Department of Education report: ESL

The latest report for the Department for Education reveals a number of interesting facts about the performance of native English speaking primary students compared to their non-English counterparts. Children who had to learn English as a second language showed dramatic differences in improvement at the primary school level.

Tests focused on English language punctuation and grammar, as well as mathematics. Comparatively, native English speaking students actually regressed compared to the ESL students. The question is what message this is ending to parents about their children and their work ethic. There may be cause for alarm, but not necessarily for the reasons commonly associated with students’ subpar performance.

One factor is that English is the 3rd most commonly spoken language in the world (Chinese and Spanish are ahead of it) and there are more than 500 million people who speak English as a second language. Non-native speakers have sufficient motivation to learn formal English to adapt to the culture. Much of the learning students do in the 21st century is through video and audio media, so the issues of where to put a comma or semi-colon have little importance to them in the real world.

The test scores also revealed a subpar performance in the area of mathematics. Mathematics is a language unto itself, and the rigors of learning math are something non-native English speakers are accustomed to as they have to learn English as well. Cultural influences play a significant role, as the study indicates that the academic opportunities commonly available to English students are unknown to foreign students. The importance of work ethic cannot be underestimated in the test results.

Yet it can be argued that the reason for subpar performance is that English students are looking beyond the immediate and assessing the importance of English or math skills at their future job. For many, computerization and automation are what will define their job, and the English language is seen as a way to communicate rather than something to become accurate in using. It is more important to know that a semicolon needs to be placed at the line of a cryptic computer language rather than the 20 rules of where a semicolon is placed in a paragraph because the line of computer code translates into a paying wage.

Several results of the study are both interesting and puzzling. One is that students born in the summer months tend to underachieve at the primary school level. This may be connected to the perceived declining work ethic of students in this group. Another fact is that while girls outperformed boys overall, they are far behind the boys in the area of mathematics. What makes this puzzling is that the overall performance gap by the girls increased by one percentage point (56 to 57) compared to a year ago, but they still fell behind the boys mathematically.

What the study appears to indicate is that there are a combination of cultural and innate factors that account for the performance of primary students in all groups. When it comes to language there is a greater motivational factor for non-native speakers in order to assimilate to their new culture. At the same time, if they were born during the summer months, that motivation appears to be somewhat diluted according to the study.

How students learn has to be factored in as the entire learning culture has changed. Measurements of technical aspects of the English language may not accurately reflect the true competency in the language, but are a necessity for ESL primary students to be able to read the required texts. Comparing the two groups may be attempting to reflect a problem that actually does not exist.

While students that require additional support to learn English will often be brought to English learning centres for extra lessons. Monkey Tree ELC, which has over 45 locations spread across Hong Kong, employs over 150 native english speaking Monkey Tree Hong Kong teachers in Hong Kong. They offer various English fun and interactive programs for kids between 3 – 12 years of age. They currently have a free trial and assessment for any one who’s interested in joining.

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