Closing of NicaTESOL Conference

Good afternoon all.

Thank you Chris and Franklin for the introduction, and congratulations to you all for another successful  NicaTESOL. It seems that NicaTESOL, through the efforts of ANPI and a group of committed volunteers, grows stronger each year. Congratulations also to you all on the ANPI election that you went through yesterday.  It is fitting that this election took place on International Human Rights Day- a day that celebrates democratic values such as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

By exercising your voting rights, making sound structures you make ANPI stronger and more credible. The U.S. government is proud to support ANPI.  That credibility is crucial as you move forward together – president, board, and members at large.

Two weeks ago I met the Minister of Education for the first time.  I learned about the efforts the government is making to ensure quality control through compulsory on-line evaluation and certification of teachers. ANPI and its members can help that certification be meaningful, and also work with the government to allow teachers to attend training so that, ultimately, you can help students and Nicaragua progress.

As a group you have an advantage over many other non-English language teachers who do not have an association to represent their voices. Your work through the association results in concrete results, like today’s conference. In trainings such as NicaTESOL, you are learning methods of teaching and evaluation to make sure your students really understand and use English well.  This is part of building credible standards.

I encourage you all to continue to build your professional credibility, to share your knowledge with fellow teachers, and to exercise your democratic values by being active, inclusive and transparent in your methods. The fact that more and more English language teachers attend the regional and national TESOL training is indicative of a hunger for professional development  and improved methods. And that is why the U.S. Embassy looks for opportunities to strengthen organizations like ANPI and support activities like NicaTESOL.

We also have many English language programs and exchanges to develop teachers and students at the secondary and university level. Alumni from these programs use the methods, materials, expertise and networks gleaned from their U.S. exchanges to advance TEFL here.  But we know this is not enough to satisfy the systemic needs of the country.

We recognize the need to teach English at primary level in public schools, because research shows that the first three to seven years of a child’s life are the most important in terms of ability to learn for a lifetime. This also allows all students to compete on a level playing field, since some private schools include foreign languages into their curricula from a young age.

ANPI and many alumni of U.S. TEFL programs are in different stages of developing projects aimed at teaching English for young learners. They will need your input as they assess the needs and scope of the projects. In today’s rapidly changing world that is becoming more interconnected, education – provides opportunities for people all across the planet.

English and technology are the two most fundamental skills that students must learn if they are to succeed. That is why President Obama launched the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative to increase the number of young people from Central and South America who are studying in the United States and the number of students from the United States attending universities in the region.

This not only enhances academic experiences but, in time, builds leaders and economies, and promotes shared cultural understanding throughout the region. Nicaragua sends fewer students to the United States than other countries. The lack of English skills is one of the items holding back Nicaraguan students.

During the 2014 Summit of the Americas, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered a three-word answer to the question of how to create jobs and opportunities, and build prosperity for future generations: education, innovation, conservation. He said that “Without learning, citizens will lack the knowledge and the skills that they have to have to compete in the 21st century in this new, fast-moving information age, information management economy.

And without innovation, many of those who graduate from top universities will still be unable to find good jobs. And without clean energy, our economies will be held hostage to costly, unpredictable, nonrenewable resources of power, and that will lead to uneven growth and ultimately, threaten the very future of all of us.”

These are interlocking challenges that must be tackled simultaneously, and governments around the region are addressing them on systemic levels. At the teacher level, your job is helping students acquire true competency in both spoken and written English. Why?  Because the language of international trade and the internet continues to be English.

That is why both English language and technology-related programming are among the U.S. State Department’s strategic objectives for this region. Young people today need to speak English and understand technology so they can engage internationally and be successful in the 21st century.

English is the common language of science and technology – the disciplines that feed innovation. English unlocks the vast possibilities of the internet. With English, students can access information and also share and connect with ideas and communities that might not have been reached before. It is through such connections that the global community may have a hope of addressing overwhelming problems like climate change.

So when you are teaching a new language, your student is learning a new way of thinking – how to convey and derive meaning, how to express ideas and engage others in developing conversations in new areas. When you develop students’ competency in language, you are working on the basic building blocks of innovation. In Nicaragua and globally, enormous progress has been made to ensure that every child – girls and boys –are able to attend primary school.

That is a great step forward, but it is important that the time spent in school is beneficial. Sitting in a classroom and getting an education are not the same things, just as having a list of facts is not the same as knowledge. It is not enough for children to memorize English phrases, copy sentences and pass tests.  They actually need to comprehend and use the language if English is to help them get a job or a scholarship.

This translates into teachers teaching differently themselves, in ways that engage youth meaningfully – this is as true here in Nicaragua as it is in the United States. By now you have heard of blended learning, the wave of the future that has reached Nicaragua even if internet capacity may lag behind in some towns.

I hope you are finding ways to incorporate these methods and technology into the learning process. Just giving a child a tablet or a laptop is not enough. One has to instill the desire in that child to want to learn more and to use technology for more than Facebook. As a teacher you can lead children to think critically about the information they consume and to use digital tools to explore and engage.  You can help them think about more than Facebook when they think of the internet.

It is important that students understand that success in school will actually translate into success in life.  Dreams are not beyond even the poorest of children when they are encouraged by respected teachers. The theme of this year’s NicaTESOL is very appropriate.  No One Left Behind: Leading the Future of Education in ELT.

We want to ensure that Nicaraguan youth and teachers are not left behind while the region progresses. As governments, companies and institutions work on the challenges of education, innovation and environmental conservation, teachers, especially English teachers, are needed to lead the way to a more prosperous future by preparing youth with the skills they need for the jobs of today.