I am an overgrown teenager, in the sense that I am obsessed with social media and I ‘waste’ hours on various platforms. The word ‘waste’ is my partner’s term but let’s skirt around that. However, my time on social media, above and beyond politics and literature tends to be in the ELT sector, and increasingly something has become obvious to me. ELT, like many professional communities, runs the risk of operating in a bubble or echo chamber; we seem to be running alongside, but not really part of mainstream education or business. We are not alone in this of course – I imagine the broader language teaching sector is the same.
So let’s go back to 2019 and the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona, with a rousing speech by writer and teacher trainer Daniel Barber, in which he declared a climate emergency in ELT. His words, for me, and I know others, made lots of connections between our community and something much bigger. A blog, a series of instant messages and a flurry of emails later and ELT Footprint was born. We now have 3,000 Facebook members and a range of initiatives in progress. I’ll summarise where we are now at the end of this piece, but please let me mention here that we are finalists for an ELTON!
Let me emphasise too, that I see huge similarities in both the responsibilities and challenges, and the opportunities, regarding climate change in both the modern language and ELT communities.
But what does a climate emergency in international language education mean? Well, as I say above, there are challenges and opportunities for us all. Let’s start with the challenges; our impact on the environment. It might be wise to add an observation here, that Covid-19 has changed almost everything and, as we all re-engineer our processes somewhat, largely around online delivery, this fact might give us some sort of an environmental bonus. Of course, we are still a long way from being able to measure this bonus, I think.
We love them. I love them. The environment is not so keen, however. International conferences mean flights and they mean large venues producing multiple emissions, lots of paper and lots of waste. Conferences are increasingly aware of their footprint, and are trying to develop new ways of working that reduce consumption, but ultimately, we probably need to be considering more regional and local conferences, and – we are getting some practice in this at the moment – conferences run completely online. Blended local conferences will likely be the compromise, with long-distance participants Zooming or Teaming in.
This is a somewhat controversial topic, but there is no denying that students travelling abroad, often for fairly short study programmes, is pretty tough on the environment because of the impact of the flights. Jobs and livelihoods depend on study abroad, and Covid-19 is revealing that to us rather brutally as I write. That said, we do need to re-envision and re-model our approach. This is, after all, a climate emergency. The hybrid conference idea above may be a blueprint, with most teaching in the home country but with outside content delivered online. I’m not suggesting there will be no more study abroad – that would be undesirable and not an appealing goal. What I am suggesting is less of it, with longer stays, more train travel, and more use made of the ever-improving technology and approaches available to us, to develop blended models.
Much closer to home and perhaps more prosaically, we need to look at paper consumption (single- use course books spring to mind), and the extent to which we can improve the environmental impact of our buildings and the way we configure them. As I say, prosaic, but perhaps one of the easier parts of our processes to adapt.
It’s not all bad news of course. Language teaching organisations have influence over the content and how it is delivered for vast numbers of students around the world. The environment and climate change are topics that we can introduce into what we teach. Equally, the methods we use can reflect the 21st century skills of communication, critical thinking and creativity that develop the sense of enquiry that environmental good practice needs. In effect, the what and the how of the practices in our class, in any language, are a huge resource to combat climate change. Through ELT Footprint I know of some, but certainly only a fraction of, the things going on in this regard in the ELT context. I hope this blog might be a catalyst for an exchange of information across the broader language teaching sector
In terms of ELT footprint, a visit to our website https://eltfootprint.org/ will show you, more quickly and succinctly than I can write, some of the things we have achieved. The materials tab in particular https://eltfootprint.org/materials/ has content that could transfer to languages other than English, and the work in progress tab https://eltfootprint.org/work-in-progress/ has content around conference ‘greening’ and teacher development, again transferable across languages. Finally, our English Teacher’s Climate Crisis Survival Kit has transferability to other language contexts https://eltfootprint.org/survival-kit/. It’s all free to download.
Please take a look at what we do and see how it fits your context. We are not a lobbying body or a bunch of ‘eco-shamers’, we are a forum for exchange of ideas and information. We live by our members and their initiatives, so if there are any projects, materials or blogs you would like to suggest for us to share, please get in touch.
Christopher Graham holds a degree in Politics, the Cambridge DELTA and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a freelance ELT consultant, teacher educator and writer based in the UK, and has worked in the field since 1981 in over 30 countries, with a particular focus on low-resource and post-conflict environments. Recently he has been working on approaches to digital provision of ELT during Covid-19 in fragile locations.
He is one of the founders of ELT Footprint.