New report offers recommendations to improve English proficiency in Latin America

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Region still lagging behind the world average English Proficiency Index. Public policy should encourage better English training for teachers and improvements in proficiency assessments.

The Inter-American Dialogue issued a white paper on English Language Learning in Latin America assessing current policies and offering recommendations on how to improve English proficiency across the region. The report, supported by Pearson, covers ten Latin American countries that represent 87% of its GDP (World Bank, 2015): Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay.

The report made an in-depth analysis of current policies and overall proficiency. It found that, despite the fact that younger generations are demonstrating a higher level of English command, Latin America as a region performs below the world average in the EF English First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI 2016) in all age groups, particularly in the 18-20 years age group, where the region falls behind the world average by 3.8 points.

“In the region, only Chile has an advanced comprehensive policy framework for English Language Learning,” says Ariel Fiszbein, Director of the Education Program at the Inter-American Dialogue. “Overall, the region lacks well-developed national policy frameworks. This, combined with low proficiency levels of teachers, does not help advance countries’ efforts in bilingualism.”

The report has four recommendations to address current challenges

1. Governments need to have a well-developed and consistent framework to set strategic policy directions, including standards and expectations for ELL. These are essential to guide efforts to improve English teaching and English proficiency.
2. Improve teacher training, while also looking for innovative solutions to address the teacher shortage; Uruguay, where children are tutored online by foreign English teachers, is a good example
3. Look beyond the K-12 educational system for learning opportunities: adults in and out of the workforce are seeking learning opportunities outside the schooling system and, potentially, through the higher education system.
4. Create a regional learning community to share challenges, experiences, and best practices. This community could make important contributions to ongoing and future efforts to improve English proficiency throughout the region.

English is necessary for international communication

English proficiency is increasingly necessary for business and international communication and linked with prospects for economic competitiveness and growth in the global economy. And according to 87% of senior human resource managers of multinational companies in thirteen countries, including Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, it is considered one of the key skills when assessing potential employees (Educational Testing Service & Ipsos Public Affairs, 2015).

“There is no doubt that English is the most common business language in multinational companies, but it is also a solid investment for countries looking to drive economic growth. People from emerging markets that are fluent in English have access to better jobs and English proficiency is increasingly a predictor of a country’s GDP,” says Giovanni Giovannelli, Pearson’s President, Growth Markets. “Our experience at Pearson shows that teacher training and development directly impact student outcomes. Technology is a great ally helping more people gain access to high quality and affordable education.”

The research highlights three key factors that English Language Learning programs must address to be successful: ensuring continuity, developing a strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that informs adaptation, and addressing the lack of sufficient quality teachers. Few programs in Latin American exhibit these factors and fail to successfully impact the English proficiency levels.

“The standard of English needs to be improved globally to enhance communication in an increasingly connected world; 90% of teachers believe that a global framework for English is needed to raise teaching standards, according to the report on raising English standards with a Single Global Framework,” adds Giovanni. “Learners and teachers need a deeply accurate picture of their learners’ English proficiency and a clear map of what to work on next to meet long term learning goals. This can be achieved through accurate assessment tools, also addressing specific, often unique, learning needs and meet real world language requirements.”

To read the full report in English or Spanish, click here

Click here to download the study infographics.

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