A report on Tuesday, June 4 in the El Mercurio newspaper reported the following information: “Education Assessment showed that 34% of teachers do not have the basic knowledge of the language.”
Further, the headline (my translation) went on to include the following:
“36 campuses dictate nearly 100 pedagogies in English: most have low accreditation” (End of quotation).
Very quickly I would like to point out that given the possibility of making the positive report of 66% of the teachers meet standards set by Mineduc for Teachers of English (Alte 3 / CEFR B2), or the posibility of making the negative report of 34% of teachers don’t meet the standard, the report chose to focus specifically on the negative.
Now, let’s be clear: Good news does not sell newspapers. It’s the bad news that sells newspapers, and it is understandable why the headline is negative. That’s how you sell newspapers, all around the world, not only in Chile. That’s a reality, and everybody knows it.
Nonetheless, the report goes on to state:
“34% de los docentes no tiene los conocimientos mínimos del idioma”
Allow me to translate: “34% of the teachers do not have a minimum level of knowledge of the English Language“
Again, let me be clear: This interpretation of test results is a misinterpretation.
It fails to adequately inform the public, on a number of levels, and as a result, it misinforms the public more than it informs. I call this into question, because this is a sensitive issue, education, and deserves a more thorough analysis than is evident in the report.
Firstly, a test of linguistic ability, regardless of the results, positive (66% at B2 or above) or negative (34% at B1 or below) can not be the sole measurement, the only determining factor, of whether or not a Teacher of English has a minimum level of knowledge of the English language. It’s relative to what your teaching and learning outcomes are expected to be, as we will see later when I analyse this more thoroughly.
Beyond that point, consider this: If linguistic ability were the only determining factor in learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL), than all we need to do is hire an army of native speakers of English, like Japan and Korea have done in the past, right?
Wrong. It is well-known, the variations in the levels of successful outcomes they have experienced. To be blunt, direct, and frank: Hiring an army of native speakers of English has not been a successful experiment, nowhere in the world.
I say this, knowing that, at least, not on a massive scale, nowhere in the world has there been a report of success using an army of native speakers, at a magnitude which would make the attempt worth the investment. Trust me, I’m a Native Speaker of English, and I have not found anything, anywhere that looks promising along these lines of inquiry.
My point: Language without pedagogy and pedagogy without language are two mutually inconsistent propositions. There is no guarantee that a teacher of English with level B2 is pedagogically competent, and no guarantee that a pedagogically sound, teacher of English with level B1 is linguistically incompetent.
What we really need to know is, “How do students learn English?” What knowledge, skills and abilities are necessary to help students learn English as a Foreign Language, in Chile?
It is an oversimplification for anyone to answer that question, without considering a combination of language, pedagogy and expected learning outcomes, again, as I will highlight later in this analysis.
Let me explain myself. I will be brief, although the report/story has a number of areas which I find fault with.
This group of teachers, however, at level B1, is only one level below the standard set by Mineduc, B2. According to information published by PearsonLongman, a leading English Language Teaching (ELT) expert, widely acknowledged as a leader and innovator in ELT, only 100 – 200 hours of instruction is required to move from level B1 – B2 (see ALTE below).
In other words, this is a group of teachers who would be expected to achieve the Mineduc standard of CEFR B2, if they were given approximately 100 to 200 hours of instruction.
2. It is clear to everyone who is involved in ELT in Chile that when children begin learning English early, in Pre-Kinder, Kinder, and/or 1st grade, they have better results, achieve higher levels of ability. All of our available data tells us that is true. Our Chilean experience is unequivocal, namely, start early and the learning outcomes improve. We know this to be true, in Chile, and it is not rocket science.
Now, every single one of those teachers, all 586 (21%), all of them are more than qualified to meet the linguistic demands of teaching English to students from Pre-Kinder-1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th-6th grade.
Those 586 teachers should not be teaching 7th graders, 8th graders, 9th graders, etc., but from grades 6 on down, there is no expert who would argue that a level of B1 (ALTE 2) is inadequate, or in any way insufficient. I make my point by bringing to your attention that MINEDUC has set a standard of B1 (ALTE 2) for students in their last year of high school – 12th grade.
Therefore, a teacher at level B1 is at the same level expected of students only in the final year of high school, in 12th grade, when the student is expected to have achieved level B1.
When we look at the test results in this light, the reality is that 87% of the teachers are, based on their test results, and the expected performance of the students, more than linguistically competent (66%) and in the case of B1 teachers (21%), linguistically equal to the task of teaching students to achieve the level that the teacher has achieved, namely B1.
3. A final point I would like to make. The test results show that 87% of the teachers tested are more than adequate, linguistically competent, to do the job that Mineduc has defined, namely, achieve level B1 by the end of high school. Let there be no doubt about that.
Now, if we want to achieve higher levels of linguistic competence in our teachers of English, a leading expert in the field suggests that we have 586 teachers (21%), who can achieve level B2 (ALTE Level 3) if we can get them another 100 – 200 hours of training.
That is what we should be doing, working out the logistics of getting teachers to reach higher standards. That’s called, “raising the bar”, setting higher goals, and I for one am in favor of that. Yes, I go for that, continuous improvement, continually trying to improve learning outcomes.
Before I close, I will not address the quality of teacher training programs. It is not warranted, to begin to look for problems in the area of teacher training, when the current system, with all of its inherent difficulties, is nevertheless capable of producing 87% teachers who meet the current levels of achievement that we have defined for students.
Yes, it is nice, even desirable, when a teacher of English has a higher level of English than the students. Yet, at the end of the day, if all we expect of a student, at the end of high school is level B1, is it really a problem when the teacher also is at level B1?
I find it difficult to say that the teacher is linguistically incompetent, when we do not expect more than B1 from the student.
Is it a crime for the teacher to also be at level B1, equal in ability with students at the end of high school?
At its most realistic interpretataion, a teacher at level B1 is merely acting as a legitimate role model of what the student is expected to achieve, namely B1.
Further, if the teacher is teaching from grade 6 or lower courses, then level B1 is more than linguistically adequate for the level of grammar and vocabulary the student is supposed to be learning.
Let me illustrate the point I wish to make. For example, if we compare the 6th grade teacher of English, with a B1 level of English, with a 6th grade Math teacher. Though the 6th grade Math teacher may know Algebra, Geometry, and Physics, in 6th grade the class is still learning fractions, multiplication, division, and other fundamental, basic concepts.
The Algebra and Geometry is great, but that’s not what a 6th grade Math teacher teaches, and not what a 6th grade student is expected to learn. The Algebra and Geometry come later, just like the past perfect, debates, and public speaking come later for the 6th-grader learning English.
If we want more (and I’m sure we do), then the thing to do is to raise the bar, increase the level of expectations – for both teacher and student. And we can do that, by sending 586 teachers for 100 – 200 hours of instruction. We can let Pearson Longman provide the instruction…
**The Association of Language Testers of Europe (ALTE), whose members have aligned their language examinations with the CEFR, provides guidance on the number of guided teaching hours needed to fulfill the aims of each CEFR level: