ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín


In 2001 Moore conceived curriculum as a systematic plan for instruction with meaningful learning activities and experiences inside and outside the school. With this in mind and rather than to talk about curriculum definitions, the purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the English Curriculum in a Colombian public school and consider its intentions to educate those citizens of the globalized 21st century, as well as its impact and results on Colombian students of a public school; under the gaze of much talked about Critical Literacy Theory.

MEN gives a supposed autonomy to public schools to construct their curriculum, but anyway, this curriculum must be subject to the Colombian Education System, its standards and policies since schools in Colombia are evaluated and ranked according to ICFES tests through the upper secondary graduation exam, “SABER”. This helps to monitor English CEFR levels in schools. But these standards are not designed to reveal if a student is really a bilingual student. In the “Saber” exam the listening and the oral skill are not evaluated. So teachers are forced to work the curriculum in the direction of compliance with those standards. Instead of Schools, however, tend to insist on everyone knowing exactly the same thing in the same way (Knobel and Lankshear, 2014); measuring students and judging schools with the same standards, when the context and needs are different in all schools.

So, for an English teacher of a public school in Colombia, is a challenge to construct an English curriculum for her/his school, since it is adhered to Proyecto Educativo Institucional – Institutional Educational Project (PEI)1 , educational policies, social issues, Common European Reference Framework (CERF), educational laws, Curriculum guidelines, Basic Learning Rights (DBA), Languages Competencies Development Programme (Proyecto de Fortalecimiento al Desarrollo de Competencias en Lenguas Extranjeras, PFDCLE). (just to mention some)  make the English curriculum a shifting patchwork quilt, inasmuch as a new government comes to power with its adopted and compared systems with others countries, about Colombia Bilingual Education.

As if that wasn’t enough, over the past twenty years, from the Colombian Constitution enactment in 1991, it recognized the right to the bilingual education (art.10). In 1994 General Education Act (Ley General de Educación) in its article 23, MEN established to include in the curriculum of each institution, a Foreign Language (FL) as one of the obligatory and fundamental subjects. Although until now, MEN has not indicated what FL, mostly of schools in Colombia opted for including English as a subject in their curriculum. It should be underlined that this law is in force, even so it has been MEN who has promoted teaching and learning English in Colombia’s schools and has implemented various programs such as National Bilingual Program (NBP) 2004-2019, English National Program – Colombia Very Well 2015-2025, and the most recent, Bilingual Colombia (Colombia Bilingue) 2015-2018,” which will allow students to have better communication skills and to have access to better job and professional opportunities”.

Reading behind the statements of MEN: “English for employability”. “Colombians in lower socio-economic strata lack high-quality opportunities to learn English”. “Our data shows that Colombians would learn English if they had the opportunity to do so. They associate English with a better quality of life, resulting from better employability and therefore greater access to more skilled and highly paid employment”. (2015). It seems an invitation for preparing our students in skilled labor for the multinationals and foreign companies. It is a disturbing ideology, it seems as we wanted self-colonized us or try to fulfill the American dream in Colombian territory. Are MEN selling the idea that in Colombia there is poverty because we do not know English? It is necessary to clarify that learn a second or foreign language it’s very important for the 21st century citizen, as Okpomo evidences: “Language encompasses a people’s tradition, folklores, morals, norms, customs, etiquette, oral history, artistic inclinations, world view, belief systems, and all that has been handed down from generation to generation”.(2012). It’s to share and tell to the foreigner what we are.

Let’s imagine one student of the native community Murui in Amazonas2,  who has acquired linguistic competences in English, working for a foreign mining industry, obviously with a high position in the company, since the Colombian Education System educated him for that. What if through his discourse in English, He lets others know about his community as well as and defend and protect his milieu from all the damage caused by mining. They also have the right to be heard and respected. With this in mind, We teachers should trespass the boundaries of English curriculum imposed by an autonomous model of literacy:

When made explicit, this unselfconscious use of the autonomous model can be seen as the imposition of the views of one sub-group on another; whether within a country, where the version of one class or cultural group are imposed onto others, or more generally, between countries, where ‘western’ conceptions of literacy imposed on to other cultures” (Street, 2013, p.28).

     It is more urgent than ever to interrogate common and national curricula (Comber, 2015). Especially in a country like Colombia which in the last two decades has tried to implement bilingualism in the public schools. Even so, it has obtained regrettably poor outcome despite of the fluctuating bilingual programmes and English policies of education as well as its substantial investment. Perhaps if there were further research and not merely the claim of statistics; if the government would take more seriously the reality and the unique context of each public school in Colombia, we would convinced that:

Understanding that schools and classrooms vary district to district, country to country, and state to state, participants in these varying learning communities should be allowed to negotiate their literary experience based on the context of which they are a part. However, educational policies …… dictate and limit these deeper connections and understandings of the world in which we live by creating curriculum standards that often feel separate and decontextualized to individuals’ lives. (Gregg et al, 2012, p.19)

      The government, before pressure the public schools to be bilingual, should acknowledge the factors associated at these low levels such as the shortage of English teachers in elementary school, three hours per week are not enough to reach a good English proficiency, high number of students in classrooms, the lack of English teacher in Colombia, the lack of  continuity of English programs MEN has offered for training of teachers, social problems which inevitably affect students’ motivation and dedication in schools affecting  not only English learning but other subjects too.

Nevertheless, every year teachers write documents which contain the guidelines -“Mallas curriculares”- for the school year, but we wonder to what extent we really are doing something other than fulfilling a requirement, and to what extent is what we plan adequate, effective, practical and contextualize the English lessons.  Colombian teachers should recognize the possible value of developing critical literacy in English curriculum do not view their students as vessels to be filled, and instead create experiences that offer students opportunities to actively construct knowledge. “By taking this approach, students engage in authentic disciplinary questions, and the curriculum becomes not a static entity to be understood, appreciated, or simply regurgitated but rather an active process of meaning making and “conversation” (Borsheim-Black, Macaluso and Petrone, 2014).

The curriculum of the public school provides at a glance of how “autonomous literacy” are immersed on it. It is focus on develop topics concerned with grammar, syntax vocabulary and pronunciation. The critical literacy should empower the English curriculum in public schools. The implicit understandings that children bring to school and the importance of oral discourse in bringing those understandings into consciousness in turning them into objects of knowledge. (Olson, 1977, cited by Street, 2013)

       So it is necessary that every teacher of a public school begins to think in a critical literacy approach. The teacher must go beyond of a table of contents in curriculum and a check list of these contents in the pedagogical practice. The 21st teacher must link the curriculum with world beyond the walls of the school and not only build knowledge by him, but do it by the hand of the students. They are children and teenagers of 21st century who are also owners of information with just one click.

“A critical literacy approach also teaches students to read and write against texts: to identify and understand that language and texts are not neutral and always ideological. Therefore, critical literacy consist not only of academic literacies associated with reading and writing texts for traditional purposes but also practices associated with reading and writing against    traditional curricula in school and dominant popular culture, multimedia, and other texts students encounter outside of school”. (Borsheim-Black, Macaluso and Petrone, 2014).

     Teachers are not the owners of the knowledge and information anymore, now we are facilitator for social changes, engaging students to grab the critical literacy and becoming them in critical members of the curriculum and the society. Students also have transformed their role in schools thanks to their inquiring mind. It is necessary that English curricula in public school in Colombia are reevaluated and redesign; a curriculum that does not allow our students being marginalized by the oppressive systems but active participants that benefit society.



  1. (it is unique of each educational institution and it has its own philosophy, but at the light of the school’s philosophy and the students’ exit profile, English is not relevant or necessary) “El Proyecto Educativo Institucional debe responder a situaciones y necesidades de los educandos, de la comunidad local, de la región y del país, ser concreto, factible y evaluable” (Art.73. Ley115/94).
  2. I refered to the native community Murui in Amazonas, since MEN in one of its propaganda (watch on ) wants to emphasize that these natives also can belong to the international community. Instead of Colombians are aware about our indigenous and their native languages.




Borsheim-Black, C., Macaluso, M. and Petrone, R. (2014). Critical Literature Pedagogy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(2), pp.123-133.

 Gregg, S., Wynter Hoyte, K. and Seely Flint, A. (2012). “I Could Just Go Free in My Mind”: Combining Critical Literacy, Reader Response, and Writer’s Workshop in the Elementary Classroom. ILLINOIS READING COUNCIL JOURNAL, 40(4), p.19.

Kalantzis, M. and Cope, B. (2012). Literacies. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press.

Knobel, M. and Lankshear, C. (2014). Studying New Literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(2), pp.97-101.

Moore, D. K. (2001). Classroom teaching skills (5th ed.). Eastern New Mexico University: McGraw Hill.

 Okpomo., K. (2016). NUHA Foundation – Home. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Aug. 2016].

Street, B. (2013). Language, ethnography, and education. Bridging New Literacy Studies And Bourdieu: New Literacies. New York, Ny: Routledge. (2016). Inicio – Ministerio de Educaci�n Nacional de Colombia. [online] Available at: (2016). Colombia Aprende | La red del conocimiento. [online] Available at:


1.810 w0rds.



  1. ML2
    August 20, 2016

    We have limitation in relation with the laws and decrees that Colombia is creating to our English classes and context. The Minister of Education is not having in mind what teachers know about their students, their classes and about what they really need to teach a second language, in this case English.

    This limitation are putting a barrier between the teachers and the students. Because we want to create an environment where we can offer to our students classes full of elements, strategies that support their learning processes. Using their previous knowledge but also using their abilities and their reality, including their social media.

    If the government had in mind the knowledge that the teacher have about the classes, the need and the elements that schools have the decrees and the laws will have a different direction the English education in Colombia will be different. Because we will thinking in our students first before to approach the levels required to the different grades. We need to think first in our students.

    Katia Chaljub

  2. ML2
    August 23, 2016

    Yes Katia you are right. Anyway, I remember the time when I studied for being a teacher. It would be helpful and powerful that the university would infect me with some of critical literacy. But in my case, they (the university) did the same as many of teachers do with students. Fill vessels with topics to be taught and concepts of pedagogies and approaches to be implemented. Although, I try to teach them in a meaningful way, now with these ideas about critical literacy I am trying to bring my students beyond the words to tweak their world.

    MEN is a huge entity. It’s pretty difficult to know about the students’ and schools’ interest and needs. MEN standardizes and gives a path for education. (it is still in discussion it if the correct path or not) But it is each school, each teacher inside the classroom in charge of making a difference.

    Jackie Martinez.

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This entry was posted on August 14, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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