Make It Make Sense

I work in education. If I’m honest, I probably have been in education my whole life if we count all of that time I spent growing up in it.

But there’s something about education—my field of English second language teaching in particular—that has my mental cogs seized up.

Why are we giving second language away for free?

I understand many in countries outside of wealthier nations can’t afford to pay for English lessons from a qualified professional. I also understand that access to resources is incomparable in less wealthy nations as opposed to where I’m from.

However, does that mean we give these away for free? I’m not convinced free is the answer.

Let me explain.

First of all, there is no such thing as a free lunch—someone, somewhere, is paying. Sometimes it’s the students, sometimes it’s the instructors. What I know is that they’re rarely free.

I believe students need to put some skin in the game to ultimately be successful. I can’t tell you how often ESL programs struggle with attrition. It’s not necessary to pay an arm and a leg for services, but paying something is a game changer.

Students may not pay monetarily for these “free” courses, but they pay in time. What’s the value of studying English for an entire year or two and making marginal success? Of course each persons success is individual, however, what I have seen is often abysmal.


Many of these so called “free” ESL programs simply don’t have the learners’ success as their primary goal. If they did, they’d have a uniform curriculum. They’d have an assessment scheme which allowed students and teachers to both monitor the students’ learning. Students wouldn’t sit 25+ in a classroom. Programs would have resources and trained professionals to aid students with disabilities/ learning disabilities. You know what else they’d have? They wouldn’t shove students into mixed language level classes and expect the teachers to perform magic to get them to the programs (or the students’) learning objects—but they’d have had to have created those from the start and we just talked about how that rarely happens.

Similarly, teachers aren’t paid well if at all. Honest to God, teaching is one of the only professions I can think of that systematically changes the structure of the human brain day in and day out. I don’t want to get into the specs of how pound-for-pound educators are underpaid as compared to their peers with similar educational attainments.

In short, the pay is trash. One cannot make a living on 6-10 hours a week of part-time (is this really part-time?) work for $20 something bucks an hour. This doesn’t even take into account the amount of time teachers prepare for these lessons that don’t have a curriculum, objective, assessments, etc.

Seriously, what are we doing here???

When we give away “free” lessons, what we’re communicating is how little we value teachers and students. Now, I understand I’ve only mentioned free English lessons because, to be honest, I have yet to see any other language offered for free on the same scale that I see that English is. I also understand that I’ve only written about community, adult basic education classes. There are other types of English training programs, but these aren’t the same, nor are they teaching quite the same thing. These programs offered by universities and private companies teach Academic English, or English for a specific purpose.

I hasten to say that most of those types of programs are better in the sense that at least most have a curriculum, are normed, and have the students put some skin in the game by way of paying. However, they’re quite expensive. So what types of folks do you think are even able to ascend that wall and pay?


One might say that English is the language of business. Yes, English is currently a global language and is currently dominating global affairs and business.

I get that.

But does that really explain why we’re offering English for free? Does it? Is it an explanation for poor programming, abysmal instructor pay and hours, etc?

I didn’t think so.

But hey, we all know why this is, though, don’t we? Why we’re giving the restructuring of the human brain away whilst exhaustively draining the instructor for free?

Well, each banknote in the US reads “in God we trust,” but as Matthew 6:24 reads “No one can serve two masters.

Draw your own conclusions.

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