QCOSTARICA – The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) invests almost ¢47 billion colones a year to teach English in public schools, however, the vast majority of students have a beginner level.
This, regardless of the fact that education in English as a second language begins in preschool for 18% of the students, while it reaches 90% in all public schools.
Teaching English is essential, not only for attracting foreign investment and reducing youth unemployment but also because allows a person who is proficient in English to earn a higher salary.
In this sense, it is estimated that a person speaking English as a second language earns 20% more, according to Ingrid Rosenberg, managing partner of Talent Advisors, speaking to La Republica, an economic, business, and financial newspaper in Costa Rica.
In 2022, almost ¢47 billion was budgeted for the payment of English teachers, while a year earlier the same was also paid only in base salaries, so the figure in remuneration is much higher when including ‘pluses’ (bonuses).
The difficulty to learn English for students in public schools and colleges lies in several aspects, in particular the fact that the number of English classes varies according to the modality of each educational center, according to Manuel Rojas, advisor to the MEP Academic Office.
Public school students who took the Language Proficiency Test in 2021, showed a lag in language proficiency, despite the fact that it was possible to show a decrease in the A2 band, which is known as basic or elementary proficiency.
In this sense, 64% of the students who took the test have a beginner level in English, while only 36% are in the pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced categories (B1, B2 and C1), according to the bands established by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), an international standard for describing language ability.
“At the level of public schools, improvements have been made, but it is not enough for the high demand in specialized sectors such as medical device companies,” said Miguel López, managing partner at Recluta Talenthunter.
“We see that some students and even professionals with years of experience are enrolled in institutes that teach English or on virtual platforms. Not understanding and managing English greatly impairs the achievement and change towards a new job”, highlighted López.
The warning is also made by Allen Quesada, director of Modern Languages at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).
“It is necessary to increase the number of hours and lessons per week in some of the modalities of the system; as well as evaluate new teachers and carry out continuous training for those who are already working,” stressed Quesada.
To resolve the evident lag, the MEP proposes an evaluation of language skills in first and secondary school with standardized tests; the increase in coverage of English in preschool education and the use of accelerators for learning the English language through digital technologies.
Now, what about the study plan? As reported by the MEP, the new program was implemented in 2017 in an articulated and staggered manner from primary to secondary and is aligned with the CEFR.
“It is expected that by 2027 the first generation that has received this new curriculum from first grade to their last year of high school, and at that time it will be evaluated if there has been an improvement in language learning,” said Rojas.