An article in La Prensa today tells us that the government budget has been increased to teach English to school students in the country from $5 million to $5.8 million. As an employer in the hospitality business, I can report that it makes a big difference in employee pay and a big difference in our business. On average an English speaker will make about $150 a month more which in this business is about a 30% premium. I have heard people say that they like the fact that many people don't speak English because it forces them to learn more Spanish. Although this may be true for some, people who are coming to Panama on vacation are not wanting to be frustrated with communication as part of their itinerary. All tourist related businesses in Panama are desperately seeking English speakers.
When the real estate boom was in high gear, many English speakers flocked to get their RE License and many I know made small fortunes selling real estate throughout the country. What made this possible for them was their ability to speak English to the many North Americans coming to buy real estate. They could not have accomplished it without this basic skill.
Even today an English speaker is sought after by foreigners who move here to help them with many of the things associated with settling into the country such as getting electricity turned on, Cable TV, home repairs etc.. I know Panamanians who have turned this into a small business and make a good living from it here in Boquete.
At a dinner last week with the Tourism Head Salomon Shamah, he shared with us his concerns about the lack of qualified English speakers for the many jobs interfacing with tourists in Panama. He recently let a number of employees go who were working in important areas without English skills.
And on a recent visit to Panama Pacifico, London & Regional's new mega project, the sales manager told me that Dell's call center has about 1500 English speaking Panamanians working there now and more call centers are coming. These call centers are sucking up every English speaker in the Panama City area. They pay very well and the jobs are very stable.
All three of my children are bilingual and you can bet it is a major advantage to their future in Latin America. Many of the successful business people I know in Panama and other Latin countries speak fluent English.
The challenge for Panama is to find qualified English teachers. All through primary and secondary school my children told me how the teachers who were to teach English in their classes could not speak it, and would call of them for help in class. Many of the teachers who are teaching as part of government programs do not speak fluent English either. So we have the blind leading the blind which is why the programs are not very effective. The money needs to go to fluent English speaking teachers who are brought in form other countries if success in getting more Panamanians speaking English is to be accomplished.
How important is English speaking for a young person in Panama? It can mean the difference between getting a good job with a future or working in menial labor position for life
Machine translated from La Prensa
Español for Life program would have $ 5.8 million in 2010. This would represent an additional 800 thousand U.S. dollars to those for this year and allow the incursion of academic project in the curriculum plan for public education.
The program, founded in 2005, has so far been optional, but given the deficiencies that students present in the English language skills, has decided to reinforce its annual appropriation, part of the budget of the Ministry of Education.
executive director for Life, Marta Cardoze Lewis reported that the program currently caters to 23 thousand children of primary school and 7 thousand students from pre-middle and middle.
To the Deputy Minister of Education, Mirna de Crespo, Español for Life program has strengths and weaknesses.
However, he said that the lack of budget courses have not come to dictate to the entire student population of the country.
"For next year we are looking to incorporate the program as a permanent matter of class time and increase the duration of this course, as long as the budget permits," the official disclosed.
He mentioned that one of the areas with higher demand for skilled labor are English-speaking call center and this program has filled that void.
This statement endorses the manager of Star Contact, Joseph Fidanque, who confirmed that in the last three years has hired about 200 graduates of Español for Life.