Boston needs 20 times more English lessons than it currently has for growing foreign-born population, report says

While a third of Boston-area residents are foreign-born, the city only has enough language programs to accommodate a fraction of those looking to improve their English, according to a Boston Foundation report released. Thursday.

The Boston area serves 11,600 working-age adults in 116 programs, but the city has more than 240,000 of those adults who are not fluent in English.

The Boston area needs at least 20 times more English language programs than it currently has – and more focus on professional language programs – if it is to accommodate all working-age adults with limited language proficiency, according to the report.

“Despite the fact that immigrants represent nearly all of the population growth that is fueling Greater Boston’s renaissance, we are investing far too little in ESOL, especially in programs that focus on English language skills for the place. work,” said Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO. CEO of the Boston Foundation. “This should not be viewed solely as an education issue. It is an economic necessity. »

The majority of English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, programs are general courses or courses geared toward citizenship testing, rather than courses focused on business or professional vocabulary. In fact, about 7% of ESOL programs are vocational, according to the report.

Those who have taken the courses have reported improvements in English, but the programs still have obstacles. Few programs offer childcare, making it difficult for some to attend classes, the report said.

Some of the programs were run by non-ESOL certified teachers, although students always said they had extensive experience teaching English at different levels.

The report recommended closing the gap between available programs, providing better salaries and benefits for ESOL teachers, retaining its students by connecting them to the resources they might need or providing childcare services during courses, to increase the number of professional and workplace-specific ESOL programs, among other things.

“While the data shows that Greater Boston could certainly benefit from more ESOL seats, the shortage is exacerbated by a severe mismatch between the type of ESOL services currently provided and the needs of a quarter of a million working-age LEP adults in the region who often seek better employment opportunities,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, who led the research team behind the report.

Suffolk County has seen strong growth in international migration since 2010. In 2017, nearly 30% of the population was thought to be foreign-born. Many of them lived in Boston.

They go from Vietnam, Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Cape Verde, Ireland and other parts of the world. Some are doctors in their home country or graduate students at a Boston-area institution. Others are working adults without a high school diploma.

Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Plymouth counties recorded twice as many international migrations as domestic migrations. These newcomers have become a growing part of Boston’s workforce, the report suggests. In 2011-2014, foreign-born residents comprised 26.6% of Boston’s population and 30.1% of the workforce. In 1980, they represented 15.4% of the population and 14.9% of the workforce.

Current ESOL programs follow a traditional system that rewards attendance, graduation from high school, and enrolling in college, but not getting a job. The Boston Foundation report recommends adding more language-focused programs for job skills or for work.

Better English language proficiency could make someone who has not graduated from high school eligible for more jobs, such as supervisory positions in catering or administration, report says. , secretarial work and accounting.

For those with a high school or university degree, stronger English skills could expand the job pool even further.

Grogan advocated for increased investment in these programs, which typically rely on funding from the state, individual donors and for-profit language schools.

“The benefits are obvious,” he said. “Just like the need for investment. In a tight labor market, we have the opportunity to create partnerships that will have a demonstrable impact on Greater Boston for decades to come. We just need the will to do it.

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