With an eye to the future of Panama as the “Crossroads of The World” our new President, Juan Carlos Varela, has launched the Panama Bilingual program. Hopefully this will become a long-term commitment and not just the whim of the current President. Panama has a history of switching political party control every five years and without an entrenched civil service the next President can dump everything his predecessor did or ordered. [Since the dictatorship the President can only serve one term and must sit out ten years before running again.] A “long-term goal” in Panama IS five years, but this is a start toward making Panama more competitive and addressing at least one component of a horribly ineffective public educational system. Just having 2,000 Panamanian teachers exposed to any aspect of an educational training program not dominated or run by the folks who’ve comfortably kept Panamanian education in the dark ages is bound to plant some radical ideas that education should be about analytical inquiry, thinking, reading, writing, and math, more that the current emphasis on clean, neatly pressed uniforms, and forever practicing marching for the November parades.
The President of the Republic, Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez officially launched at the Escuela Normal Superior Juan Demóstenes Arosemena, in the city of Santiago de Veraguas, the Panama Bilingual program, which has the purpose to strengthen the study of English language in the Panamanian educational system.
The Panama Bilingual Program seeks to provide a solution to the huge need to prepare the population with English, so all Panamanians have access to work opportunities and be more competitive in the globalized world we are living.
With this initiative, the Ministry of Education, in charge of Secretary Marcela Paredes, and the Government of the Republic of Panama seeks to train at least 2,000 teachers per year in bilingual education and prepare 20,000 high school students and 30,000 elementary students.
“Panama Bilingual will be executed during my period 2014-2019, and will cover 25 thousand teachers, 100 thousand students in middle and high school, 160 thousand in elementary, for an estimate of 285 thousand bilingual students”, said the President.
The program includes three parts: Teacher Training, After School Program and Kids.
The Teacher Training is directed at working teachers and graduating and graduated high school students. Within this component are four activities: local training of working teachers; local training of graduating and graduated high school students; teachers sent to English-speaking countries and Mixed Teacher training (when they return from training in foreign countries).
The training outside the country is for teachers handling courses like Spanish, Science, Social Studies, etc. and graduating and graduated students at Normal de Santiago, who will be sent for six months to prestigious teaching universities in English-speaking countries. These teachers will participate in a semester of English and new teaching methodologies that will provide better performance in classes.
The After School Program consists of giving English classes to students in extended hours. It is directed at students from seventh grade to eleventh grade and will be held in schools offering lunch to students.
On the other hand, Kids is directed to students from kindergarten to sixth grade, in order for them to participate in 10 periods of classes per week given in English, achieving partial immersion to promote regular use of the language.
There are many universities in the US and England that are participating. One is Southern Miss.
The University of Southern Mississippi has partnered with the Republic of Panama in an initiative known as Panama Bilingue [Bilingual Panama], a project implemented by the president of Panama to ensure his citizens are bilingual in Spanish and English.
Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela has pledged to send 1,000 Panamanians per year for the next five years to study English and second language teaching methods. Institutions of higher learning across the English-speaking world are hosting pre-service elementary teachers and teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL) from the Latin American nation.
“Mississippi is one of the Republic of Panama’s most important trading partners,” said Dr. Steven R. Moser, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “It’s an honor to be working with the government of Panama in such an important endeavor.”
In early January, Southern Miss welcomed 50 Panamanian educators to campus. Half of the group, pre-service elementary school teachers, will study English at Southern Miss’ English Language Institute for the semester. The other half, ESL teachers, will be on campus until March 6. These teachers are taking classes on teaching a second language methods and applied linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
Southern Miss is the only institution in the state of Mississippi hosting Panamanians for this effort.
Dr. Christopher Miles, associate professor and chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, said the partnership with Panama is mutually beneficial.
“This is important for Southern Miss and Hattiesburg as well, as it will bring diversity and different cultures. These people are here really embracing American culture and we should be embracing and eager to learn about them as well,” Miles said.
The classes offered include, but are not limited to, English Methodology, American Culture, Accent Reduction Therapy, as well as conversation tables.
The Panamanian government will send another group of ESL learners and teachers to Southern Miss in May and next January.