How a single global framework is raising standards in English


A new report highlights the benefits of a single global framework of English in meeting the growing demands for English learning around the world

The needs of English learners today have changed dramatically from those of ten or even five years ago. People are “globalising and mobilising” like never before and are using English as a means to do so. As a result, the demand for English language learning is soaring with estimates as high as one in four people worldwide actively learning to communicate in English. This represents 1.85 billion English learners in 2016 alone – and that number is growing year on year.

Not only have the volumes of English learners increased in recent years, the ways in which they can learn English have also multiplied. It used to be that if you wanted to learn English, you signed up for an English class and learned from an English teacher in a classroom setting. But like many other industries, technology has transformed the way students learn English: from learning in a blended classroom and on-demand mobile apps to virtual private language schools and emerging services such as real-time translation. Learners of English today are faced with a bewildering number of options for studying the language – but does this mean that they are able to learn more effectively and efficiently? They are also more mobile than ever before – but do any of these technological advances enable learners to better understand how their proficiency compares with others globally?

A recent Pearson survey showed that 90% of  ELT teachers around the world believe that standards of English need to be improved. And a fundamental part of this improvement relies on the ability to accurately describe what a learner can do at different levels of proficiency using a consistent language – or framework. Are learners in a classroom in Brazil making the same progress as students learning virtually in China? Are teaching materials used in Poland comparable with those being studied in Turkey? Experience suggests not – but how can this be quantified?  Learners, teachers, governments and employers are starting to ask such questions – whether for academic, professional or migration purposes. Everyone is seeking the same holy grail – the most effective and efficient way to learn English.

Introducing a global scale of measurement

And Pearson has long been asking the very same questions. We knew that in order to input into the debate on raising standards of English teaching and learning around the world, we needed a more sophisticated framework on which to base our hypotheses and research. In 2014 we released the Global Scale of English (GSE) and its associated Learning Objectives for Adults learning General English, Academic English and Professional English. In 2016, we added GSE Learning Objectives for Young Learners. The GSE and GSE Learning Objectives form the standardised framework that underpins our research into the learning and teaching of English in the 21st century. The GSE extends the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to include more learning objectives (or Can Do statements) that support learning English at all levels of proficiency, across all skills and for different purposes. These new learning objectives were developed in collaboration with thousands of teachers around the world and, like the CEFR, are open source and freely available for educators and institutions to use.

Single global framework

Raising standards in English

The ultimate goal for all publishers, teachers, institutions and ministries is to ensure that learners are given the support they need to acquire English as effectively and efficiently as possible. For most people, learning English is a means to an end – they need it for their careers, for their education, for global mobility – and they want to be able to communicate with others around the world in English as quickly as possible so that they are not just learning a language, but actually using it to improve their lives. In order to raise standards in English, we need to start challenging current practices and mindsets. We believe – as do a growing number of practitioners around the world – that the GSE and the GSE ecosystem provide the starting point for conversations around the best ways to teach English, motivate learners and raise standards.

Since the initial launch of the GSE in 2014, we have spent the past two years further researching, refining and building not just the GSE Learning Objectives but a wider ecosystem that includes teaching and assessment materials, based on the GSE. We have also developed a number of online resources and free tools for teachers to use in their course planning and assessments, such as the GSE Teacher Toolkit.

This “GSE ecosystem” is already being rolled out around the world to inform course design, motivate learners and impact teaching. Our latest report on how the GSE is helping to raise standards and improve life chances features a number of case studies from around the world – from course audits in the US and curriculum alignment in Turkey to objectives setting and motivating learners in Japan. The report also looks in more detail at how the GSE was developed and the issues highlighted here. This is the beginning of our journey into raising English Language Teaching standards around the world and we encourage teachers and educators to join the global conversation.

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