“Teaching circumstances are today much worse than in the past”
Let me take you back to the students. You're not going to deny that there is no way to compare today's students and the school problems with the ones you faced when you were young.
Exactly. No way to compare. Problems are different and should not be compared. But if you are telling me that yesterday's situation was better, then you're wrong. Coping with 50+ boisterous and unmotivated adolescents piled up in the foreign language class was no Eden. No technology either. The few textbooks available were dry unattractive little beasts. We teachers complained as much as today's teachers do. No scholarships or stays abroad. You paid for courses, for class resources. To get job stability in the state system, badly paid teachers had to spend long months in Madrid at an exorbitant personal and family cost, ... Comparisons lead us nowhere.
But what about the present-day difficulties?
Teaching conditions in the average school are bad today because society faces enormous problems. That's always been the case. Today's problems are not the same as yesterday's and need different solutions. But today, as always, learners are learners and teachers are teachers, with all the variables and problems that each segment carries. And this is full of possibilities.
I still think that today ...
Wait. See whether these verses describe the reality of many classrooms today. It's a teacher that speaks:
When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,
My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more. (DH Lawrence)
Would you believe me if I told you that this was written ninety years ago?
Technology is a great step towards conquering these difficulties. And the day we get virtual reality into the classroom, most problems will disappear.
This is exactly what we said when the reel-to-reel tape came, then the cassette, the video-tape, the DVD. Today it's the computer. And tomorrow, virtual reality. True, the medium changes and with it the quality of the input, the type of interaction and the kind of output that is expected, but language learning will still be a very long and difficult process, the classroom still be felt like a prison by many, and teachers and students will remain the same. Again, circumstances change, the actors stay.
Technology makes materials more attractive and makes language input easier.
True. And technology is often the students' domain, the medium in which they operate outside the classroom. This can be a great help to bring external reality into class and should play into the teacher's hands. Also on the positive side, the new technologies are essentially interactive and create spaces for student's action upon the learning environment and for real-time networking.
We have then a new medium that poses new language needs and requires a very different kind of support materials. We do not want to reinforce the old passive roles with a technology this powerful. Action must be built into the system. The new media should not be limited to providing input nor should they be only rehashed products or pdf-ed books.