own cultural identity. In the past, when we used to study a "foreign language," the focus was exclusively on the culture of the target language. (How many unfortunate English learners around the world have had to learn that about the Queen, Big Ben, and the way the English take their tea!) In Yazigi, though, English teaching projects and content are based in large measure on social issues of Brazilian concern. (The focus within Yazigi of project-based and content-based learning is another representation of changes in English language teaching. Due to the existence of the networked economy and the Internet, it is no longer sufficient for Brazilians to be able to communicate in basic language with correct grammar; they have to be able to use English to carry out complex projects; find, analyze, and critique information; publish multimedia reports; etc., and all these things are emphasized through a content-based and project-based curriculum in the organization).
Back to the globalization issue, though, The most interesting example of this is that Yazigi has recently purchased a network of private language schools in the US, called Internexus. (Thus Yazigi's new name of Yazigi Internexus). Students from Japan, Korea, or elsewhere who come to the US to study at Internexus are actually learning at a Brazilian company. This is one example of many of the growing role of places such as Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Israel in the international English language teaching industry, something that was almost non-existent a couple of decades ago.
Another new trend represented by Yazigi is that of the "learning organization". The network society requires an entirely different type of industrial organization that existed before, such as the 20th century Fordist model of strictly defined jobs and vertical hierarchies. (And this is, indeed, why new language, communication, analytic, and technological skills are so required in today's economy.) Though large, Yazigi is a highly flexible and creative organization, with all sorts of horizontal groupings and networks, research and development teams, professional development initiatives, learning mechanisms, etc., so that the staff of Yazigi can collectively upgrade its skills and respond to a fast-changing international market. And technology plays a big part of this. On the one hand, the Internet is obviously critical for these kinds of organizational communications and professional development networks; on the other hand, this kind of flexibility and self-learning has allowed Yazigi to become a leader in Brazil, and internationally, in experimentation and effective use of information technologies within its teaching programs. (Yazigi's flexibility as an organization has also allowed it to become a major player in the Spanish language teaching industry in Brazil, reflecting another trend of globalization--the growing economic relations among Latin American countries reflected by increased interest in and need for the Spanish language in Brazil.)
All of these trends were exemplified in the Yazigi conference, which featured an impressive array of papers, workshops, mini-courses, and poster sessions, many on themes such as project-based (and socially-oriented) learning, the use of technology and multimedia, etc., things that you might expect to find in an international conference of a leading professional association, but not necessarily a private seminar of a commercial language teaching firm.
Please rest assured that I have no stock in Yazigi, and am not trying to promote it per se. Indeed, I'm sure there are many other examples of the same phenomena. However, I've gone into it in depth because I think the organization nicely demonstrates a lot of points about the changing face of English teaching in the information society (which I guess is why they invited me to talk in the first place, i.e., because I address points they feel are important for their teachers. (Interestingly, I also got invited to Italy to deliver the same paper, reflecting in part the universality of the themes in the paper, but also the particular relevance of those themes in certain countries. Italy, like Brazil, is a heavily industrialized country, well-integrated into world markets, with a strong working-class movement (expressed through political parties, trade unions, and grassroots movements), international cultural influence, and a politically-progressive/socially activist educational sector. It's not surprising that educators in both countries would be interested in exploring a critical analytic framework for understanding how globalization is changing the context of English teaching.
Brazil and Italy are of course similar in another way. They are both amazingly fun. Since I have not traveled yet this year to Italy (wait for my report in December), you'll have to settle for hearing about Brazil now. Following the tradition of my China and India trips, please allow me to end with a little bit of local color.
Brazilians, are to put it mildly, ALIVE!!! They have this "je ne sais quoi." In fact, they have so much "je ne sais quoi," that even the French "ne savent pas" what the Brazilians have! To visit Brazil, and take in its rhythms, smells, foods, sounds, beverages (anyone tried caipirinha?) and, especially the warmth and vitality of its people, is to feel as if you've just come out of a sensory deprivation tank the rest of your life. (You know, the kind where they blindfold you and keep you from seeing, hearing, tasking, or touching anything for a long time...)
Just one story to illustrate. I hate to admit it, but I'm the type of guy whose usual idea of Saturday night excitement is clearing out my e-mail box. Well, last night, I got dragged to an old factory warehouse that had been converted into a working-class bar and cultural venue. There was a band there of 15 people, including Pepeu Gomez (one of Brazil's best lead guitarists), a guest Reggae star from the Caribbean, a rhythm guitarist, a bass player, a trombonist, a trumpet player, three percussionists, a keyboard player, and an assorted array of other singers and dancers. They played this incredible combination of samba, reggae, rock, and salsa for hours on end. (You know how rock banks in the US take breaks every 30-40 minutes or so. Guess what? Brazilian bands don't take breaks! And neither do the Brazilians party-goers!) And there was Mark, dancing away to this wild Brazilian beat for hours on end, without taking a break either. I'd like to say that this was the kind of place I used to go to in my 20s, but, if I must be honest, I didn't even do that even then. So, watch out world, there's a whole new Mark! Anybody know any great samba clubs in Irvine? :-)
Take care all. I'll get back to digital divide themes in my next Brazil report.
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