Teaching & Learning English in Chile After SIMCE Inglés 2012: Quo Vadis? Where Are We Going?


SIMCE Inglés 2014 is one year away. Considering SIMCE English 2012, now behind us, and with SIMCE 2014 ahead of us, where is the teaching and learning of English in Chile headed? Quo vadis? Where does our teaching and learning journey take us?

The answer to that question, apparently, depends on the quality of the teachers of English in Chile. Surely, if teachers of English only have a B1 level of English, then those teachers must be linguistically incompetent to teach English, right?

Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Quote:”The more proficient in English, the more efficient in the classroom, is a false statement” (page 347). Medgyes, Peter. “Native or Non-native: Who’s Worth More?” ELT Journal 46.4 (1992): 340-49.

To put it simply: Proficiency in English does not mean efficiency in teaching English. Effective teaching requires much more than just knowing the language well. If this were true, all we need to do is hire an army of native speakers and just get out of their way. No, proficiency does not mean efficiency.

I must stress this point. It is wrong to assume that the more English a teacher knows, the better qualified the teacher is.

It is wrong to assume that the higher the level of English the teacher has, the more success the teacher will have teaching English.

As we will see later, nothing could be further from the truth.
Simce 2012 - GSE Results - Schools

When the results of Simce 2012 were known, there was an immediate and massive outcry from experts, investigators, researchers, and even the Ministry of Education that the solution to the problem, is with the teachers themselves.

All of these people pointed their fingers at teacher initial training. Also, there were those who pointed their fingers at the wide variety of English training programs. Still others pointed their fingers at university accreditation.

Everyone seemed to be in agreement, however, that all we had to do was produce teachers with a high level of English, and results would improve dramatically. They reasoned that a higher number of students would be successful if teachers level of English was higher.

The Chilean public apparently would settle for level B2. Other experts ambitiously named level C1 as more desirable. Nonetheless, the tendency was clear: a higher level of English for teachers would be expected to provide a correspondingly higher level of results.

Again and again, this was loudly repeated. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter amplified the same message, namely (I paraphrase), teachers of English are bad.

On television, on radio and in the print media, everywhere I researched, everywhere I looked, the response to the 2012 Chilean National English Test was a unanimous concensus saying (I paraphrase), “The teachers of English in Chile are bad. The teachers are the problem.”

Again, let me repeat, and rather loudly: WRONG. Not true. False.

It is wrong because it is an oversimplification of a complex, multi-layered, multi-dimensional, fully contexualised problem.

Consider this: Even if every teacher in the country had level C1, you still have to teach the language, to every student.

You have to teach the rich student and the poor student, the motivated student and the unmotivated student, the student who is full of hope and the student who has no hope.

You have to teach the student who believes English has a place in his future, and likewise, you have to teach the student who doesn’t believe he has a future.

You have to teach the students in the city, in the towns, in the villages, in every corner of Chile, here, there, everywhere.

To do this, teacher proficiency, at level B2 or level C1 is not the Magic Bullet. A high level of English is not the singular answer some people evidently think it is.

Let me provide some global examples of what I’m talking about:

Investigating Global Practices in Teaching English to Young Learners 2011
Sue Garton, Fiona Copland, Anne Burns

The project was conducted using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative data was collected through a survey that resulted in 4,696 responses from 144 countries

“…the question arises as to what level of proficiency and fluency teachers really need in order to teach in primary schools… the real issue is not the teachers’ lack of proficiency, which may well be more than adequate for TEYL (Teaching English to Young Learners), but rather a lack of confidence predicated on the belief that native-like competence is required to teach CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) successfully.”

Let me repeat something I have said elsewhere: Native-like competence is not the problem. High levels of English are not the problem. Teaching English is much more than simply knowing a lot of English.

You have to be able to actually teach the language. You have to be able to anticipate problems. You have to be able to motivate students to want to learn. You have to be able to be a role model. You have to be able to “read a classroom”, to know when to be demanding and when to relax, when to speed up and when to slow down.

Teaching English is a highly complex activity, and the teachers knowledge of English is important, yes, but not by any stretch of the imagination is linguistic competence a guarantee that students will learn.

Book People

Teaching English is not magic. On the contrary, it’s hard work. Yes, if we work hard, teachers and students together, then guess what?

Right. You guessed it. English comes alive.

Magic happens. 🙂

Students learn…

Why did I share this particular study when there are so many available? My point in citing this study is that the exact same problem that we are experiencing is Chile is not new. How do we teach English to our students? That’s the question.

All around the globe every country on Earth is asking that same question. Yes, it’s the same question we are asking in Chile. And not surprisingly, the researchers have come to conclusions that include improving teacher’s linguistic competence, but go much farther in addressing a number of other issues, simultaneously, at the same time, as well.

Five recommendations are made by Garton, Copland and Burns:

1. The pre-service and in-service training provided to teachers of young learners needs to be considerably strengthened.

2. Greater opportunities need to be found for sharing ideas and experiences amongst primary school teachers of English both nationally and internationally.

3. For a large number of teachers, there is substantial need for English language development.

4. An expanded range of materials for teaching young learners is needed.

5. Educational policy developers should be provided with advice, based on current research and good classroom practice, on effective curriculum development for young learners to enhance the learning experience of children.

When we look at these five recommendations one thing is clear: simply improving teachers level of English will not be enough.

We have to go beyond a myopic view of teaching and learning English in Chile. Problem solving in which we place the blame on the teachers of English will lead to frustration for everyone concerned.

Do we need better preservice and inservice training of Teachers of English?

Yes, we do. Inservice training is practically nonexistent. Preservice training would benefit from getting higher quality people into teacher training programs, where they would then benefit from a higher quality preservice, English Language Teacher (ELT) pedagogy training program.

Do teachers of English in Chile share their knowledge with their colleagues?

No, we don’t. In general, the Chilean education system is built around competition, not collaboration. Ranking schools promotes the desire to be better than your colleagues, not to help your colleagues be better than you. Sharing your knowledge only means that your competition might have better results than your school.

Bluntly put, there is absolutely no incentive, none whatsoever, that promotes sharing of knowledge among colleagues, and definitely none that promotes sharing of knowledge among schools.

Do teachers need to develop their own knowledge of English?

Yes, language development is necessary. Of course the answer is yes. I am a native-speaker of English, and I am continually trying to develop my linguistic ability in terms of precision, width, and depth. I do not ever want to have the sensation that I have stopped learning English, that I know everything there is to know about the English language. No teacher should ever stop learning, regardless of their current level of knowledge.

Do we need an expanded range of teaching materials?

Yes, we need a wide variety of teaching materials. Again, teaching materials should always be appropriate for the learners. Beyond appropriacy, there is the issue of motivation and engagement. Any materials that do not motivate or engage the learners only increases the difficulty of the teacher to motivate students.

That alone should make teachers willing to continuously be evaluating materials, supplementing and or deleting wherever necessary. In other words, teachers are called upon to not just “cover the material”, but to pass professional judgement on the materials.

Finally, is there any doubt that you want to enhance the learning experience of students?

There can be no doubt. Of course we want to have better learning experiences for students. Consequently, everything that has an impact on teaching and learning English is the responsibility of every teacher. It begins by closely observing what is working and not working in your classroom, sharing with colleagues, and by providing recommendations and advice to policymakers.
Teacher with red notebook

To sum up, I began this article by asking the question, Quo Vadis? Where is the teaching and learning of English in Chile headed? For the moment, we are headed into the future, looking forward to SIMCE Inglés 2014. SIMCE Inglés 2012 is behind us now. For some, a sweet memory, for others, a nightmare. Nonetheless, hopefully, 2014 is a brighter future for all of the students in Chile.

Yes, we are faced with difficulties, but the challenges can be overcome. We are faced with what looks to be a Herculean task, teaching English in Chile. Yet we are well on our way to asking the questions and seeking answers to the complexity involved in improving upon our past results, no matter what they were. No school had a perfect result, there is room for improvement.

As we go about this difficult task, attempting to improve, to be better, let us remember to enjoy the journey, for it promises to be a long one.

In 10 years, since the first national evaluation in 2004, we have advanced only 13%. At this pace, we will arrive at our destination…in 90 years, no, hopefully much sooner, when we begin to make more rapid progress in Chile.

I have no doubt that we will arrive at our destination, not today, not in 2014, maybe not even in 2020, but rest assured, our journey will reach its ultimate destination, namely, the day when every student in Chile is learning English at a high level. I am optimistic that day will come sooner than most people even dare to think possible…

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.
This entry was posted in Connectivism, Culture, Education, Education Technology, EFL, Higher Education Teaching & Learning, Interviews, Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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