“Speak English”: Challenges of and Opportunities for Implementing National Education Language Policy in Rural Nicaragua
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The Nicaraguan Ministry of Education (MINED) developed a national language policy to include English as a required subject for the entire five years of secondary school. This case study explores how teachers implement English language mandates in public high schools in rural Nicaragua along with how they are supported by Ministry-provided resources, curriculum, and training. For students living in rural Nicaragua, educational opportunities are affected by the complex interaction of geographic, socioeconomic, and political influences. The traditional narrative of rural Nicaragua is one of scarcity – insufficiently developed infrastructure, a shortage of qualified teachers, inadequate resources, generational poverty, geographic isolation, and limited access to modern technology. This study adds a more nuanced perspective to this deficit narrative by exploring how educators draw upon existing resources to implement and expand upon the mandated language curriculum. This qualitative inquiry also highlights additional perspectives on how stakeholders, such as teachers, parents, students, and administrators, conceptualize the value and utility of English language education. Although the MINED articulates the purpose of English acquisition as a catalyst for greater engagement in a globalized economy, stakeholders express different views of its importance and usefulness to their everyday realities. The findings indicate that the MINED has provided increased support for English instruction by creating a complete English language curriculum, distributing new English textbooks for all grade levels, increasing access to technology, enhancing electronic resources through a well-designed educative portal, and establishing a system of regular collaborative planning meetings. Although these developments represent a significant improvement, there remain serious challenges regarding school infrastructure, large class sizes, integration of technology in rural areas, assessment of student learning, and linking English curriculums to the reality of college and career readiness. Students, parents, and school staff consistently express a strong belief that learning English is important and potentially useful in the four areas of university study, employment, intercultural communication, and immigration. Although students are highly motivated to learn English for future economic, academic, and social benefits, all stakeholders acknowledge that students are not proficient in English after five years of study in a rural high school.