Cambridge English Language Teaching underlined its position as a world leader in pedagogic innovation during 2018–19 with important new initiatives to help students master English with greater consistency, creativity and confidence.
The year’s achievements highlighted two key aspects of our work. One is the innovative strength resulting from our close cooperation with other University departments – most notably our colleagues at Cambridge Assessment English – in developing learning materials and services that deliver value for teachers and students. The other is our continued focus on digital technology to enrich our customers’ experience of learning.
A particularly important strategic initiative during the year was the launch, in conjunction with Cambridge Assessment, of the Cambridge Curriculum, a single, systemic approach to learning and evaluating proficiency in English. The development of a unified curriculum, and a methodology to measure progress and levels of achievement, will allow students and their teachers to set clear learning goals, track progress towards them, take remedial action and judge their readiness to take Cambridge English language exams. This is a particularly strong example of the ‘Cambridge Advantage’ – the additional value created when University departments work closely together to innovate.
We worked with Cambridge Assessment on another significant initiative during the year, concerning the acquisition of life skills by students. Increasingly, educators want lessons to incorporate the life skills students need to flourish in the 21st century as well as imparting subject knowledge. Examples include creative and critical thinking and the ability to communicate well.
In response to questions about how best to embed these skills in English language programmes, we launched the Cambridge Framework for Life Competencies, which gives educators a starting point for deciding, in their particular cultural context, the kind of competencies that students should acquire at each stage of their education (see page 17).
The Framework, developed in conjunction with Cambridge Assessment, has been enthusiastically welcomed by teachers in countries as distinct as Mexico, Spain and Turkey. We are embedding these competencies into our courses, and into accompanying teachers’ books, to ensure relevance and engagement in the classroom.
Our work with Cambridge Assessment on the development of particular products reflected a trend from general English language courses to a focus on preparing for exams, since students increasingly need to demonstrate their competence through internationally benchmarked tests. Our examinations publishing continued to grow during 2018–19, in what was an exam change-over year, preparing for the introduction of new products.
We had a particularly strong performer with Mindset, a four-level course blending print and online content aimed at preparing students for exams in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
Our digital achievements during the year included the launch of the first phase of a new, more data-rich learning environment, known as Cambridge One, a successor to the Cambridge Learning Management System (CLMS), the platform on which we currently deliver many of our digital and blended products. At the year-end the CLMS had 1.8 million active users, hosted 800 courses and was used in some 88 countries.
Cambridge One, which will supersede the CLMS over a number of years, can provide students and teachers with granular details of individual performance and enable them to set realisable goals, supported by recommendations for study.
The Cambridge Curriculum and Cambridge One have together started us on what promises to be an exciting journey to create ever richer, personal, learning environments for English language students. The first publishing product on Cambridge One is a blended adult learning course called Evolve which illustrates the ambition of the new system and has been well received in the market (see separate panel).
Meanwhile, the online Cambridge Dictionary had an outstanding 12 months, helped by updates to the site to improve users’ experience, and diversification of the revenue base. By year-end it ranked first among free online English language dictionaries and was one of the 1,000 most visited websites in the world, serving 1.93 billion page views, peaking at more than 64 million sessions and 37 million visitors per month.
During 2018–19 we made strong progress in our shift to digital products. By year-end purely digital materials and those blended with traditional print accounted for 44.5 per cent of our sales, up 5.5 per cent on the year.
Highlights of the year’s financial performance included continuing growth in Mexico and Latin America, particularly strong performances in India and China – especially around exams publishing – and a return to growth in Iberia and Brazil after a number of difficult years. Italy saw an exceptionally strong performance, demonstrating the benefits of our specific publishing for that market.
We faced more challenging conditions in the US, a market affected by declining overseas enrolment, and in Turkey as a result of foreign exchange depreciation and flattening domestic demand, after a number of years of growth.
Think – a course for teenagers with thought-provoking topics – played a substantial role in 2018–19 in our growth in the secondary education market. Another strong performer was Talent, a general English secondary course published in Italy specifically for Italian pupils.
Growth in the primary sector was led by a new general English and exams course, titled Life Adventures in Spain, Power Up in the British English international market and Level Up in the American English version. Developed with Cambridge Exams Publishing, a joint unit bringing together the Press and Cambridge Assessment English, it integrates exam preparation and practice content throughout the course.
The Cambridge Curriculum and Cambridge One together have started us on what promises to be an exciting journey to create ever richer, personal, learning environments.”
In addition, we have begun publishing linked courses in science and social science for use in schools where English is a second language but is becoming a medium of instruction across parts of the curriculum. The aim is to build students’ confidence in the use of English for the study of other subjects – so-called Content Language Integrated Learning. Life Adventures and its associated products saw very strong take-up, particularly in Spain, underlining the increasing facility in English expected in many countries at an ever younger age.
However, the corollary of better English in younger people is that the market in general has a more limited pool of adult learners. In the adult market we saw good growth in Mexico and northern Latin America in 2018–19, but flat to declining sales worldwide.
There is also a trend from general English language courses to a focus on preparation for exams. Our examinations publishing continued to grow during 2018–19, in what was an exam change-over year, preparing for the introduction of new products.
A good year was also recorded by our increasingly important Learning Solutions business, which provides our largest customers, such as governments and school chains, with tailored learning products and support services. Strong markets included China and Brazil. Customers increasingly want ELT publishers to provide not just learning materials but a holistic service – including teaching support and tailored content – that helps their teaching be more effective.
Overall, the strength of our new product launches during the year, our partnership with Cambridge Assessment and our focus on the best technology and data mean we look forward confidently to creating an increasingly powerful, interactive learning environment, to the benefit of English language students of all ages.
Evolve is an innovative, blended English course for adults that draws on insights from teachers, students and language teaching experts around the world. It includes authentic student-generated content: drawing on input from around 2,000 students internationally, we put the topics and situations that were most relevant to their lives into the syllabus. We then included these real students in the course via authentic video clips in response to research around ‘near-peer’ role models and their impact on student motivation. Evolve’s emphasis on ‘safe speaking environments’ encourages students to build confidence and fluency. Its self-study practice allows students to access bite-sized learning via their mobile phones. Evolve also offers a unique, integrated, professional development programme for teachers, helping them to incorporate new teaching techniques into their lessons.
Cambridge Life Competencies Framework
How can we prepare students for the challenges of a world where the ability to analyse clearly, communicate well and work collaboratively is ever more important? Increasingly, educators expect students to acquire such competencies in the classroom along with subject knowledge. At the Press we have devised a framework – the Cambridge Life Competencies Framework – to help incorporate these abilities systematically into English language programmes. We call them ‘life competencies’ because they bring together three elements: the acquisition of knowledge, skills and the mental attitude a student needs to learn successfully. We group competencies into six main areas: creative thinking; critical thinking; learning to learn; communication; collaboration; and social responsibilities. We provide examples of the degree of competency students can be expected to achieve at each stage of their education. We are now working to integrate these into the design of our materials and courses, from primary level to adult series. We are also helping teachers understand them better, build them into their teaching and monitor how well their students are progressing with them.