Access to quality education is a serious social problem for many families in South America. English Language Learning is considered a necessity to be competitive in the job market and is often inaccessible to Colombia’s poorest families. According to its 2010 census, 43% of Colombia’s population was under the age of 24. The United Nations reports that by 2020 the country’s largest age group will be 10-14. The country is invaluable to further global development due to its resources. Colombia realizes its need to prepare a workforce qualified to keep up with its steady economic growth.
In response to its need to develop human capital, and keeping globalization in mind, Colombia, in 2004 launched the Foreign Languages Competencies Development Programme (FLCPD). To measure competency, FLCPD used the Cambridge English Language Assessment. This assessment places language speakers into one of six categories, ranging from a low of A1, to full mastery at C2. FLCPD made English a mandatory part of Colombia’s educational curriculum. Among the program’s goals, students leaving middle school were expected, by 2019 to speak the language at “B1” or ‘low-intermediate’ level and elementary and middle school teachers should have reached at least “C1” or “low-mastery’ level. To date, the program is not on schedule to meet its goals. In 2013, only 14% of English teachers had reached A1 competency. SABER PRO test scores for 2012 revealed 32% of college entrants had not yet reached A1, another 36% were stagnant at A1, and only 1% of college students could be considered bilingual.
Barriers to Colombian schools’ success are large class sizes, lack of a universal curriculum and testing system, and of course, access for the poorest families. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes, better teachers, and standards and repeatedly show better English language acquisition, as evidenced by scores on the commonly used SABER exam. Public education facilities make up 85% of Colombian elementary schools and 60% of middle schools. In 2011, 72% of Colombian colleges were privately funded, and their exorbitant costs make it extremely hard to access higher education. The amount earned by a Colombian making minimum wage is nearly equal to the average monthly tuition of a private school.
English fluency is necessary to be competitive in the global market. Without adequate English language competency, Colombians have little to look forward to career-wise. Sixty-eight percent of Colombian employers consider English competency in their hiring process and colleges have English language proficiency requirements at both entry and exit. The poorest Colombian families cannot even consider entrance due to cost and lack of availability of public programs. Even for those who can access higher education or private English classes, learning often begins too late. Research has shown that language learning occurs best from a young age. It is therefore better to begin English language acquisition in elementary school. DTML is prepared to help to remediate the barriers to equitable access to English language learning for disadvantaged families.