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EL Latin America 2016: Venezuela in crisis

Gerardo Corbo tells Andrea Pérez how the country’s situation has affected English language learning

Venezuela is becoming increasingly isolated politically, and the economic situation affects all fields. The education sector is also suffering – low salaries, few resources and drastic cuts. In May a presidential decree reduced the school week to make ‘energy savings’. University students and teachers demonstrated against the financial situation of the state university sector. I asked Gerardo Corbo from the UPEL–IPB University about the latest developments.

What are the main issues affecting English language learning in Venezuela?

The lack of appropriate classroom resources, textbooks and audiovisual materials is the most significant issue in higher education. Then there is the number of hours dedicated to English in high school. At the moment it is three hours per week, but there is an offer from the government to increase this to five hours. Then there is the number of students per class. Today it is a policy that no more than 35 students should be in a class – it depends on the space available and the number of teachers. There are sometimes forty students per class.

Finally, there is the contextualisation of the textbooks frequently used in high school. The material was prepared for ESL and not EFL, which is our context in Venezuela. Texts include environments, customs and vocabulary that most students are not interested in. This is something the current government considers very important to address.

Teachers, researchers and the British Council in Venezuela have worked together to prepare textbooks that contain language in a real Venezuelan context. Some ideological aspects related to the current government are visible in the textbooks that some teachers and parents do not like.

What is the main government English language learning policy in Venezuela?

Nowadays, the government priority is to include ELT in primary school and to give teacher trainees the opportunity to have teaching practice from the very beginning of their careers.

A diploma course has run in several cities in Venezuela to start preparation of integral educators (primary teachers) as specialist English teachers. Its aim is to have more English teachers competent to work with young learners. It was considered easier to prepare integral teachers in the area of English (A1–A2 level) than to prepare more teachers competent to work with children. It was a complete success for the first group in the country. Now we have to evaluate this diploma and continue the preparation of Integral teachers.

Years ago the government considered even eliminating English from the formal educational system. Today, it’s not like that. We, the university, have to take advantage of this to evaluate what we have, create solutions and offer opportunities for all teachers in general.

What are the minimum qualifications to teach English language in the state sector?

Any graduate teacher can work in the public school system. There used to be competitive entry for teachers. Some of the requirements were experience in the educational system, grades in their training as teachers, etc. Nowadays the requirements are based around demand in specific areas.

What are the main issues affecting English language teachers in Venezuela?

If no preparation is needed to be part of the system besides a title, teachers are not interested in taking a masters in professional development. Most teachers are doing a second job to cover their basic needs and some teachers consider moving to another country to develop their career.

Gerardo Corbo is an ELT teacher at the UPEL–IPB University. He is also a researcher working with the Núcleo de Investigación de Enseñanza del Inglés como Lengua Extranjera at the university