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Nearshore English Evolution: Ecuador on the Right Track, but Old-School Methods Inhibit Growth

Over the last 10 years, the education system in Ecuador has undergone a dramatic shift toward an exceptional standard thanks to the government’s resolute focus, but, while English has been prioritized in these reforms, the approach must be improved further if the Nearshore industry is to thrive.

“We have huge potential to apply technical English to many standards that are being adopted by the industry,” said Cristiano Alban at Pro Ecuador, the country’s investment promotions agency. “There is a large need for technical translators, specialized in technical language, who can do translation services in writing. With the new signing of a commercial agreement with the EU, English is now critical as we are trying to reach new markets.”

According to the British Council, almost half of Ecuadorean employers use English externally, but only 17% offer opportunities for English language training and development, despite the fact that 78% of employers feel that English is an essential skill for managers, directors, and C-level staff.

“We’ve had managers say “if they speak English, we’re hire them”, then they check for a degree afterwards,” said John Acevedo, President of Berlitz Ecuador, which is independently owned and operated. “Generally, the ones with the best English get the jobs, as companies need people who can close deals in English.”

Sharp Government Focus

Ecuador’s previous government, headed by economist Rafael Correa, viewed English language learning – and access to education – as a priority, as it was considered essential to raise the country’s profile further on the international stage.

Correa’s reforms and massive spending on education made a huge impact, helping to increase education access by 30% at the high school level and 59% in higher education institutions between 2006 and 2016. At one point, the country’s enrollment rate even surpassed that of Finland, which is considered to have one of the world’s best education systems.

In 2012, the Ministry of Education launched a new National English Curriculum, which sought to improve access to the language in the public and private sectors, as well as to boost the quality of English education in the public sector.

At that time, the country’s English language policy aimed to have English as a mandatory language from Grade 8, with the aim that all secondary graduates should be at the B1 level. Today, English is a mandatory subject from Grade 2, but there is still a need to move away from the archaic grammar-based approach to learning, instead focusing on the more effective communicative approach.

“Despite the pressure of the government to push in education, the best English education you can get is still in the private schools,” said Victor Murillo, Director of the Business Center at the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Ecuador. “These schools are better around the Quito area, so there is also a better community of English speakers, which affects the speaking ability of people in that area.”

Social Barriers and Techer Deficit

As is the case with almost every other Latin American nation, the greatest barriers to English language learning are a lack of access to government-funded programs and the high cost of study. Therefore, reforms to increase the English language learning provision in public schools – effectively removing the association between English proficiency and wealth – have been met with support.

However, the Ministry of Education estimates that 7,500 English teachers are required to meet its objectives, but in 2014 there were only 4,000 such teachers, many of whom were low quality. The government is aiming to fix this deficit through recruitment and professional development initiatives.

Ecuador’s new President, Lenín Moreno, has promised to renew a program of university grants and create a free college admission exam prep program in order to provide high-quality education for everyone, but whether or not the new administration will continue the necessary spending to maintain the immense improvements in education remains to be seen.

“President Moreno believes in the importance of English education and the government has done exceptional work in this area,” said Acevedo. “If Moreno can focus on language training within the tourism sector, this will give assurances to visitors as they enter the country, which will eventually boost the economy and quickly bleed into the commercial sector.”

Need for Contemporary Approach

People in Ecuador are able to pass English tests and complete sheets of grammar conjugation, but their speaking skills reportedly leave a lot to be desired, so a more direct approach to language learning is required to up-skill the talent pool.

“We receive people that have finished bilingual school and gone to university, theoretically completing all language requirements, and they are pretty much beginners,” said Acevedo. “This is due to the fact that an old fashioned grammar-based system is still in place in schools and universities. However, it’s encouraging to know that the government has recognized the issue and is already on the way to fixing it.”

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Part of the problem is with teachers – for reference, Berlitz recently went through 500 resumes and hired only 7 teachers. According to Acevedo, the knowledge of grammar is okay with teachers, but their ability to speak and speak correctly is both absent and necessary.

Furthermore, with private schools offering 3-4 year programs that are typically inflexible and don’t bend to the needs of the average learner, students are put off the idea of signing up, so offering a more accessible course that can be done on the students’ timelines will help with enrollment.

Ecuador is clearly well aware of its need to develop proficiency in English, but unless a more modern curriculum and approach to learning can be adopted, it will be a long time before the country’s talent pool is sufficient enough to support Nearshore services.

Check out other countries in this Nearshore English Evolution series by clicking here. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic, so please join the conversation in the comments below. 

Matt Kendall

During his 2+ years as Chief Editor at Nearshore Americas, Matt Kendall operated at the heart of both the Nearshore BPO and IT services industries, reporting on the most impactful stories and trends in the sector.

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