One of the contributors to the debate on student fees in UK universities raised an interesting point the other week.  Roger Moss, in breaking down the fees students pay when compared to what they get, calculated that they paid approximately £92 per seminar.  What else, he wondered in his letter to The Independent, could they have spent the money on?  Tickets to see Rihanna live in concert?  Seats at a Premier League football fixture?

This made me think:  What do my learners pay per lesson and – more importantly – do they get their money’s worth?

So I dug out my trusty calculator and went off to look at the school’s price list….  and without breaching confidentiality I worked it out something like this:

Most of my classes work out at roughly 15 euros per student per lesson.  Alternative spending ideas?  For my learners maybe the following:

  • Murakami’s new book 1q84 in hardback.
  • One, maybe two games for the PSP.
  • A new CD or two.
  • A pizza or a cheap meal out with friends.
  • Anywhere between 10 and 15 pints of beer….
  • 3 packets of cigarettes
  • Cinema tickets (three of them with a student discount)
  • A combination of the above?
Which makes you think….  if say, you do a vocabulary lesson with 10 key items in it, then each word costs your students €1.40.  That’s quite expensive really.  No wonder some students write everything you say down – it’s just a value for money calculation.

Of course, that’s just the calculation per student…  if you assume a class of say 12 students, then you have to start asking yourself whether your class is worth €180.  That’s a lot of money.  I think I can quite honestly say I don’t always manage to provide €180 worth of learning.

This is not to go down the road of commercialising education (at least any more than it already is).  I have in the past complained of learners that they insist on seeing language learning as a product that they can simply take off the shelf and consume much as they would go and do their weekly shopping in the market.  This is unfair to many people who do put a lot of time and effort into their language learning, but equally it is a pervasive viewpoint.  The better metaphor is that of a gym:  I pay my monthly fee and I go twice a week and do my workout, but I don’t hold it against the gym if I fail to make progress.  I might seek their advice on switching to a more effective routine, but if outside the gym I do nothing to help myself, who else do I really have to blame?  In my own personal experience I (some time ago) stopped going to the gym.  I did this for three reasons:  firstly I felt I didn’t have enough time to make the commitment.  Secondly I was coming out of the gym with no sense of achievement or accomplishment at what I had done.  Thirdly, given the previous two items – why waste the money?

There is the concept in education of the take-away item.  Something people walk out of the room with that they can take away and use immediately to their benefit.  For example – ten years ago on my CELTA, I was part of a group when Jayne Silva (the tutor) demonstrated what she called “Backs to the Board” and which my students now refer to as “the chair game”.  I use it with every class, at least once a fortnight.  For me – that activity was worth a lot more than €15!

For a nurse on a busy ward dealing with an irascible english speaking patient, the phrase “You want the moon on a stick, you do!” was her take-away item of the week.  For a group of students preparing to give presentations, comments about the importance of making eye contact.  For one sales rep the expression “I can’t :::::: you.  :::::: breakin ::: p” (to get out of unwelcome conversations with a colleague).

The take away item doesn’t of course have to be a handy hint, tip or useful phrase – ideally it should be something more than that – it should be something that makes learners walk out of the classroom with a spring in their step or something your teenagers are still talking about (in a good way!) as they amble down the corridors.  Halfway across town from the school and on my way to a business class I spotted a seven year old girl proudly showing her father a handout from her lesson (and this is why we put logos on all our handouts!) and explaining it all as they waited for a bus.  The take away item should be something that provides that sense of achievement – that sense of being able to do something for the first time or do something better than you’ve ever done it before.

It’s difficult to get that into every lesson, but if I got that out of every lesson?  I wouldn’t mind paying fifteen euros a pop!