Dear members, colleagues, and friends,

as many of us are preparing for some kind of holiday season at this time of year, we will probably be bombarded with all the commercialised trappings of Bodhi Day, Christmas, Hanukah, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice and many others. I always feel it’s a shame when commercialisation impinges on areas where more essential and meaningful qualities might be expected to reign.

Education is one of those areas. Who amongst us, I wonder, has not been affected in some way by the intrusion of sales, marketing and profit to our field. Traditionally, there has almost always been a conflict between education and commerce – in fact some would argue that the two should never and could never co-exist in any satisfactory way. The argument goes that education is a human service which must be elevated from the general mass of buying, selling and trading, and yet, to counter that argument, without commerce, how can any human endeavour succeed?

Around the world, many commercial language schools exist solely because their students pay for services provided by teachers and support staff. Those schools and their staff couldn’t continue without that essential partnership with business. But the same is true for state schools since there too, teachers and other staff must be paid, though the relationship may not be quite so clear-cut and obvious as in the private sector.

People pay taxes, taxes pay for services, education being one of those services. Teachers, both private and state, don’t generally get paid enough given the extraordinarily important work they do but here, entering from stage left as in a pantomime, is the evil spectre of market forces! Governments have difficulty raising taxes, commercial schools have difficulty raising prices and so the service providers, that is: the teachers take the hit. It was ever thus. There are a few state schemes which break the mould, such as that in Finland where an evidently highly successful education system paying teachers like medical professionals, shows that alternatives are available. And yet, decision makers elsewhere seem reluctant to take what they see as a risk in changing a failing system to one which is clearly working!

There are also examples of private schools which provide excellent language education whilst also managing to reward their staff with the respect and financial recompense they deserve.

So maybe it’s not, after all, a pipe-dream to imagine a world where teachers are recognised as valued professionals undertaking a challenging and difficult task; it’s just that teachers need a voice, governments need to admit they can learn from others and students need to understand that in paying for certain aspects of education such as language training, they are investing in their future while rewarding the expert who fosters their progress.

Too much to ask? Probably.

Happy teaching and learning

Steve Hirschhorn
Chair of Gallery Teachers Membership Committee.