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

The necessity of Critical Literacy when working with the National Standards for English in Colombia

 By: Johny Restrepo

The next paper aims at analyzing the necessity of critical literacy when working with the national standards for English in Colombia. Thereby, such inquiry is based on some issues and questions which Raúl Mora (2014) refers to in his text Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy, Lessons from Colombia.  Nevertheless, prior to carrying out this analysis, it is essential to address some key topics in order to have enough information to focus on the aforementioned study.  First of all the national standards for English in Colombia will be examined. Then, why the Common European Framework of Reference was adopted in Colombia is reviewed. Thirdly, the issues and questions from Mora’s paper will be referred to. Finally, the analysis of the necessity of critical literacy when working with the National Standards for English in Colombia will be developed.

The National Standards for English in Colombia

       To begin with, it is worth addressing briefly the politics of bilingualism in Colombia and the CEFR so as to understand where the standards come from. Firstly, “Colombia Bilingüe (2014 – 2018)” is the current bilingual programme of the National Government of Colombia whose main goal is to strengthen the English teaching and learning processes in the country. Nonetheless, there have been other similar proposals by the Government of Colombia in the last years, such us:

  • Programa Nacional de Bilingüismo (PNB) 2004-2019
  • Programa para el Fortalecimiento de Lenguas Extranjeras (PFDCLE) 2010-2014
  • Ley 1651 de 2013, Ley de Bilingüismo
  • Programa Nacional de Inglés (PNI) 2015-2025

Second, it is also pertinent to refer to the CEFR since every single programme has based its content and objectives considering the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference), which is a foreign framework for teaching and learning English. As for this framework, it was adopted by the Ministry of National Education (MEN) on November 2nd, 2006.  This year the MEN in its Decree No 3870, Article 2 informs

ADOPCIÓN DE LA REFERENCIA INTERNACIONAL: Adóptase el “Marco común europeo de referencia para las lenguas:  aprendizaje, enseñanza, evaluación” como el  sistema de referencia para los procesos de aprendizaje, enseñanza y evaluación adelantados en Colombia. Las  instituciones  prestadoras  del  servicio educativo que ofrezcan programas  de educación para el  trabajo  y el desarrollo humano en el área de idiomas, deberán referenciar  sus programas  con los niveles definidos en el referido marco común. (p.1)

From this moment on, the word level is used to determine the language proficiency of any English learner, who needs to certify a specific level (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 in Colombia) by taking a proficiency test. Keeping the information about the politics of bilingualism in Colombia and the CEFR in mind, it is time to cope with the National Standards for English in Colombia. The MEN, in 2006, through its document Guía No 22: Estándares Básicos de Competencias en Lenguas Extranjeras: Inglés starts implementing the use of standards for English in Colombia. According to this document, students need to advance gradually from first to eleventh grade as follows:

First to third grade Beginner A1
Fourth to fifth grade Basic 1 A2.1
Sixth to seventh grade Basic 2 A2.2
Eight to ninth grade Pre-intermediate 1 B1.1
Tenth to eleventh grade Pre-intermediate 2 B1.2

 

It is here where standards are necessary to take students to a specific level. Therefore each level is constituted by five components which are needed to be accomplished by the student so as to be promoted to the next one. Such components are the specific standards and are determined in Guía 22 as:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Monologue
  • Conversation

Such specific standards, depending on the level, have specific objectives bearing in mind the communicative competence, which is composed by the linguistic competence, pragmatic competence, and sociolinguistic competence.  In conclusion, when we refer to standards for English in Colombia we refer to

those criteria of what Colombian boys, girls, and adolescents must be gradually and comprehensively achieving in development of the competences during a grade or group of grades. The specific standards are developed and slowly interrelated and many are repeated, reinforced and strengthened in different grades.  (Suggested English Curriculum, p. 67)

Why the Common European Framework of Reference was adopted in Colombia

As it was previously mentioned, the MEN adopted the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) in 2006 and every bilingualism programme developed from that time on was considering the CEFR.  According to Gonzalez (2010) the MEN through its National Programme for Bilingualism (PNB) in 2006 aimed to have “have citizens qualified to communicate in English with standards comparable internationally so that they may be able to involve the country in the processes of international communication, global economy and cultural opening“ (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2006a: 2). That is to say, that teaching English in Colombia does not aim at teaching General English but ESP (English for Specific Purposes). But, what is the difference between teaching general English and teaching ESP? According to Stojković & Živković (2012)

Currently, ESP is witnessing an unprecedented spread, to a point of almost taking over the relevance and frequency of teaching of General English. Hereby, we look at the phenomenon of globalization as a social concept that demands of education that students are taught performativity, therefore just skills needed for the global economy functioning, and not education as a move towards change, refinement, and individuation of a personality. (p. 1213)

In short, English teaching in Colombia can be considered to be taught as ESP since the MEN has a purpose. This one looks to form citizens to make them part of a globalized world where they require some abilities to be efficient in international communication, global economy and cultural opening (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2006a: 2). At this point, the world globalization is mentioned in the goal of the MEN in 2006 in relation to Colombian citizens. Thus, it is worth clarifying this concept (globalization). Stojković & Živković (2012) claimed that globalization took place in the other half of the half of 20th century and “Globalization as we shall now be looking at is characterized by very fast spread and sharing of information, instant, as it can be said, and a minute segmentation of professional knowledge and practice”. (p. 1213). Thereby it can be inferred the reason why the MEN adopted the CEFR due to next:

The globalization phenomenon started in the other half of 20th century and

Due to the geopolitical and historical facts that put forward the biggest English speaking countries as (at that time) primary forces in forming the age of globalization, English language received the status of the global language, and therefore a medium through which globalization further advanced to all possible parts of the world and all possible aspects of living.” (p. 1213)

That is, it does not matter that CEFR does match the reality of Colombia and that “the educational, social, linguistic and economic reality of Colombia may not be compared to Europe in the achievement of goals” (Alvarez (2005), Cárdenas (2006), Sánchez and Obando (2008) and Usma (2009); as for the MEN the CEFR “it has proven its international efficiency”. (González, 2010, p. 340). In conclusion, the MEN adopted the CEFR because it works in terms of globalization.

Issues and questions from Raúl Mora’s paper: Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy, Lessons from Colombia

This paper is the Volume 58 of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL), where Raúl Mora is the Policy and Advocacy department editor. This document, Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy, Lessons from Colombia (2014) focuses mainly on four components, which are:

  • Critical Literacy in Colombian Language Teaching: Toward Stronger Advocacy Frameworks
  • Critical Literacy in Textbooks: Moments of Advocacy and Dialogue
  • Instances of Advocacy Vis- à- vis Textbooks
  • Critical Literacy as Advocacy in a globalized and Globalizing World

The issues and questions that Mora addresses in his paper rose up from a reflexivity exercise he had with his “graduate seminar on literacies in second language contexts at the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages to connect critical literacy with their experiences using textbooks.” (2014, p. 17).

After checking the essays of the students of this seminar, Mora says that:

Concerning the issues identified, there are four:

  1. a) Breaking the attachment to the textbooks as a precursor to critical literacy
  2. b) Developing a more critical consciousness.
  3. c) Questioning the status quo in the textbooks.
  4. d) Viewing themselves as advocates.

In relation to the questions, Mora identified that some of the students questioned next:

  • Why do teachers remain steadfastly attached to the textbooks?
  • Curricula without books at all, would it be better or not?

The necessity of critical literacy when working with the National Standards for English in Colombia

Although Mora does not refer directly to standards for English in Colombia as one of the issues or questions in his paper, he does refer to the use of textbooks in the classroom.         However we have to remember that the textbooks used to teach students English in Colombia have standards, which were adopted from the CEFR. Hence, there is supposed to be standardization for English teaching in Colombia depending on the level. Nonetheless, does the education system in Colombia have the resources to standardize English teaching?       Cárdenas (2006) who questioned using the CEFR as referent for English standards in Colombia states that the

reality established in the CEFR would have to be contrasted with the conditions of Colombian educational institutions, namely, infrastructure, curriculum organization, use of foreign languages in the academic and cultural domains of the country, working hours and competences of language teachers. (p.3)

Besides, it is important to add that in Colombia there is a considerable difference between teaching English in private and public schools. According to González (2010)

Local researchers have found that there is a gap in the teaching of English in public and private schools regarding the teachers’ language proficiency and use of English in English classes (González 1995), the access to professional development programmes (González et al. 2002), teaching resources (González 2006a), and formal teacher education. This is particularly so in elementary schools (Cadavid et al. 2004; McNulty and Quinchía 2007). Additionally, Ordóñez (2004: 450) describes the presence of elite bilingualism among some Colombian high school students, saying that it is ‘an urban, middle-class, private school phenomenon’. (p.338)

Based on the aforementioned scholars, my question is: What is the point to use textbooks to standardize education in Colombia when there are neither resources nor social equality for English teaching?

It is here where I consider that critical literacy is necessary when using standards for English teaching in Colombia. According to Cumber (2015) “Paulo Freire (1972 ), often recognized as the initiator of critical literacy, understood that critical literacy could enable workers and farmers to ask questions about their conditions and argue for their rights.” (p. 363).

So, why do English teacher not try to make their students ask questions about their conditions, about the lack of resources, the social inequality? If inequality still remains in Colombia education, why do some English teachers still remain steadfastly attached to the textbooks? Just like Mora could identify it in his reflexivity exercise. Or do we do not know that standardization may contribute to deficit thinking and the removal of educator agency? (Werts et al., 2013 ) (p. 364) .

This is the time when we, as English teachers, need to go beyond a textbook for English teaching. We need to see ourselves as ‘transformative intellectuals’” rather than mere “classroom technicians employed to pass on a body of knowledge” (as cited by Giroux, 1988, p. 299). (1217). Therefore critical literacy is useful. It is not just about writing or reading. It is not just about sticking to a textbook for English teaching. We, as English teachers, have a responsibility with society. Thus it is a must for us to think how from our practices can contribute to decrease, at least, a little bit the social inequality. How? Through critical literacy where we can make our students think about their situations and not just let them stay there teaching them things from textbooks with standards which are leading them to reach a specific level in English in order to be qualified citizens (MEN, 2006) for the globalized world.  When they think, the can be critical about their situations and they can act to change their situations.

In conclusion, globalization is currently a reality that includes education as well. Therefore, English teaching in Colombia is part of that globalization movement where, after the adoption of a foreign framework (CEFR), some standards are used in textbooks in order to standardize English teaching in Colombia. However, to what extent does social inequality allow standardizing the English teaching in Colombia? This is the point where critical literacy is important since it gives the chance to go beyond textbooks or standards and make English teachers be conscious of their role as “transformative intellectuals” who can contribute to decrease the social inequality through their practices.

References

Comber, B. (2015, February). Critical literacy and Social Justice. Journal of Adolescent &    Adult Literacy, 362-367

Del “Programa Nacional de Bilingüismo” hasta “Colombia Bilingüe”. (2017, September 14). Retrieved from http://www.udea.edu.co/wps/portal/udea/web/inicio/investigacion/grupos-investigacion/ciencias-sociales/giae/normas-reformas/!ut/p/z0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zi_QJNXQ2NnA183IM8TQ0cQwxMXb1dfRwt_Ez1C7IdFQEbL_1C/?1dmy&urile=wcm%3Apath%3A/PortalUdeA/asPortalUdeA/asHomeUdeA/Investigaci!c3!b3n/Grupos+de+investigaci!c3!b3n/Ciencias+sociales/GIAE/Normas+y+reformas/Contenido/asMenuLateral/colombia-bilingue

González, A. (2010, March 24). English and English teaching in Colombia. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/usuario/Downloads/English_and_English_teaching_in_Colombia%20(2).pdf

Mora, R. (2014, September). Critical Literacy as Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 16-18

Stojković,. N & Živković, S. (2012, June). Advocating the Need for Incorporating Critical Pedagogy and Critical Literacy in Teaching English for Specific Purposes. David Publising, 1213-1219

República de Colombia, Ministerio de Educación Nacional. (2016). Suggested Curriculum Structure. Retrieved from http://aprende.colombiaaprende.edu.co/sites/default/files/naspublic/Anexo%2013%20Suggested%20Structure.pdf

República de Colombia, Ministerio de Educación Nacional. (2006). Estándares Básicos de Competencias en Lenguas Extranjeras: Inglés. Retrieved from http://www.mineducacion.gov.co/cvn/1665/articles-115174_archivo_pdf.pdf

República de Colombia, Ministerio de Educación Nacional. (2006). Decreto No . 3870. Retrieved from http://www.colomboworld.com/academico/resoluciones/Decreto-3870-de-2006.pdf

 

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One comment on “The necessity of Critical Literacy when working with the National Standards for English in Colombia

  1. ML2
    November 14, 2017

    Dear Johny,

    Thank you for sharing your essay.

    There are a few questions I raised after reading your essay, not in small part that parts of your essay seem to either respond or expand the ideas in the 2014 JAAL piece:

    1, I’m really curious as to how you reached the conclusion that ESP seems to be the emphasis in Colombian policy? I ask this because I can’t recall any analysis of the National Bilingual Program or the CERFL implementation that bring this up?
    2. The questions you pointed out as follow-up to Mora (2014) are very interesting and I’d have loved to see you pursue those even further, with stronger links to CL.
    3. You introduced the four trends I pointed out after the analysis of the first group of essays from the first 2 cohorts. In the larger scheme of things, what was the point of bring those up? I wasn’t able to notice the link between those and the points you wanted to develop in your essay?
    4. I honestly think that your question “What is the point to use textbooks to standardize education in Colombia when there are neither resources nor social equality for English teaching?” should’ve been the main point of your essay. This question, analyzed from a CL perspective, has so many ideas for consideration.
    5. The essay would’ve been a bit stronger also with the inclusion of a few more references regarding the CERFL and its implementation in Colombia and a bigger push on CL literature. It was an interesting start and approximation to CL, but when it comes to all things critical, one can always dig a bit deeper.

    Dr. Berry

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2017 by in Uncategorized.
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