Opening Remarks by Sergio Bitar
Education Minister of the Republic of Chile
APEC International Seminar： The Interaction between Language， Mathematics， Science & ICT
April 27， 2004
Buenos dias a todos. I want to welcome everyone this morning to this international seminar on The Interaction between Language， Mathematics， Science and ICT. A special welcome to the APEC delegates with whom we will be working at the Ministerial meeting this coming Thursday and Friday. I also want to welcome a group of representatives of Chilean universities responsible for English teacher preparation， and school teachers and school authorities attending this meeting.
A special recognition to the Sunwah Education Foundation， in the name of its Chief Executive Officer， Mr. Gilbert Choy who is with us today， and to EDUTECH Midwest for providing the financial support to organize this seminar. Also I want to thank our main presenters today， Dr. Patricia Duff from the University of British Columbia， and Dr. Yong Zhao， from Michigan State University， both brilliant academics and experts as I could appreciate in our last EDNET meeting held in Beijing， last January.
It is a priority of Chilean Education Policy to enhance 21st century skills. We have established two priorities： English as a foreign language and the use of technology， computers and internet to advance teaching and learning. Chile shares with the rest of the APEC community the view that these are basic tools to develop our human resources and to expand participation in the global economy.
Our country has recently began to implement a long term plan to improve significantly the teaching and learning of English. We are setting standards and we want to measure the achievement of these standards. At the end of this year we will give a diagnostic test to a representative sample of eight and twelve grade students at the end of primary and secondary school respectively. For the first time we will know where our students are at regarding their level of English.
We are also developing programs to support the professional development of our teachers； we have distributed English textbooks to all students from subsidized schools from grades 5 to 12 where teaching a foreign language is compulsory； and also developing programs to attract volunteers to come to Chile to help our teachers and motivate our students to learn English.
Motivation to learn English in a country where still very few people speak the language is a significant challenge. We need to further explore how to boost motivation among our students； perhaps by using innovative technology， audiovisuals， interactive software， educational chatting rooms or other means that could raise interest of young people. This seminar will give us some ideas on this subject.
Our expectations of learning a foreign language in Chile are high. We are shifting from viewing English as an academic language to looking at it as a working language. We are shifting from viewing English as a language taught to the elite attending private schools， to a language that needs to be taught well to all Chilean students. English now has become a major subject of the core curriculum.
Chile has also made significant improvements in the use of technology in education. The vast majority of schools are connected to internet. We currently have most of our schools with computers. Although still our computer-student ratio is high （40 students per computer）， it is our goal to bring this ratio down to 30 students per computer by the year 2006. We have trained about 75% of our teachers to use computers and internet in education， and we are implementing a nation-wide computer literacy program， using over 10% of our schools as training centers for the young and adult communities. Although these numbers may look pale by comparison with school systems in the most advanced economies， it is a tremendous progress for our country， and it is a clear indication of our will to introduce the use of technology in education to improve the quality of teaching and learning. This afternoon you will have the opportunity to learn more about our ENLACES program， a Spanish word that means “LINKS” or “CONNECTIONS” . ENLACES is a program of the Ministry of Education to enhance learning opportunities using technology.
In spite of our progress in these matters， we have much room for improvement and much to learn from the international community. I believe that APEC， through its Education Network， EDNET provides us with a unique opportunity to learn from each other on how policy promoting foreign languages and use of ICT are being implemented in different contexts， in the West and in the East. This seminar is one of such opportunities where multiple perspectives will be discussed. The contributions of research will stimulate our thinking， and the lessons from policy implementation and promising practices will provide us with useful guidelines to improve education.
The key word here is intersection between technology and language learning， mathematics， science and other subjects. Technology not as a goal in itself， but a means to improve the comprehension and use of content areas， to support thinking and creativity， to boost imagination， to promote communication and understanding between cultures， to access new information.
A reflection on the intersection between technology and curriculum content-areas makes as aware of the need to view technology in education as a systemic process shifting from a strict and more traditional technology-focused paradigm. On one hand there is hardware， software and technical procedures to produce educational outcomes， but on the other there area organizational structures， planning and management processes， educational goals， and classroom practices that need to be taken into account when deciding what technology should be used for what purposes. We still have a big challenge ahead promoting an understanding among educators that computers should be used as means of learning. The lack of a systemic view of the use of technology in education often results in wastage of money， in buying equipment that is never used.
A reflection on Effective Language Learning Practices and Use of Technology in relation to different subject areas will provide us with useful frameworks to examine further the challenges ahead. We still debate on what are the appropriate teaching strategies and the appropriate technology， and how to train our teachers， and what are the most sensible ways of introducing innovation in the classroom. I am sure that the discussions today will make good use of the expertise coming from different parts of the world， and different education systems.
I wish you all a very successful meeting and we are looking forward to your recommendations.