In a world that makes it easy to communicate with people from different nationalities and have access to information in other languages, Colombia faces very low rates of bilingualism. English, in general, represents the vehicle for many young people to access scholarships and obtain better professional opportunities. The government has assigned resources to improve the present situation, but efforts have not contributed to developing much growth. To illustrate this, only 2.6% of 11th graders across all the public schools in the country achieved good results in the Pruebas Saber 11 (the national standardized test used for universities admission).
Within this context, the Ministry of Education has set the goal of raising these sad numbers through the implementation of the program “Colombia Bilingue 2014-2018″, which aims to increase the English level of pre-Intermediate B1 from 2% to 8%, and the basic level of A2 from 7% to 35%.
Among the different strategies established to enforce the ambitious goal of this program, President Juan Manuel Santos, and Minister of Education, Gina Parody presented the initiative “Campos de Inmersión en Inglés” (English Immersion Camps). In November 2015, they announced that around 3000 students would get the opportunity to improve their English level through this experience.
Only two public schools from Barranquilla have been selected due to the region’s poor results in the Pruebas Saber 9, which leaves the Caribbean Coast in a precarious position with regards English skill. In total, there were 34 schools selected from all over the country, but none from other regions of the coast.
The 10th-grade students from the two Barranquilla schools, Instituciones Educativas Distritales Santa Bernardita and El Castillo de la Alboraya, will enjoy 2 weeks of both academic and ludic activity sessions in a 100% English environment, lead by an experienced combination of local and native teachers. These sessions are taking place in Pereira, Armenia, Cali, Medellín, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and the Municipality of Santardercito, during holidays so as not to interrupt the academic school year. This experience covers the first part of the Immersion Camp initiative.
The second part recognizes the ten official schools with the best improvement rates on the “Ìndice de Calidad de Secundaria” (Highschool Qualification Index). From within each of these schools, the best students with at least the pre-intermediate English level, B1, will take part in a Summer Camp in the United States. One hundred students from 9th grade will travel to Michigan, USA where they will work on their leadership skills through the sharing of experiences and activities with young people from Canada and the United States of America.
The purpose of this initiative is not only to encourage students to improve their English levels but also to incent schools to boost their English programs to help Colombia attaining the ambitious goal of being the most educated country in Latin America by 2025. Students are excited about this tremendous learning opportunity, but the question about the effectiveness of the program lingers because it is hard to believe that bringing 2,900 students every year to a two week immersion camp is going to make a real impact on the numbers the Ministry of Education aspires to accomplish.