English Teaching Methodologies – Panama Issues

In correlation to the situation that has occurred in Spain with their ESL Programmes, it can be said that a similar failure has been on going in Panamá as a country. Whereas, although Spanish is the main language of the country, in the school curricula, English is taught as an alternative language. In theory, in Panama the School Curricula includes English, but the exposure to the language at an early age is mere repetition and barely an hour a week at most. So even though all governments have made some sort of attempt to improve the acquisition of English as a second language, all have failed, for both a lack of progression and long-term planning.

Panamá is proportionally one of the countries with the highest investment in education in the world. Not only are all formal employees obliged by law to pay a portion of their salary towards education, but also direct government investment from other forms of indirect taxation. Compared to the region, Panama has an opposite effect where teachers in the public education system are on average better wage earners than teachers from the private education system. Yet there seems to be a vast disparity in the level of graduates from the public and private schools. The disparity, is not the fault of the teacher but the stringent and inflexible system they are forced to follow, which does not allow the teacher the freedom to implement different methodologies adapting to a multilevel group, a normal occurrence in a public school classroom.

With the Panamanian state constantly sending and training their second language teachers abroad on government scholarships, though good for cultural exchange that can help provide new methods, tools or adapt existing methods, this same teachers return to a brick wall when planning or attempting to implement proper methodology. Teachers are well trained, but due to lobby groups and ever-changing upper management, there is no progression and whatever method is brought in by new management must be implemented and all work is all but lost. At upper management there has been an ongoing complacency every time they rework the entire curricula rather than improving on the work that has already been done, therefore it has become a vicious circle and the teachers are on the receiving end of critique from both the parents and the same people who manage the school systems.

Creating exchange groups through digital platforms to create a learning environment and cultural exchange amongst teachers and students from different parts of the world, sound great in theory, but this is a far cry from the reality lived in Panama. E-Twinning is mentioned as a platform, but there are so many platforms available, such as Moodle, Google Classrooms, MS Education, to name a few, which require something that most students and some teachers do not have access to, a device with proper internet access. In Panamá even in area with good coverage most students do not have the means to access the world wide web.

Students, who would like to access these digital education platforms are left with a choice, for example, pay for their bus fair to and from school or pay for access to the web. To make matters worse, teachers in areas with little to no coverage, have no means of accessing these platforms and much less demand a student to do so either. So, teachers are left with trying to distribute their “virtual class” through a set of basic instructions via instant messaging or simply having to forgo the virtual classroom and have to visit each student individually at the teacher’s expense.

There are many teaching methodologies that should be implemented on a per classroom per student case, but without proper progression and academic curricula development this would be impossible to achieve for there is lack of cohesion in the Panamanian Education System. If the country would like to improve their English as Second Language Programme and the education system in general, there needs to be long term planning and building upon previous curricula as well as an in depth studies of the pros and cons of all previous programs to then establish standardisation within the education system. Without normalization of the countries Education System and its language programmes, all the resources thrown at education just become vapor ware.

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