IATEFL: Fernando Morais and the challenges of EFL in Brazil

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fernando morais Way to Prosperity: Tackling the Challenges of EFL in Brazil

The 52nd annual IATEFL Conference kicks off in Brighton tomorrow and we can’t wait!

In this post, Fernando Morais gives us a brief look at what you can expect in his workshop and tells us about the challenges EFL teachers and students face in Brazil.

His talk will take place on Wednesday 11th April at 16:45 in Hall 4.

For more information about all the Pearson talks at this year’s IATEFL, view the programme.

Tackling the Challenges of Teaching EFL in Developing Countries: A Case Study from Brazil

It is undeniable that the English language goes far beyond the borders of USA, Canada, the UK and other English-speaking countries. It is now the lingua franca, a global language, chosen by business and traders all over the world.

Yet there is no doubt that the level of English language proficiency in any given country is directly related to its level of economic and social development.

Unfortunately, any country with a population that struggles to communicate in English will also struggle to make an impact in a global setting. As a consequence, countries with a poor level of English overall will fall short of achieving world-leading innovations, economic triumph and international protagonism.

Major challenges in developing countries

As in many other developing countries, English Teachers in Brazil – especially those working in the public sector – face two major challenges.

Firstly, their English level is not good enough to allow them to teach English from a communicative perspective, not to mention as a medium of instruction.

Secondly, teachers who go through years of college receive little or no effective methodology training and, in most cases, have no credible English teaching certification.

This is why students often spend more than a decade studying English at school and still leave secondary education with little or no communicative competence in one of the world’s most pervasive languages.

Game changing ideas

An initiative in Brazil, called the Projeto Prosperity Fund, has set out to tackle this problem. In partnership with the British Embassy and supported by the British Prosperity Fund, Pearson Brazil carried out a study, followed by a teacher training program that involved more than 5,000 public school teachers in the country.

Considering the nation’s continental dimensions, distance learning was the only possible way to reach teachers in remote locations.

The program therefore required a team of devoted academic and technical support specialists and a robust learning management system. This system needed to be capable of hosting a large number of teachers and an ecosystem of digital solutions, all relying on the precision of the Global Scale of English (GSE)—the only truly global English proficiency standard.

Lessons learned

The experience of conducting this program left us with some valuable lessons, which might well be critical for the success of future initiatives – not only in Brazil, but also in other developing countries with similar challenges.

Here are some of the main takeaways:  

  • Using the right assessment tools

In order to address the English language proficiency gaps teachers have, it is imperative to know exactly what their level of proficiency is and, subsequently, how they are progressing throughout their course.

In this case study, we used two solutions: the Pearson English Placement Test and Progress Test, both of which are built according to the standards of the GSE. They allowed us to test skills and track progress.

  • Improving English skills

While receiving methodology training (or perhaps even before), teachers can benefit from having English lessons to improve their proficiency.

Of course, this is not to say that they must start speaking with a Received Pronunciation. However, the end result should be that the teacher’s confidence increases and that they can then use the language more naturally and intelligibly in class.

Ideally, the English course should include the usual grammar and vocabulary practice, but also integrated skills lessons, abundant video material, quizzes and tests, as is the case with Pearson English Interactive.

  • Continuing professional development

In parallel to having achieved a satisfactory level of proficiency in English, teachers can also increase their efficacy as they learn about TEFL methodologies and approaches.

They may also benefit from reflecting upon their teaching practice in the light of new 21st Century learning trends and the post-method era.

In the Projeto Prosperity Fund program, for example, teachers who achieved 50 or higher in the GSE had access to Teacher Development Interactive. This is a course featuring readings, presentations, writing assignments, and video lessons from ELT experts such as Jeremy Harmer, David Nunan, and Allen Ascher. This program is certified by Hunter College, part of the City University of New York.

Those teachers who did not reach an intermediate level in the Placement test, received methodology training in face-to-face sessions on topics including Active Learning, Classroom Management, and Lesson Planning, among others.

  • The challenges of distance learning

While this is seen as a solution for reaching a large number of teachers in remote locations across the globe, some countries still struggle with serious infrastructure problems that affect these teachers’ ability to simply get online.

What’s more, our Brazilian experience revealed that some teachers have a low level of digital literacy and a lack of appropriate devices to study with.

The future

The task of improving English Teaching is not a simple one, especially in developing countries.

Existing challenges can be overcome using effective distance learning digital solutions, coupled with the dedication of tireless teachers who are eager to dedicate countless hours to improve the quality of their teaching.

It’s also important to have the involvement of both private and public agencies, as was the case with the collaboration between Pearson and the British Government through the Prosperity Fund.

So, if you are at IATEFL don’t miss out on Fernando’s talk on 11th April.

Useful tools for teachers and learners

The Global Scale of English (GSE) is a standardized, granular scale from 10 to 90, which measures English language proficiency. Unlike other frameworks, which describe attainment in wide bands, the Global Scale of English identifies what a learner can do at each point on the scale across speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.

The Pearson English Placement Test, assesses students’ listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary skills, giving an overall score on the GSE. It can be done online, in only 35 minutes and results are delivered instantly.

Progress allows students to see how they are developing during their English course. There are three tests per level, designed to be used at the beginning, middle and end of a course. Scores are given on the GSE and can be done on any computer either at home or at school.

Pearson English Interactive is an online course helping adults improve their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, so they can become better communicators using International English.

Teacher Development Interactive helps train and certify teachers to deliver effective instruction in English as a foreign Language.

For more information about all of Pearson’s products visit the website.

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