What’s the Outcome of a Roadmap?

Selling coursebooks is a a multi billion dollar business where profit, not educational excellence, is the driving criterion.

Pearson’s latest series of English coursebooks is called “Roadmap”

 

and it promotes its latest star product in just the same way as if it were selling toothpaste: it makes the same sort of absurd claims for its new, eight-level general English course for adults as Colgate makes for its latest re-branded toothpaste.

Just as Colgate’s new improved toothpaste has no demonstrated new improved beneficial effect on bocal hygiene, equally the Roadmap series has no new improved beneficial effect on L2 learning. There’s nothing new or improved to be found and no reason whatsoever to think that Roadmap is any better than any other coursebook. 

Pearson spends millions of dollars on promotional, carefully crafted commercial bullshit aimed at maximising sales and profit with scant regard for the truth or for educational values. The criticisms made of coursebook-driven ELT apply just as forcefully to this series as to previous ones. The only difference is the way it ‘s been produced. 

Everybody involved in making this series is demeaned. Once the project – Roadmap – is given the green light, some high-up executive in Pearson is put in charge and a “team” is formed.  All the work is cut up and dished out to people – most of them working on zero hour contracts so as to minimise costs. Everybody works within the strict, suffocating framework of Pearson’s over-arching GSE framework. Everything they write is strictly scrutinised and revised to make sure that all texts and exercises use words and structures in line with the finely granulated, innumerable steps all students must take to ensure “real progress” in Pearson’s frightening world. It’s a badly paid, miserable, life-sucking nightmare. Still, somebody’s got to do it, right? 

In its huge publicity campaign, Pearson is paying for authors to fly to different countries to promote the series. The authors,  dubious stars in the ELT firmament who know next to nothing about language learning, must agree to do whatever their paymasters dictate, and they’ll soon appear in promotional videos, standing in front of iconic landmarks like the sublime clock in Prague, ironically clutching a hopeless Roadmap, mouthing pointless platitudes which, in the vision of some coked-up marketing guru, prove that Roadmap is the latest must-have coursebook, regardless of the fact that it consists of an overpriced collection of dud materials leading students up a dystopian garden path to nowhere.     

Pearson claims that the Roadmap series is unique because Every class is different, every learner is unique. This is, quite simply, bullshit: an empty load of marketing nonsense. Nothing substantial justifies this vaulted claim: the same old crap is delivered in the same old way, the only difference being that skills development is marginally separated. The Roadmap series is the result of a manager delivering a corporate vision: lock-step progression in pseudo-scientifically measured steps towards a reified, mistaken, commodified version of language proficiency. Look at the sample units and weep. Roadmap is Pearson’s version of  Colgate’s “everything’s-new-but-in-fact-nothing’s changed” toothpaste – the latest attempt to package and sell a useless product to a gullible public who, were they better informed, would reject it as the preposterous crap that it is.  

Two of the eight acredited authors of the Roadmap series are also the co-authors of the Outcomes series. Strangely, Andrew Walkley, one of versatile duo, has recently been explaining how the new edition of Outlooks Beginner is a “different kind of Beginner-level book”. It’s not just based on Lewis’ lexical approach, with all the criticisms of grammar-based coursebooks that this implies, it also uses a “spiral syllabus” which, Walkley confidently claims, re-cycles material far more efficiently than the rest. Such are the conflicting claims made for the two coursebook series that one wonders how the same authors can put their names to both of them. Should a coursebook be made up of 10 units containing “three core lessons featuring grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation”, or should it, as Walkley suggests, reject “having one block followed by another block” in favour of teaching “a little about form A, followed by a little bit on form B (perhaps whilst also re-using what we learned about form A), followed by a little on form C (perhaps recycling something of A and/or B), before we return to study something more about form A, etc.”? It reminds me of Groucho Marx’s quip “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others”.