The importance for Puerto Ricans students to learn and to speak fluently the English language is discussed in Puerto Rico everyday in the community and professional circles. Regardless of the efforts that the Puerto Rico Department of Education has made throughout the years, the reality is that Puerto Rican children are, not learning adequately the English language in our Public School System.
The Puerto Rico Department of Education has regularly provided its students with 50 minutes of daily English instruction throughout their twelve years of schooling. Nevertheless, the academic assessment data for the 1995-96 school year showed that 81 percent of the students in the Public School System has not developed the basic English language skills to be able to use it in neither oral or written discourse. There are several reasons that can explain this alarming reality. One of the main reasons could be that English instruction in some schools is not being delivered using a natural and practical approach, which is a prerequisite for the development of oral communication skills. English instruction for many years has, been delivered following a grammar-oriented approach, that very often places the students in right-or-wrong situations, elevating their levels of anxiety and producing communication apprehension. Unfortunately, this teaching learning reality in the English classroom is responsible, in many ways, for the sense of insecurity that our children experience when teaming their second language. It is fair to say that some teachers are conducting the class within the whole language approach and most recently within the constructivist approach however, theme a very few. If we add to this, that the time dedicated for English is not enough for developing the skills we realize that something has to be done to improve learning English. The outcome of this situation can be observed in the lack of motivation and observable indifference toward learning English exhibited among student populations of Puerto Rico Publish School System across the Island.
It is relevant to point out that the lowest students'
scores, during the last Island-wide
Several studies have been conducted on the teaching of English in Puerto Rico Public Schools (Torres, 1984; Soto, 1997 and Rodríguez, 1977). These studies analyzed the English class from its history up to the teaching methods, didactic material and other pedagogical areas. Many of these studies confirmed, among other things, that poor academic achievement in English is promoted through the use of deficient teaching methods such as memorization and repetition without comprehension.
There are several critical issues that need to be addressed in the proposed reform: materials, instruction strategies, new theoretical framework for teaching, the standards of excellence and curriculum alignment but most of all the time which will be provided for learning the language is critical.
Another very important need which must be taken care of is the teachers preparation for teaching English. The reality is that almost 50% of the teachers of English do not hold an English certificate. This means that they have not taken the required courses at the University which entities them to be certified. As a result of this, many teachers interviewed reported lack of attention to very important matters of this academic discipline. This is more dramatic at the elementary school level since the universities in general do not graduate B.A.'s in English teaching. Only two campuses, out of over thirty, graduate elementary English teachers but this is not highligthted. The elementary school teachers only take one course in the teaching of ESL "English as a Second Language. This is very limited to prepare them to teach English. If any student speaks the English language fluently he or she may become a good English teacher with this one semester course, if his/her ability is not adequate, it is a lot harder for him or her to be efficient specially as pronunciation models.
This is not so with the students who graduate with a degree as English Teachers For Spanish speakers or for speakers of other languages (TESS or TESOL Programs). Most of these teachers have been placed at the intermediate level (7 - 12). This is the level for which they are prepared professionally.
One problem that our public school system students confront is their lack of language skills in English, and they're placed in an american school, when their parents decide to travel with them to the United States. We all know that due to our Families' socio-economic status all of our students are potential migrants. Moreover, they participate in a circulatory migration moving back and forth during the same school year.
As far as curriculum reform is concerned, the Department of Education established as pedagogical policy the cognitive-humanistic theory and the constructivist approach as foundations for teaching since 1994. In addition to this, the standards of excellence were formulated. However, this new orientation has not reached all the teachers A lot has been done in development activities but more needs to be done. New supervision paradigms must be part of the reform in order to change supervision to focus on technical assistance rather than visits for evaluating the teachers.