Do BIG ESL BRANDS offer better learning experiences?


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We see it here in Malaysia, some places have that ‘franchise’ stamp and others are self-running, even the Malaysian government recognizes Franchise Brands ahead of self-made ones.  To the government, the notion of a recognized business model and curriculum seals the deal as a reputable language school……or does it?

Plenty of you teachers out there who have worked for brands and worked for privately owned places can give me some more insight into this.  However, what I can see from my experience here in Malaysia, the student base (who are predominantly from the Middle East and Africa), really don’t seem to care.

Franchised ESL schools in Malaysia do not necessarily do well, one reason being that a large portion of their revenue has to go back to the franchise itself. As a result the schools will compromise in other areas in order to cover their losses, and where is that usually? The salaries of the teachers! And once you compromise that, you’ll find it more difficult to keep the good ones as they will all end up going to the places that actually pay them what they are worth. Which then in turn means that the non-franchised schools end up doing better because they have the better teachers.

On a few occasions as we now have a good reputation and are not a franchised school, we have had some other privately Malaysian owned schools here come to us and request that they buy our curriculum only and use their own teachers.  My response is basically to raise my eyebrows, sigh and say….’ok if you wish…. but our curriculum will not make you a success. It is the person who stands in front of the class who will make you a success, and if you aren’t prepared to nurture and pay for the good ones, you’ll end up like all the others, …. at the bottom.’  They smile and look at me like they have ‘well organized plans’, to which I smile and I send them on their way.

It always amazes me that the schools that are international brands don’t fully acknowledge the impact of the teacher on the class. There are some that have their own professional development programme which is good, but even though someone has been through this programme, again, it doesn’t mean they have the ex-factor in the class.

Our school is large for a language centre and we have thought long and hard about whether to start franchising it but have always ended up deciding not to because the one thing we do believe is that our success is totally based on our teacher recruitment process. The curriculum is as good as any others, but the way we manage the recruitment, the probationary period, the ongoing professional development and monitoring is very tough and specific to us. The Director of Studies has to be trained in our philosophy and monitored from the top. To sustain this kind of momentum can be done within our own school but to monitor that in hundreds of schools around the world would be impossible. Then once the reputation is gone in other places, so too is the brand of all centres.

Not every business can be a McDonalds where you just make and deliver burgers with a smile. When companies deal exclusively in that smile and heart of the person, the question then comes as to how to franchise it? Not easy.

So what do you think? If you are a teacher who has worked in a few different language centres and some are franchised ones and some are not, tell me what you think about this question – Are ESL brands better?


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