Jack Scholes: First of all let me offer you my sincere congratulations on three decades of amazing success with Cultura Inglesa Maringá! Could you please tell us a little bit about how and why you started a Cultura Inglesa 30 years ago?
Beatriz Meneguetti: In fact, I had been invited to be part of a group that would like to open a school. As I was the one who’d like to use international materials and all, I started searching for information on how to get them, how to build up a quality school. Luckily, somehow, I was introduced to Sandra Laucas, from Cultura BH. We exchanged correspondences then I visited her school, she directed me to some other Culturas and the British Council. As I went on with this ‘pilgrimage’, my peers were deciding, one by one, to leave the project as that was not what they had in mind, so I ended up being alone in the entrepreneurship. I had never thought of opening a Cultura Inglesa. At that time it was like an unachievable quest, and not for me, but after about nine months of interviews and visits, the director of the British Council came to me with a suggestion of a name for my school: Cultura Inglesa Maringa. That was exactly when I understood the meaning of the expression ‘get weak at the knees’… I fell back onto an armchair! This was 30 years ago and here I am now.
JS: Over the past three decades, how has the student population changed in your school?
BM: When we started, we used to have mostly teenagers and adults. Today, a great deal of very young learners from 3 years of age up to adults compose the core of the school. Nowadays, we work with several different types of professional courses.
JS: Which would you say was your most important achievement in ELT?
BM: I truly believe that the most important thing was to deliver excellent results and acquire a reputation of a quality school in the region.
We have to be sensitive in order to offer courses within different methodologies, to incorporate technology and differentiation in our courses to cater for these different clientele.
JS: What sorts of challenges do you feel the brick and mortar schools face in the next decade in terms of meeting the needs of learner demands?
BM: Well, regardless of what kind of business you run, you have to constantly reinvent yourselves to keep up with market demands. Students today need a whole lot of different sets of skills for life. We have to be sensitive in order to offer courses within different methodologies, to incorporate technology and differentiation in our courses to cater for these different clientele.
JS: How important is technology in your school and how is it used?
BM: At Cultura, technology is embedded in our teaching and a tool to help students achieve higher levels of performance. Not only do we have interactive boards in all classrooms, but now we use Google for Education. We’re now able to use artificial intelligence to help students practice outside the class, teach with VR and AR. Now, we can devote F2F lessons to more dynamic and relevant use of the language.
JS: How has Google for Education impacted on the school?
BM: Google for Education is playing a role of bringing collaborative learning/teaching to reality. Not only do students produce work together and actually use the language for real communication, but it has helped us reduce teachers’ workload reasonably by having all tools in one single place and activities shared on the spot.
JS: Could you please tell us a little about the Cultura project which gives consultancy to schools regarding English Language Teaching and the Teacher Development courses?
BM: This is a brand new era for Culturas in general and definitely a great one for us, in Maringa.
This project aims at working closely with regular schools, providing Teacher Qualification Courses to K-12 teachers and working hand in hand with academic coordination of those schools. We have realised we do not have such a workforce to cover the market demands in terms of English Language Teaching at partner schools, so, after a long period of research we came to this model where we provide services that enable regular schools to build up their course curriculum, train their teachers and still be part of Cultura Inglesa philosophy.
JS: Vinicius Nobre, our mutual friend and New Routes Advisory Board member has kindly sent some excellent questions for you, so I’m going to hand over to him now.
Vinicius Nobre: Considering all your experience in education management, what do you think about language centers that are currently adding a commercial layer to the role of teachers by setting sales goals, administrative duties and assessing performance through indicators that focus mainly on business variables? Are “teachers that sell” the future of education?
BM: Vinnie, aren’t we all in business? The world has changed and so professionals of all walks of life have to change. The more a teacher gets qualified, don’t you think he is investing in his own career?
For me that is the same principle: a school does not live without teachers and students and this environment is very much part of a collaborative work. I believe that teachers are not detached from getting and keeping students. We do form a more symbiotic line of work.
VN: How would you assess the overall trends of investments in education? Do you think professional development should get as much financial attention as marketing campaigns or technological resources, for example? What is a recommended ratio for the allocation of investments under the jurisdiction of education managers?
BM: Indeed this has always been the philosophy that drives our school. Our investments lie much more on qualification rather than marketing. We can only offer high quality services providing we cater for continuous professional development and this is for both academic and administrative professionals.
I do not believe one can define a ratio as every market is different and requires different positioning. My suggestion is for managers never to forget clientele needs and wants and be guided by them.
VN: English language teaching is often considered a commodity by many people while non-educators also seem to be more and more present in leadership positions in our field. Why do you think this is happening? Are professionals without a teaching background better prepared to lead educational organizations?
BM: I believe that leaders must be prepared and qualified, much better if an educational leader has a full understanding of the educational environment. The market is changing fast and people want their institutions to be kept abreast. Some may think that someone from outside the educational field might bring fresh eyes into the school and so provide a component of innovation, perhaps that’s the rationale.
Well, maybe the opposite demands are of concern too. What about a teacher with no managerial skills to run a school? The world demands multi-tasking professionals. The wider your peripheral vision is, the more successful you become in leading people.
My question for you: isn’t this a reality in all areas?
VN: With all the current changes that the ELT market is facing (i.e. the increase of Bilingual Education possibilities, the high number of online courses, the boom of private teachers, the participation of publishers in the actual business of teaching), what do you think will happen to traditional language centers? How will these movements of the market impact them?
BM: Once again I will mention re-invention and innovation, and we need to be careful to separate promises from actual delivery. I believe that this is the way!
VN: In many industries, different organizations (that compete among themselves) are constantly sharing good practices, creating forums for collaboration, activating networks of leaderships in order to maximize everyone’s chances of success. Would you say this is also true for the ELT industry? How do competitors interact and work together?
BM: It is very true among Culturas Inglesas, but I do not see interaction and a great deal of working together among competitors, but within our association this is really true and the more we share the tighter bonds we create. I really think this is one of the key elements for Culturas Inglesas’ success.
VN: In the past, some ELT institutions held exclusive rights to certain products and services (either textbook titles, International exams or technologies). This doesn’t seem true anymore. Do you think these business agreements really needed to change to democratize access to services and products, or do you believe exclusivity should be maintained for the sake of business relations? What have been the impacts of this new “behavior” of suppliers in the ELT market?
BM: Well, I can say this by quoting “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and only 5 minutes to ruin it”… As long as the services provided by multiple players are well provided, respecting all the rules and ethical behaviour, I don’t see any damage in it. My confidence is that, if proper conduct is applied, those providing the best of services will still be considered suppliers with good reference.
I just see a problem when rules are different for each player, then you end up comparing apples and oranges and so making it difficult for the client to actually get good services for the same product.
THE INTERVIEWEE Beatriz Meneguetti, Bia, is the director of Cultura Inglesa Maringa and also holds the position as Academic Director of ABCI – the Brazilian Association of Culturas Inglesas. She has a BA in English Language and English Language Literatures, she holds the DELTA and is a Leader Trainer for some Cambridge Assessment Teacher Courses. She has post graduation courses from several institutions in ELT Methodology, CLIL, Teaching Young Learners, e-Tutoring, Management, and an MA in Professional Development for Language Education by Chichester University. She is now very much involved in new tools for teaching.
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