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Recognising and dealing effectively
with student goals and aspirations
by Katie Evans & Seth Atkin
- 1

When an individual accesses a learning programme, there are numerous pressures and interests involved, many of which are external to the individual and the learning programme itself. These may include the labour market, requirements from other educational institutions, and a world that demands updates to understanding on a regular basis. With the complexity of demands brought by every individual learner it is becoming harder to immediately identify what their learning and longer terms needs and aspirations may be, particularly for courses such as initial and further acquisitions of the English language.

The needs of language learners are a global discussion, involving focus on the status of English in relation to local languages. Whilst in a café in Berlin I was party to a discussion about the needs of language learners in Slovakia. At the heart of the discussion was the local requirement in Bratislavia for people who work in the service industries to speak English. This provides a brief focus on the local demand; in order to work in a café in their own country a person needs to speak English. Here we see the demands of the employer which have serious implications for the person trying to access that employment. As educators we need to ask, why should this be the case in a country where the national language is Slovak and not English, and is also a language understood by several neighbouring countries? This discussion took place just before May 2004. O 1st May 2004 Slovakia, among several other Eastern European countries, became part of the expanded European Union. As the EU expands, travel opportunities grow, with several budget airlines opening flights to a range of new EU destinations. Therefore, local language can no longer be defined by state boundaries alone; there are now para state blocks which enable travel and provide challenges to the more geographically confined language groups. It is not now enough just to be able to speak your mother tongue when applying for a job in Slovakia; the English language has risen to international prominence through travel and migration opportunities as well as the further spread of electronic communication via the Internet. The Internet poses further challenges to the geographically confined cultures and languages, whilst at the same time potentially making them more accessible. Thus there are demands placed on the local provision of services to the public as it is quite likely that a broader spread of people will access these services, and thus broader language knowledge is required. Media has also shaped the common language for communication over the past few decades, with American dominance in media and mass communication. Therefore the global pressure on local services has come to bear weight and English has become a requirement for jobs with public contact in countries where English is not a commonly used language and where previously it was not needed so much. Ease of travel and the development of mass communication have been accompanied by the spread of huge multinational corporations and the opportunity to work in these money-making organizations means that people in different countries have to attain a similar level of qualifications to compete with each other. With the local job market bowing to global need, the need of each individual student should not be assumed to be that of the traditional local market. The learner may well have much more complex needs than that, relating to wider issues of employment and working within the global context. As a result, demands for education services may increase and place extra demands on the education service provider. Education may then be seen as more lucrative and as services develop more competition may emerge.

This increasingly competitive world of education means that tutors will be faced with learners with a myriad of learning and long-term, wider, more global aspirations. It can also mean that students could be placed on courses for which they are not really prepared. This mean they may either have gone straight onto a course without the correct preparation or they have tried to prepare well but have been given inadequate advice as to the appropriate learning route to take to reach their learning and longer-term goals. It is imperative, in the now-demanding world of education that a tutor and learner can realize the learner's potential to ensure that the most suitable learning route is taken.

So, as a tutor, how much do you know about your learners when you first meet them? Do you assume that because a learner is applying for a certain course, then they are doing so for certain, quite obvious reasons? Do you also assume that each learner who applies for a course will have exactly the same learning needs as the next learner, whose needs will mirror those of the learner next to them? Do we take learners as an individual case-in-point, or do we throw a blanket over them all and put them in the same needs basket?

It is very easy to assume that learners have chosen to follow a certain learning route because they wish to work towards similar, almost pre-determined and assumed learning outcomes. It is easier for teachers to have a group with the same learning goals, in order to plan, prepare and deliver lessons and courses; there is an overall aim for the students to work towards as a whole group, and the method of teaching and learning in order to achieve those aims are created to cater for everybody. Yet, this is precisely where the issue lies: we can be seen to be disregarding individual learning needs and instead assuming learners' needs based on our own assumptions.

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