English Opens Doors Program and Teachers of English: The Alchemists of Education in Chile

Rodrigo Fabrega: “We know that English is increasingly necessary to move in a globalized world. We also know that since the founding of the school “Instituto Nacional” in 1813 (National Institute) English has been taught in Chile. “Thursday, March 30, 2006

Teachers of English: The alchemists of education in Chile

January 6, 2011

The last survey done of higher education in Chile reveals that among the ten most sought after careers for young people, is teaching English.

How has this been achieved? Rodrigo Fabrega, who has been leading the English Opens Doors Program almost since its inception in 2003 answers this question, and at the same time gives clues to understand why this program has become a reference in the countries of the region in the teaching of English.

Palabra Maestra: How to justify the presence of the English Opens Doors Program in a country like Chile?

Rodrigo Fabrega: Chile is a very small country and long ago we decided to have an open economy since the Chilean market is very small possibilities to improve the quality of life for all people in Chile are related to the possibility of doing business outside. Forty years ago we were producing and ido specifying what we produce, so in one of the studies commissioned by the government competitiveness together with the private sector and civil society, we realized that one way to grow was to compete outside borders, other countries, meaning that it were a rudimentary power. But if we did not have a workforce with a level of proficiency, we would see diminished our ability to do this.

At the same time we understood that, from the modern point of view, a citizen has to know languages ​​and the language par excellence today is English. Just as nobody can really exercise their citizenship if they do not know the alphabet nor can if not dominant in another language and unfamiliar with the digital alphabet.

P. M.: What were you dreaming of achieving when you set out in 2003 and how far have you come?

R. F.: English in Chile has been taught for at least 250 years. We are advancing an investigation into how it was taught from Bernardo O’Higgins, the father of our country.

In 1858 when Gregory Victor Amunátegui, a hero of Chilean education, entered the academy of sciences at the University of Chile, said in a speech, a professional should not graduate if he did not know French, Italian, German and very well, of course, their mother tongue, Spanish.

We are talking that this was 150 years ago.

That is to say that Chile has always had an interest in learning languages, but it was a privilege of an elite and what we are doing is literacy for the twenty-first century.

The dream was to educate towards the XXI century we had to have “two paths to walk”, one a computer path (be “digital native”) and the other path is language, not just go around and search for scholarship opportunities, but for Chile to also receive people coming for tourism, people who come to invest, to study, and so on.

P. M.: How did you start the English Opens Doors Program in Chile?

R. F.: First we asked if we had the number of English teachers to meet this challenge. And, doing calculations by the number of teachers who had and those who were preparing to teach English, we found that not until 2037 we would have enough teachers of English to teach all the students in Chile.

It was then necessary to show the relevance, the importance for the country to train more and better English teachers.

Education Minister of the time (Sergio Bitar) made this a priority. For example, each time he attended an official act or ceremony at universities, he made the case for English by asking questions.

Sergio Bitar would ask: “Let’s see, how many people are you preparing in pedagogy in English? How is teaching English at this university? How are students learning English here? Is it possible that we have XXI century professionals, can we manage without English at a professional level?”

R. F.: Under this kind of guidance, universities soon began to pay attention to the teaching of pedagogy in English and immediately generated career programs in English Pedagogy.

** (Many English pedagogy programs were opened to meet this deman during the period of Sergio Bitar’s tenure as Minister of Education)

R. F. : While in 2003 we had just 500 people studying English pedagogy, today there are 13,800, meaning that we will close the gap of lack of teachers of English in 2014.

P. M. And regarding the quality to ensure that students really learn the language, what principles guided their actions?

RF: First, we start from the belief that the only institution in society who can teach English massively is the school.

And there we had to start breaking the paradigm of the underlying education of the time, which was to teach about English in Spanish.

Put another way, we saw that our teachers of English could talk about English, how it was formed, what is its structure, etc.., but they could not themselves speak, write, read English, let alone had the vision that students had to converse in English, which is the transformation of a course, certainly, into a living thing.

**”We breathed life into English by learning to speak it.”

What we have said is that English is life.

On one occasion we asked Humberto Maturana, a leading Chilean biologist who has won several awards, what we had to do to make Chile a bilingual country, and not to respond as a university professor or as a person who had done his Masters in the United States or as an academic, but as a biologist.

His answer was this: “That is very simple, if we want people to learn English, the only way is to learn from someone who knows English, and therefore, English teachers need to know English.”

So we have been very emphatic that English teachers should not only know English, but feel comfortable with the language, they are not worried about things incidental to language, but are able to communicate.

At the same time, we understood that if we kept training teachers in the same way as we were doing, we would not achieve what we wanted. Further, we would have to retrain the teachers who were already actively teaching class.

Drawing on the scale of one to five of the Common European Framework, we dreamed that by 2010 all teachers in our country have at least level three (First Certificate) [equivalent to B2 in Colombia] and that all students have the level two (PET) [ would be the B1].

From the point of view of teachers we will achieve it fully, from the standpoint of students it is going to require more time, but public policy has to be applied to achieve a big challenge, for students to reach this goal.

Today we have set ourselves the goal of having 70% of students by 2015 with this level (PET) and by 2020 we should have all students 100% with the level we have set.

If one does not set such goals it is very difficult to get an entire society behind you with the support you need to be successful.

P. M.: How was the change initiated?

R. F.: In social marketing we speak of four levels: 1. non-believers, 2. believers, 3. people who act and 4. society that values.

If in 2003 you asked people in Chile, “Do you think that English is important? 95% said yes.

Well, we have believers, so next we asked the following question to see if there actually was action, “Do you know or do you not know English?

The answer was “No, we do not know English,” whereupon we asked a counter-question: “Then, are you studying English?”.

And again the answer was, “No, we are not studying English.”

It was clear, therefore, that what we had to do was go from believers to action, and after the action to the social value. This is when society has been mobilised accordingly behind the idea of the importance and relevance of English.

In terms of educational policy, you must see it, it is different from what is done if it is with believers or unbelievers, or when people have come to the action or society values ​​the matter.

The English Opens Doors Program was designed with a social base by people who believed it was important to do this. Maybe in other countries the situation is different and therefore how to act would be different also.

P. M.: How has the program been influenced by the model itself?

RF: This is interesting, the creation of the program was not at its beginning an educational perspective and that made a difference in emphasis the curriculum was given to the area above.

Here was a need for the country (English) and needed to be addressed as such, on a national, all-encompassing level.

That’s when we said, “we will have three customers:

first, teachers,

second, teachers,

and third, teachers. ”

So, all our work, our effort is aimed at making English teachers be considered “the new alchemists of education”.

We said, “An English teacher has to feel proud of being an English teacher.

This is a person who is making a huge contribution to the country and is helping to shape an entire generation to be able to have a better life, better job opportunities.”

P. M.: What fueled the model that inspired them or helped them build the basis for your proposal?

R. F.: We did enough research, but we welcomed everyone who could help us with our program, without bias.

Our first commandment was, “You can not do alone.”

Then we said, “Let’s find the best people in the world who can teach English and we will have alliances.

You have to ensure the institutions are aware of this and have seen this done elsewhere.

That is not a theoretical program, but the actual experience of how people learn the language. ”

So we looked to the British Council, the United States Embassy, ​​and the Embassy of Australia.

Then we started to see who were the people who had studied how languages ​​are learned.

In Chile we have had Penny Ur, Michael McCarthy with the whole issue of lexical approach, there has been a number of gurus to visit us.

We have had the privilege of being able to work together and learn from very good people, with very good institutions.

There is no way to do this alone.

P. M.: Institutionally, how are you organized?

R. F.: The Chilean Ministry of Education works, really, a bit fragmented: on one side is the curriculum, on the other evaluation, training elsewhere, and so on.

Thus, the transaction costs for a teacher of English who want to understand what to do, how it will be evaluated, what is the law, what training alternatives, what opportunities for their students, what are the opportunities for your municipality, for your school, etc., are soaring.

What made the English Opens Doors Program was to create an English management department (English Opens Doors).

Therefore, teachers, students, principals know that everything that has to do with English is rooted in the program, and therefore can be found in one place.

That has, apart from a reduction in costs, given the program a lot of credibility.

At the same time, we also realized that we would not benefit if institutionally we did not involve those who are in charge of education locally.

Therefore, in conjunction with the European Community, we selected 70 municipalities of Chile, where almost 60% of the Chilean population is at, so that their local education administrators went to look for a week how this was being done in other countries, to asking their counterparts, “How is that here in Finland, here in Sweden, everybody speaks English, what did you do?”. How did you do this?

And then they were a week at universities in Spain where there is a multilingual culture where they did a diploma course on how to make language training programs locally.

Nothing can make overnight, languages ​​are not improvised and these countries have made an effort to 30 years of work to be bilingual and multilingual countries and even with all that, in a Finnish newspaper appeared at that time a news report in which the Finns themselves thought they had to further improve their English, when everyone in the streets, in taxis, at airports, hotels, speaks English already!

We could speak better Spanish, you can always learn more.

With respect to English we have to look to achieve a minimum target and that is one whose level allows us to be autonomous.

** (PET/B1 – Student) (FCE/B2 – Professor).

P. M.: What approaches to teaching and learning of English have guided the program?

R. F.: We did a design based on theories of educational policy, David Baker and William Boyd, who talk about educational policies and apply the theoretical line of applied linguistics in its many facets.

Here we find a kind of fratricidal war between those who teach grammar, they say that the lexicon is vital, those who say that the important thing is the pronunciation, in academia there are many disputes between what works and what does not work, a dispute which can be used to benefit the program, and not work against it.

We have not left anyone out, but we have room for everyone to develop a good dissemination of their research.

We have borrowed ideas from the economy, the issue of transaction cost, we have borrowed from sociology, understanding the institutional model and the institution that can really make this country bilingual, we have borrowed from biology.

P. M.: What are the conceptual foundations of the program, from a curricular standpoint what’s the background?

R. F.: An important thing is that we have an area of ​​public policy and the other is curriculum.

The message that we have launched is that English is spoken, so we told the teachers they have to speak English.

As a country we have to import English, because we have no English available on the streets.

In Santiago there is in some parts tourism, of course on Easter Island, in Torres del Paine in the south, just as I imagine will happen in Colombia, but there is no English on the street, so we decided that if we are serious about that message about the importance of speaking English, then we must have a National Volunteer Centre (NVC).

We started with fifteen volunteers in 2004 and today we have 820.

The grammar help, the lexical approach aid, investment aid, bilingual schools help all help, but the input message is that we must speak English, it is important to speak English, and we must be capable of being autonomous with English.

We encourage debate competitions, skits, radio in English, we encourage volunteers there.

What we have done is to take the English to schools.

Consider a very simple example that can help you better understand what we want.

Suppose we come to a school with a foreigner, you notice that he/she is foreign, and a child asks you “What’s their name, sir?”.

“Well, why don’t you ask yourself,” you answer.

And then the child, timidly, comes closer and says “What’s your name?”

And then the American, or Englishman or someone from a European country or Japan, would respond, “My name is John.”

There, at that time, the child realizes that he knew to ask the name and yes, the child was understood.

This is called “to actualise the language“, because what has happened is that one is taught a lot of things but never knew if when they speak to someone whether they will be understood or not.

What we have also done is to have a solid curriculum that we have updated permanently.

P. M.: How has Chile managed teacher professional development?

R. F.: On the one hand, we use the ALTE scale that allows anyone know how much of pedagogy in English through a test.

There are two axis’: one vertical axis, measuring what I know about teaching English, and a horizontal axis that says I know English.

What we did, and still do, was to measure the teachers in these two dimensions, if you know about teaching (pedagogy), but you don’t know English, we put you in an English course.

If you know English but don’t know how to teach English, we teach you pedagogy.

At the same time we told the municipalities: they have a shortage of English teachers, therefore they have to hire more people.

Now, each teacher has an individual professional development plan.

We have made an assessment of them, you are on a level Alte 2 [equivalent to B1 in Colombia] and needs to be confident with the language, we offer a program called English Summer Town, where in two weeks that person that comes with a precarious level to communicate, acquires fluency.

Then we put that level with a volunteer, and then the teacher begins to have continuity in the management of language.

Moreover, we have English teachers who we have to retrain.

There are people in rural areas, required by law to teach English. In this case, we have a set of pre-recorded classes and they learn with their students.

They are trained to use this material developed by us.

P. M.: The Program also covers the private sector?

R. F.: In Chile there are three sectors in education, according to the funding.

10% is private, 40% of the state gives a voucher, and that school is paid for it, sometimes not enough to pay the tuition and therefore the school asks parents to make another contribution.

And the third are municipal schools that have full state subsidy and education is free.

By law we only work with the schools of the latter two groups, not private ones.

However, it is a problem because many teachers of private schools want to get into our courses, they are keen to take the opportunities that are here and unfortunately, a legal problem, we can not do it.

P. M. How do you select teachers to access programs or professional development projects?

R. F.: There is an allocation of educational excellence, there are networks of teachers, there are projects of innovation and all that we have managed to reach teachers.

One criticism is that if you read the manual to apply for a project to improve education, it is very difficult for someone to want to.

What the English Opens Doors Program does is to reduce the manual to four, five key pages, to put it on the web so they can do it, to inform all our networks, we are concerned about online course do a project preparation, project evaluation.

We have had an English teacher is to promote and teach more English, and therefore these teachers are doing their own projects and then we send those who have been successful.

Do not believe this is only English but the teacher is conceptualized himself / herself as a key person in this challenge, which is to see yourself, conceptualized as a professional, like an architect, a doctor, an engineer, they are professionals, and as professionals have access to this ongoing training, this generation of Best Practices among peers, to participate in events elsewhere, to be able to organize their own events in schools, etc..

P. M.: How could the program influence the social value of the work of teaching English in Chile?

R. F.: When a president, Bachelet, who has 74% popularity, which in Chile never had someone that, within the 36 measures that prompted its government included two that had to do with the teachers and the teaching of English, the signal is that this is very important for the country.

If you study English education, the Government will give you a scholarship to go to study a semester abroad at any university in the world that validates the courses, and that is not available for doctors or for the engineers or lawyers, or anyone else.

When political authority puts out this kind of incentive, usually the company you want to adjust to that because of its desirability, its relevance for society.

Here in Chile in 2004 we had the meeting of the Forum of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation-APEC-then it was revolutionized and everyone spoke English and whatnot, we generated a hunger for saying “this is what we have to do. ”

This not only have to do but we can do, and this is not only what we have to do but you can do.

It is a realizable dream. We can achieve this.

It is essential that the highest political authority of the nation is behind an effort like this, the ministers are behind an effort like this, for example the Finance Minister will visit the English summer camps.

If you think there is little possibility that a finance minister will see what is being done in education, well, Minister Andrés Velasco will go, the President herself has gone several times, there is genuine interest and will to do things.

On the other hand, in-school English teachers begin to awaken envy among colleagues as they see the English teachers have much direct contact with the program and the opportunities it offers.

A teacher in any other area who wants to talk to a person within the Ministry needs to go through a very great number of steps, whereas we have reduced this for English teachers.

Each day, we answer a couple of hundred or three hundred teachers’ concerns, from anywhere in Chile. They know that we seek to have an immediate response for them, an English teacher knows that if s/he wants to do something and presents an idea, we will take it as if it was our own challenge and we will support them.

That has led to in-school English teachers who have begun to have more power, and we have many English teachers who have been hired as school directors.

That means they are enthusiastic people, who have taken extra courses, are concerned about their work, have been willing to be evaluated, have been willing to study in their free hours, on days outside of class, after hours of work, these are the best we have in Chile.

P. M: Can you point to at least three aspects which are indispensable in a country that wants to facilitate the teaching of English and three, based on your experience, that are not worth trying?

R. F. First, accumulate knowledge.

There are many people who know how to do things right, and you need to accumulate knowledge.

We contract with the University of Cambridge in 2004 to test people who were in eighth and that was in the final year of high school, and now last year we did the second test and we know what are the things that work and which do not work, empirically, scientifically.

You have to accumulate knowledge of public policy and educational theory in language teaching.

This is highly complex, not to teach languages, but it is to transform a country’s ability to structure the future, therefore, it is not as simple as English classes.

Anyone who believes he can do more simply by reducing class size, adding more hours, changing course books, the truth is, we do not believe that it will work.

The second thing is partnerships.

You can not do it alone, consensus is needed, it requires the public, private, national and international, regional and local involvement and the expertise that each brings.

Third, I would say it is very important to think long term.

In public policy there is something called dynamic inconsistency which means that election periods do not coincide with periods of projects.

If this project ended when President Lagos ended who was the one who initiated it, we would have been fried, we would not have achieved anything.

That is to be understood, that the programs clearly have a political component, which needs to be independent of election periods (thus the need for a broad concensus among stakeholders to ensure continuity).

The long run is absolutely essential.

So I would say three things are: knowledge, partnerships and long term.

P. M.: And the three that, from your experience, are not worth the effort?

R. F.: What I think we should not do is, first, to believe that English has to replace Spanish.

When you go to a place where a director, and will come with an Anglophone, and the director does not speak English, that director is displaced because one organizes meetings in English and is giving an excellent demonstration that you can speak English, but you are closing the door on that project at that school.

We do not want to replace Spanish with English, we just want to know English when necessary to productively use it for entertainment reading a book or watching a movie, but do not think you need to replace Spanish with English.

When I was asked by the New York Times, “What kind of English are you teaching: British or American?”

I said, “Chilean.”

The second thing is that this can not be left to the educational system only.

It is essential that this is not seen as a monopoly.

No doubt, in Chile we have the technical leadership in this area, we have had the privilege and resources to learn everything we can, and go to all the countries that we wanted to to see how they are doing things, we have accumulated much knowledge in this area, so we brought experts, but education in general works very isolated.

What we have done is to create conditions, this is no business of ours, this is a problem in the country in which we will build, therefore we must not create the perception that this (teaching English) is only an educational task.

And the third thing is that we should not believe those who are selling easy solutions.

There are millions of industries involved with the teaching of English that make promises that really lead nowhere.

We have experienced here in Chile, for example, there are municipalities that have decided to take this their own way and then, three years later say, “look we have spent so much money and we don’t see any results.”

Try to discourage those who believe in the easy way, there are no shortcuts to learning the language.


Results of English National Diagnostics: Applied in 2004

English SIMCE 2010 Results

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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