Monday, April 26, 2010
When I lived in Japan in 2005 I worked for GEOS, an English School that specialized in evening classes for housewives, students, business people, and anyone who wanted to improve their conversational English. Last Wednesday, GEOS filed for bankruptcy protection with outstanding debts of ¥7.5 billion.
Of the 300 plus schools currently in operation, almost 100 will be closed, and the remaining will be taken over by another company, though the GEOS name will remain in use. One of the schools to be shuttered is Kanazawa, where I worked for almost two years.
GEOS was a company on the brink even in 2005. In the 20 months I was at Kanazawa School, we broke even one of those months, and made a profit 0 of those months, so even then the handwriting was on the wall. You can't operate a business at a loss for years upon years, it just doesn't work! Like any line grunts, my co-workers and I had plenty of ideas to improve the bottom line, but who knows if anything would have worked. The English teaching industry is in decline, and has been for the better part of a decade at least. People have learned that obtaining fluency is hard and that maintaining fluency is both time consuming and expensive. The industry hasn't been helped by the global downturn either, after all for the vast majority of students, English lessons are a hobby or something to get a bit ahead in school, not a day to day necessity.
I have mixed feelings about the bankruptcy and the final closing of Kanazawa School. On the one hand, GEOS was poorly run and extremely mercenary in its attitude towards its customers. I actually felt bad when I would succeed in selling some overpriced study aid to my students, and I must think that if an employee regrets a sale then something is deeply wrong with this picture! However, it must be said that GEOS gave me an opportunity like no other. Certainly my life today would be very different if they hadn't hired me and shipped me off to Kanazawa. I may not have liked the company, or it's overbearing president Kusunoki, but I loved my students, and the experiences I had in Japan. Now, that opportunity to both learn and teach will be even rarer, and I can't help but think that Japan and the world will be poorer for that.