There may be reasons why TEFL accreditation may matter. But this post is going to focus on why it doesn't matter. TEFL/TESOL accreditation is made when some outside organization inspects a course and deems it worthy or not.
There is no one governing accreditation bureau or organization for TEFL courses. So these accreditors are usually not directly related to TEFL. In other words there is no one accreditation bureau world wide for TEFL courses.
These organizations aren't going around from course to course just naturally accrediting or denying TEFL accreditation.
There is an application process and fees to pay.
Many of the accrediting organizations are not governmental. They are often private organizations or shall we say businesses associated with education, but not strictly TEFL.
Are all TEFL courses accredited? No. Do they have to be? Well, it depends on who you ask, but no not necessarily. There is no law for that.
Does accreditation even work?
- Accreditation does not guarantee educational quality.
- Accreditation undermines institutional autonomy.
- Accreditation contributes to over priced education.
- Accreditation is mostly a secret process.
- Accreditation involves an exchange of money.
The article above refers to accreditation and higher education, yet I can see how these apply to TEFL accreditation as well.
1. Accreditation does not guarantee educational quality.
The thinking goes something like "Oh, it's accredited then it must be fine". Or maybe like this, "Nestle is a big company and this breast milk replacement looks good... I trust them..." Later on her baby dies.
Too often we assume, place too much trust based on outward appearances and actually know little of what is inside.
On the "rare occasion" that a course providers accreditation is suspended it's usually because the institution failed to financially pay it's bill rather than any educational flaw.
2. Accreditation undermines institutional autonomy.
As I was looking through the ACCET accreditation process I started to get the feeling why would I want someone like this to inspect my course and deem it worthy or not. I don't think we share the same values, so why should I succumb to their values. Or try to fit into their mold and then pay them for it?
One size doesn't fit all.
3. Accreditation contributes to over priced education.
In-class TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses can range anywhere from around $500 to over $3000 depending on the course. That's a lot of money considering the fact that most people only teach English abroad for a year or two and have college debt to begin with. I definitely thought that the course that I first took was way to expensive considering what I learned.
Accreditation comes with a fee and that fee is only going to increase the cost of the course.
4. Accreditation is mostly a secret process.
These so called inspections of courses are done so privately.
5. Accreditation involves an exchange of money.
Accrediting programs need courses to continue. The TEFL/TESOL course providers are their customers.
I've spent around 8 years looking for jobs on ESL Cafe and other sites primarily in Eastern Asia. And I'll tell you what. The majority of employers just take TEFL and TESOL certification at face value. If it's important to them they'll only check your resume to see if you have it.
And it usually doesn't go any further than that.
I personally never had an employer ask me whether the TESOL course on my resume was accredited or not. Aside from images of the certificate sent in an email I also never had an employer ask to see my actual certificate. The only question that I did get about my course was about how many hours the course was.
If you look at the job ads what will you see? The main qualifications to teach in Eastern Asia are to be a native speaker and to have a degree. TEFL/TESOL certificates - if mentioned in the job ad are usually noted as preferences. I can't recall a mention of accreditation or an accredited TEFL course.
Also let's consider this from a different point of view. Do you have a degree? Has any employer ever ask you if your degree was accredited? I don't think so, it never happened to me anyways. The only question that you may get about your course is, "How many hours was it for?"
So to whom does TEFL course accreditation matter?
It's typically a marker of social proof. It can work in the same way that testimonials or reviews do. From my point of view it serves as a marketing tool in possibly helping people decide which course is best. If it wasn't important then some course providers wouldn't feign it.
It matters to the sellers and to the buyers: TEFL course providers and to those searching for a course. To the TEFL providers it matters because they are competing for your money. For the buyers - probably you, it matters because you were told that it matters.
But who told you that it matters?
If not the employers then it must have been the TEFL course providers. And what was the reason why you wanted to get TEFL certified in the first place?
I think for most people a big part of it is to get trained and find an employer. So long story short the majority of employers (at least in Eastern Asia) are not going to inquire whether your course is accredited or not. It's not their business.
And I hate to say it, but many employers in Eastern Asia are also not going to recognize the difference between a certificate that came from: "Frank's TEFL", "Oxford Seminars", CELTA or the TEFL certificate you bought on Khoasan Rd. in Bangkok. If it's on your resume then it's good enough for them.
So if you just want a TEFL certificate as a job "qualification" then you can check out Groupon.
But if you want more than just a certificate
If you want more than a certificate and you want to learn what to do and how to teach when you step in the classroom then you need more than just a certificate. You might assume that any TEFL course online or not might teach you those basics, but that is not true.
Here is a quote from a couple on Youtube about their "accredited" TEFL course that they got on Groupon.
"It was a refresher course with all the rules to English. It didn't actually teach you to teach English, but... (Other person laughing) Yeah it didn't really teach you at all on how to teach English, but yeah a good refresher on all the English skills."
Another "accredited" course...
"Just finished a 120 hour course from Groupon, found it completely worthless even for the price and full of grammatical and spelling errors. It appears to me, despite claiming to be accredited..."
Why don't some TEFL courses have accreditation?
There can be different reasons why they don't have it. Some of them may be:
- They may not be able to afford it or have financial problems.
- They can be a new provider and may not have attained it.
- They may be a fraudulent TEFL certificate "mill".
- They may choose not to seek accreditation because they view it as a violation of their religious or academic beliefs.
As mentioned above accreditation involves an exchange of money. They may not be able to afford it or they may not want to pay for it.
2. They might be new
The whole process of accreditation can take a good deal of time depending on the organization.
3. They might be a fraud
In the worst case scenario a so called TEFL provider could offer a course with a pay upfront fee and then offer nothing in return or maybe just a certificate. The former is probably not too common though as in this day in age the word gets out and spreads fast on the internet. I have seen places selling fake degrees and TEFL certificates online.
"Fraud" and "scams" are strong words and these sort of things don't really happen that often. What might be slightly more common though is a TEFL course provider offering a shoddy course for a fee.
How can you avoid this?
Some TEFL providers say, "take an accredited TEFL course". But as you will soon learn that's no guarantee. I mentioned some of these in Which TEFL course should I take? Basically you can suss out their website, their "About" page, reviews, etc.
Typically crooks or frauds - whether they are a TEFL course provider or just a troll, do not offer any personal information and try to remain anonymous.
4. They may choose not to seek accreditation
They could be a religious based TEFL course accredited by god himself, LOL or they may see it as a violation of their academic freedom. As mentioned above accreditation undermines institutional authority.
So they may not believe in the system or have other religious/academic reasons. I have seen ads out there for "Christian" TEFL courses.
Accreditation can be used to scam you
Since people assume that the word "accredited" equals quality or a good reputation then know that it can also be used to scam you for money.
The term "accredited TEFL courses" is frequently used by TEFL course providers. While many of them may have it others may lie about their accreditation or be both the TEFL course provider and the accreditation bureau themselves.
Here's something similar to that note about colleges.
“For example 83% of the board for Middle States Commission on Higher Education is comprised of people that work for institutions that they then accredit.” - The College Accreditation Scam
The term "accreditation" can also be used as well to market online universities. Here is an example:
"With our high quality, self-paced degree programs you can get an accredited degree for around $6,000 #EndStudentDebt"
Maybe it is true and not a "scam". I guess in the USA we assume that higher education comes with a price. We assume the more you pay the better the degree and education that you'll get. But in many other developed countries students spend less than that for a degree that's not taken online.
Or in the TEFL world it may be:
"Accredited TEFL courses offering internationally recognized certification for just $49 on Groupon."
I made that one up, but it's something like I have seen before. It may be possible, but it's a lot of marketing and hype.
How can you know if the accreditation is real?
You can look them up. See who they are and who else they accredit.
TEFL accreditation "can" be a marker of a quality TEFL course. But accreditation isn't all that it seems and doesn't guarantee quality for the different reasons mentioned above. There is more to it than that.
A TEFL course is not required to be accredited and just because it isn't doesn't necessarily mean that it is a low quality course or a fraud.
I wouldn't merely rely on TEFL accreditation as a marker of a good TEFL course or not. Most courses are accredited. I would try to test it out and see if it fits your needs, research the company or perhaps see what people are saying about it.