The word is out: English is empowerment

Education is pretty important, right? Well, we’re not the only ones who think so. We were lucky to be invited to an event all about Education in Peru – and specifically about the importance of English in the national curriculum. It was organised as part of a partnership between the British Council and Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación del Perú, MINEDU), with a keynote speech by the British Ambassador to Peru, Mr Anwar Choudhury.

Clearly passionate about education, Mr Choudhury talked about the transformative power of English. In a globalised world, where English is the language of science, technology, innovation, business, tourism and so much more, English is, in the words of the ambassador, empowerment.

Estefania, Cindy and Tom from HOOP with Mr Choudhury, the British Ambassador to Peru
Estefania, Cindy and Tom from HOOP with Mr Choudhury, the British Ambassador to Peru

As an NGO working hard to create empowerment, with a big focus on teaching English to people who would never normally get the opportunity, we were very pleased to hear that Mr Choudhury sees English as a great equity-maker: “Middle and upper class parents in Peru spend a huge amount of money sending their children to private English schools. The power of English is a secret of the middle and upper classes. But why can’t every child in Peru have the chance to learn English?”

Well, in 2014, President Ollanta Humala announced that bilingual education was a priority and set the goal of giving access to English to all school children by 2021. Excitingly, Arequipa has been chosen as the region they would first like to achieve this. So it looks like English is going to get a much higher profile in Peruvian education in the next five years, and Arequipa will be at the heart of this change. It’s an ambitious goal, but as Mr Choudhury says: “I hope in the next four to five years to see an explosion of English and to see people enjoying languages – English, Spanish, Quechua.” We couldn’t agree more.

There is public demand for this change. In a survey of 1,000 Peruvians, presented at the event, 100 per cent of respondents said they see English as important. 81 per cent of people who don’t study English think it would improve their employment prospects, and more than three quarters of employers think English is an essential skill for managerial staff. So if English is seen as such a great thing to learn, what’s stopping people? Two of the biggest reasons revealed in the survey were cost and a lack of government-supported English programs.

Motivations for learning EnglishSo it’s not surprising that more than a third of non-English learners said they would learn if they had access to free classes. Well, at HOOP, we’ve been offering free classes to children in the Flora Tristán community for many years. Two years ago, we started our adult English program because the parents wanted to learn as well.

We would love to see a Peru where everyone has access to the opportunities created by English. It’s a big goal, and will take a lot of work over many years. But for now, at least, the word is out: English creates empowerment.


Words by Tom Hornbrook

Main photo by Elise Fjordbakk

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