Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Colombian universities' English at all costs

Colombia's powers-that-be place a fair amount of importance, in theory anyway, on improving the level of English here. There was even a ridiculously ambitious plan from the government to have the country bilingual by 2019. Still on track with that guys?

There's aiming high and then there's the pie in the sky. Keep it attainable people. (If only the Brits had colonised the place instead of those plundering Spanish, eh?)

In order to graduate from university, many Colombian students are forced into trying to learn English ...
"This would have been much easier if I'd started at a younger age." (Picture from web.)
Nonetheless, as the global language (for now) in an unprecedentedly interconnected world, there's no doubt having English up to a workable level is, or at least could be, an advantage.

Thus, convincing the masses to warm to it is a noble pursuit.

Like most things, but perhaps even more so with languages, the younger this is done the better. However, Colombia's track record in this regard, especially in the public schools, leaves a lot to be desired.

This being the case, the fact that in many university courses you can't graduate without attaining a certain, usually relatively high level of English could be viewed as being a bit harsh.

Of course, if you're studying international relations or the like where English is usually a core element and prerequisite for the course, fair enough.

Yet for degrees where English is not essential per se, why then make obtaining a good grade in it a qualification requirement?

If the student has shown to be competent and worthy of his or her degree in the chief area of study, let them at it we say.

Fair enough, as mentioned above having a decent grasp of English may open more doors in the work place. So the universities in question could be seen as forcing a good deed on students who have paid hefty enrolment fees. How thoughtful of them.

Now as you know it's far from cynical we are here, but those of that disposition could be forgiven for thinking that the English requirement is just a money-making racket. 'Aw, hard luck, you failed English. Not to worry. Pay for a course to get your level up to scratch, pay for an additional semester and hopefully you'll be good to graduate in a few months.' Come on guys, these universities would never be so self-centred.

As tough as it may seem on those who struggle with English, as ever in these parts some centres of learning 'allow' a way around it. From what we can gather, in not all places does the English test have to be taken supervised, on campus. There's an unsupervised, on-line option.

We recently had the friend of an acquaintance ask us to assist her while she took this on-line test. Of course we objected strictly on moral grounds -- it had nothing to do with the fact that it wasn't financially worth it for us.

This practice, where it happens, obviously makes a mockery of the whole English requirement. (For the record, this was Universidad Central.)

An Ielts or Toefl exam would soon find out those who profess to have English to a high level (to a point anyway; some people who do have good English don't always perform well in these type of tests).

Outside of that, coming back to the practice of having an English test requirement for degrees where it's not essential, isn't it best to just let potential employers deal with that?

A Spanish-speaking civil engineering firm searching for prospective employees would probably list English as merely an advantage, not an actual requirement.

Forcing the language on people at a later stage in their development isn't the way to achieve bilingual status.

Needless to say, it starts at a much younger age.

If English is a priority for Colombian officialdom, the place to get serious about it is at primary level education.

Alas, from a public school perspective anyway, it's more a case of the blind leading the blind in this regard.
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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Bogotá bubbles

In a Colombian context, especially in relation to employment, Bogotá is where it's at for the most part. As the capital and most populated city, it's the place that attracts the most job seekers, both from within and outside the country.

In many employment sectors, such as education and finance to name just two, it's where the best money can be made. Yet, as we've oft mentioned on these pages before, it's a very unequal city.

Bogotá, Colombia: A very unequal city ...
Bogotá: It looks fairly equal from this viewpoint ...
Colombia's inequality is, arguably, most apparent here. In simplistic terms, financially speaking, it's broken into three groups: 'The have lots', 'The have a littles' and 'The have nots'. For our time in the country, putting aside our 'First World' background that, in theory anyway, puts us on a higher plain in this regard, we're firmly in that second group. We share this space with perhaps about 60 to 70 per cent of those who currently call Bogotá home. (In actual monetary terms, we're talking about an average monthly wage of roughly 350 to 450 euros at current conversion rates.)

That is to say, if we operate within certain circles of the city, a working-to-lower-middle class bubble so to put it, we can live within our means. Indeed, with a not-overly frugal existence, those of us in this middle group can even put some money aside on a monthly basis.

Nonetheless, from a socialising perspective, the likes of the city's 'exclusive' Zona G, Zona T and Parque 93 are largely off limits, save for on very rare occasions.

Not only that, but for the seldom times that we do go out in those places, we tend to be quite uncomfortable. Paying multiples of the price for the exact same product, or something very similar, that we can get, with a smile, in the barrios doesn't sit well with us at all. OK, there are some places, although not too many in our experience, that offer both good quality and decent service -- this being a particular rarity in these parts -- at reasonable enough prices.

The thing is, after six years of having Bogotá as the base, remaining in that more modest income bracket, even if we were to see a significant upswing in terms of take home pay (while we're always striving to improve our lot here personally and professionally in the pursuit of a happier existence, money's not the chief motivation), it's unlikely that our socialising habits would change that much.

We now have a very clear idea of what the price of things should be. So when we're asked to pay significantly more than that for no real strong reason, we don't like to. For many of the more well-to-do Colombians, not only do they not have many major issues paying above the odds for things, it's actually a status symbol to do so. Going out in the fancier establishments is a true sign that you've made it; style, questionable as it is, but with little substance. It's also a good way to help ensure the riff-raff are kept at arm's length.

Of course, the quest for a life without these socio-economic divisions, or bubbles as we'll call them, is idealistic in the extreme. The best we can hope for is to see a fusion of some of the bubbles, a levelling out of living standards. The likes of Colombia has a long way to go in this regard, but there's always hope.

From a global perspective, it's also worth bearing in mind the following, which we read in an official UN source a few years back: If the poorest 80 per cent on the planet were to live like the richest 20 per cent, at current consumption levels we would need four planet earths to sustain us.

Thus, it's not a just a case of improving the lot for our most unfortunate. The richer amongst us need to learn the art of modesty in living. We can't all over-indulge in the man-made finer things in life.
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