Santiago Gutiérrez
Vice President of Sales for Mexico and Central America
Expert Contributor

Employability: English as an Antidote to the Pandemic

By Santiago Gutiérrez | Mon, 09/27/2021 - 09:16

In 2020, Mexico's economic activity decreased by more than eight points of GDP, according to ECLAC figures, an unprecedented mark since the 1930s during the Great Depression. The health emergency destroyed millions of jobs and deepened social inequalities. In such a complicated framework, an obvious question arises for any worker, professional or student: what choices should those who want to access an increasingly complex labor market make?

There are several answers to that question. On the job market side, recruiters identify English language proficiency as one of the most important and in-demand skills. In Latin America, the teaching of English is usually compulsory in school programs at all levels and it is assumed that students leave the educational system with elementary knowledge of the language. The reality, however, is very different.

According to a study carried out by Pearson, the world's largest learning company, in Latin America there are no unified accessible statistics on the quality of English learned by students from public and private institutions. The study, English for Employment: English Language Learning in Technical and Professional Education, indicates that the lack of unified and verifiable criteria for learning in our countries affects the quality of teaching. In summary: although children start with compulsory English classes from elementary school and continue until they are 17 years old, the vast majority do not develop the necessary knowledge to have a conversation in that language.

Pearson's study had the collaboration of The Inter-American Dialogue, a non-governmental entity that promotes democratic governance, prosperity, and social equity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Surveys were conducted with companies in Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay. One of the results obtained was that knowledge of English can favor a junior applicant over a more experienced one.

Bilingual professionals are an important factor for the tourism industry, which until 2019 (before the pandemic) represented more than 8 percent of GDP and generated almost 4.5 million direct jobs in Mexico. Of the total number of tourists who visit the country each year, a third come from the US and Canada and, to serve them, professionals who are fluent in English are required.

Improving the quality of English that children and teenagers learn is urgent if we want to open up better opportunities for them to insert themselves into better-paid jobs linked to the most dynamic sectors of the economy. There are tools to evaluate how students are learning, one of which is the Pearson English International Certificate (PEIC) that is already used by hundreds of schools, universities, and governments around the world to continuously assess the knowledge achieved by students of all ages.

Some days ago, a panel of experts invited by The Inter-American Dialogue recommended that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean include representatives of the productive sector when designing English study programs for schools and universities. I share that point of view: the private sector must dialogue with the public sector so that the teaching of the language to students and teachers is equal, of high quality for people of all social classes, and creates better and vital job opportunities for the generation that will succeed us. If young people are better educated, countries grow, improve and advance

Photo by:   Santiago Gutierrez