Some qualifications are more equal than others

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With high unemployment in many English-speaking countries and a recession that doesn't want to go away, the demand for ESL training is buoyant.  The macro prospects for work, however, are not looking particularly good in many places- Europe is economically squeezed in many parts and ageing, the population of Japan is already shrinking, Korea's will follow suit in a few years, and China 's working population  is set to peak in a few years.

The first time I came across the impact of demographic change was about fifteen years ago when I was teaching in a bustling school and learned that one of the two primary schools in the town was to close and realised that the seemingly endless flood of  young people coming in to learn was set to dry up in a matter of years.   It is a factor that will become increasingly important to people starting out in ESL now.

With unemployment driving up the supply of teachers and the combination of economic hardship and declining and ageing populations driving the supply/demand for learning down, it is very much a buyer's market, and competition for jobs is set to increase, along with downward pressures on earnings and conditions.

For people thinking about doing a teacher training course, the internet is packed with providers promising all sorts, and many of the tactics used are dubious.  One particular target for a campaign of disinformation is the CELTA qualification, which is regularly described as a high level qualification- it isn't.  It's an entry level teaching qualification, and those who say it is an advanced course simply want you to sign up with them and get cash off you before you shell out a second time to get something more worthwhile.  

Last year, I looked and couldn't find any evidence that online training courses were a good thing for your employment prospects, and some to show that they would harm your chances on their own. I had another look at job adverts and the results strike me as crystal clear; if you are thinking about training as an ESL/ESOL teacher, especially  if you would like a job that pays better than a temporary backpacker post, then the best  qualification is obvious.  I took 100 basic teaching jobs from all over the world on the same day on as a sample:

CELTA named: 31
CELTA/Trinity CertTESOL named: 29
No qualification specified: 32
No qualification required: 8
(TEFL International named: 0)

There are plenty of jobs to be had, but there are also plenty of applicants and I know well-qualified friends who have had to struggle to find work.  You  may be able to apply for jobs with other certificates, but it is blatantly obvious what employers are looking for.  In the eyes of employers, CELTA is the standard, Trinity is a respected junior partner, and the rest at best are also-rans.  You could run a similar test and get slightly different results, but these would be minor variations rather than very different pictures.

Competition for jobs is only going to get tougher, so if you are thinking about training and want to maximise your chances of getting a job, then I would recommend going for the qualification(s) that employers are asking for by name.  There's no training provision monopoly, the market is largely unregulated, and most of the accreditation available is irrelevant.  Employers ask for the CELTA because they feel it gives a sufficient probability of providing people who do a satisfactory job, no more- they would change allegiance in the morning if something better came along.   Times are tough, more potential employers are looking for the CELTA than anything else because it meets their needs, there will be other applicants, so starting by having what they're looking for can only help your chances.

[Update- this was at the end of paragraph 3, but Tefl International corrected the information on 13th April 2011:
Tefl International, which says it is the largest TESOL course provider, claims that the CELTA is "a limited certification for person wishing to teach Further, Adult and Community Education in England"(1), which is a misleading description.  As it is on the FAQ page, it can't be put down as advertising puff and hyperbole; it's simply wrong. 
I included them in the list above because they say they are the largest TESOL course provider and it seems strange that it is not asked for by name in job adverts, and have left the figure in the list.

(1)  Accessed 18/01/2010, screenshots  available] 

I have no financial or professional interest in any teaching qualification.  I make no claims about pedagogical quality.  My views are purely pragmatic: getting work.  If employers start asking for something other than the CELTA and, to lesser extent, the Trinity CertTESOL, I will start recommending that.

Categories: General


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This is particularly relevant in the UK where schools are accredited by the British Council which stipulates that teachers must have a CELTA or Trinity TESOL qualification. Those spending money on online courses hoping to get EFL teaching jobs in the UK are just wasting their time.

i have not done an all over the world comparison but i have noticed that in turkey the jb ads usually mention both CELTA and TEFL. i think in certain areas certain certificates might be more popular for no specific reason... and in Turkey certainly one might even get a job without a certificate, they would just like to see some kind of a paper to tell their clients that all their teachers have a certificate.

Dave's ESL cafe job listing has a lot of jobs in Middle East where i just compared now and saw TEFL mentioned a lot

for general purposes CELTA is probably better suited as you suggest. but for someone just needing a job right now, in Turkey for instance, with not much money to spend on a CELTA course, its good to know an online TEFL is quite enough.

A fair number of employers won't consider you for a job if you have an online course, so I am not saying that an online course is quite enough. I said there was no evidence of online courses being a positive, meaning that no one asks for them by name, and some evidence that they were negative, menaing that people went out of their way to state that they wouldn't consider any online course.

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