So who’s going to lead Equity in ELT?

Hada Litim

Hada Litim, an experienced teacher trainer and #ELTchat moderator, offers a perspective on discrimination in teacher recruitment.

I recently had an animated exchange on Twitter with a recruiter who posted a job vacancy with the tag line ‘Native speakers only,’ using the #ELTchat hashtag. Being a moderator on #ELTchat, I noted to the author of the post that we oppose discrimination against non-native English speaking teachers (NNESTs). That said, and as is often the case with recruiting agencies, the blame was immediately laid on the employer who’d insisted native English teachers (NESTs) only, may apply. The tweet exchange ended positively with the recruiter offering to try and contribute to the awareness campaign by hosting the Teflequity logo to their page, which would earn them a place on the organisation’s Hall of Fame.

This anecdote is one of many such stories and raises several questions. First, why is this still happening? Is it even legal? How can we support fair recruitment policies based on competence and not the applicant’s nationality? Should there be a body responsible for ensuring worker rights are actively promoted and applied in the TEFL industry? And finally, who’s responsible for raising awareness?

To me, it is an absolute wonder that this is still happening today. Not only because the ratio of NESTs to NNESTs currently stands at ‘one native speaker of English in the world for five non-native speakers,’ (Crystal, 2014) but also because ‘the very notion of the NEST vs NNEST distinction has become extremely slippery in an increasingly mobile, multilingual and globalised world.’ (Thornbury, 2014)

There is no question that this form of discrimination is a violation of the European Union law according to the article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. So, one might think that this practice would only be found in non-EU countries. Unfortunately, European countries are just as guilty of turning a blind eye as their American and Asian counterparts, and one only need make an online search using the words ‘English + teacher + native + country name’ to observe the countless links reeled off on the results page.

The unfair treatment of qualified applicants based solely on their nationality is a battle we thought we’d won when race, colour, gender and other discriminations were no longer factors of selection, and when diversity policies became a norm companies had to abide by. Although it would be naïve to believe that diversity policies are always respected, nevertheless, it is disheartening to observe such open discrimination in Education – the field of knowledge, open mind and tolerance.

Today, several prominent ELT organisations, authors, speakers, trainers and teachers are speaking up against this and joining the call of the Teach English featured blog of the month, Teflequityadvocates. However, is this enough? Should this be an independent call? Shouldn’t the industry present a united front on an issue as critical as this one? When Europe is often seen to be the lesson giver in parts of the world where many still battle for the most basic rights, isn’t it incumbent on ELT corporate organisations to come forward, openly declare an end to this form of discrimination and promote worldwide ELT equity?

Karen Momber
Professional Development

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