George Athanasopoulos has been active in the ELT scene for twenty five years teaching English to all age groups. During the last ten years he’s been teaching Business English and ESP. He has also developed the e-learning programmes in Business, Legal and Paralegal English of the University of Athens. He joined OUP in 2018 and he aspires to lead the company to new heights after its restructure and the new management.
Oxford University Press has a rich history which can be traced back to the earliest days of printing. The ELT sector of OUP has also a rich history producing books on pedagogy and didactics for teachers and college students, as well as coursebooks, grammar books and supplementary materials for learners of all ages and levels. In the Greek ELT scene, OUP used to be a dominant player for decades. There is not a single FLS in Greece that has not used at least one of the many popular OUP books.
- All of a sudden (?) OUP almost disappeared from the Greek ELT market. The representation was minimal. What were the reasons? Poor management? Poor communication between Athens and Oxford? Change of priorities? Restructuring?
You are right. It is true that the transition period to the new scheme caused a gap of communication with the Greek ELT market; and that was a mistake. But, we need to understand that new people, new structure, new operational scheme, all these need some time for tuning and adjustment. However, it is also true that OUP never really disappeared from Greece; the representation may not have been the ideal but the office was fully functional and most importantly there was never any problem with the supply of OUP books in Greece.
- A couple of years ago new promotional and distribution channels were established. Does this mean a ‘come back’?
I wouldn’t say exactly a ‘come back’, since we never left. But, I would definitely say a ‘restart’, a new beginning. Our goal is to build a new relationship with the Greek ELT market, the school owners and teachers and remind them that Oxford is here to support their work with the quality of our materials and the quality of our services. Our true power lies in the high quality and efficiency of our books, digital material, educational support and teacher training, and that’s what the Greek ELT market needs to be aware of. I’m sure that every school has used Oxford books at one time or another and I can see in my daily contact with them that the Oxford brand name is still strong and respected. So, they need not only to rediscover the reasons for using Oxford books in the past, but also to know why they can trust that Oxford can get the job done; that is help them be the teachers they want and can be and together create speakers of the English language. To do that, we need to combine what we have always represented, excellence in ELT with the fact that OUP has a modern, innovative and fully adjusted to the demands of our times approach. And all this needs to be communicated. That’s why we have put together a very comprehensive plan of activities for 2021 including a series of webinars (Web Gatherings 2021), events and a couple of surprises that are to be announced in due time.
- How easy is it now for OUP to gain its own piece of the ELT market in Greece taking into account various factors and challenges?
Nothing is easy, especially these days. The challenges of the times, with COVID-19 being the most serious and unexpected one, has caused a lot of uncertainty in ELT, as in every other sector of the business activity. This uncertainty makes changes difficult and unlikely. Most market sectors have entered a survival mode, and so has ELT. So, making a turn to Oxford books is something that won’t come easy. However, we strongly believe that every difficulty, every challenge is also an opportunity. It is time to measure ourselves and see how strong we are. We aim at gaining ELT people’s trust first, and that can only happen with sincerity and consistency. And sincerity and consistency become more important during times of crisis. To put it in a nutshell, what we are looking for with our restart is, as I said before, to build new relationships with more people based on sincerity and consistency, the quality of our books and materials and the respect for the teachers and their work. Only by forging relationships of this kind can we overcome the difficulties and obstacles and regain our place in the ELT market.
- What’s the most valuable asset of OUP at the moment?
The most valuable asset of Oxford at the moment is forging business relationships and partnerships with the most distinguished and influential members of the Greek ELT community. And at this point I’m very proud to announce that since January this year Ms. Maria Davou (the accomplished ELT teacher, teacher trainer, researcher and school owner) has been a member of the OUP/Lexis team as an Academic Consultant. We are confident that Maria will add academic, scientific and business value to our team and efforts. Together, we have planned great things for 2021, some of which you already know and others that will come out soon. So, Maria, welcome aboard. Maria comes to join a group of experienced people in the field of ELT, Oxford/Lexis staff whose professionalism and eagerness will change the game for Oxford.
Apart from Maria’s addition to the team, we should also stress the fact that Oxford comes out with a variety of options for all levels and ages with modern methodology based on the inquiry-based approach, CLIL and 21st and global skills, and a fully-equipped state-of-the-art digital arsenal (online platforms: Classroom Presentation Tools, online practice, Oxford Apps, Oxford Teacher’s Club, teachers’ and parents’ specialized websites etc.).
- What impact will the current crisis have on the ELT industry in the coming years?
That’s a good question but in reality, no one really knows the answer. We will definitely see more of blended, hybrid and online classes. But I believe, we will also see a shift to quality. At difficult times, we normally turn to the essence of things rather than the surface. We focus on what matters. So I think, that schools which promote quality and professionalism will stand out. Teachers who get trained will stand out. Materials that are well-researched and that put forward modern pedagogies and methodologies will stand out. This is the only thing I can predict with some certainty.
- What are OUP plans in the near future for the Greek market? How do you see your place in post-COVID era?
Our plans for the future are many and all in the same direction, providing the highest quality books with the highest quality services. So, for 2021 we have announced a series of webinars, called Web Gatherings 2021 until June 2021; the first one has already taken place with great success. There are more webinars planned that will be announced soon. We have also planned an online event for August 2021. Our aim is our teaching training program to be enriched and become a permanent addition to every ELT professional’s calendar. We are also planning something that has never happened in the Greek market before, can’t tell you more at this point but it’s something that will make an impression at least. We are planning more about our presence on the social media a Linkedin OUP/Lexis page, our own YouTube channel with presentations of our books but also with model lessons, teacher training seminars etc. and we have already created our own OUP/Lexis website, 4myschool.gr, where one can find articles, online resources and materials, even an e-shop. As you can see, we are very optimistic about the future. Oxford Quality will shine again.