Friday, June 21, 2013

Approaches to bilingual education in European countries

The blog mantained by Pilar Torres is a great source of information about second language acquisition, bilingual programs, CLI, cooperative projects and much more. Her posts have been featured on my blog before and it won't be the last!

The Centro de Profesores in Cordoba, Spain, where Pilar is an advisor, has recently organized a Study Visit called "The ABC of Plurilingualism in Andalusia". The Study Visits programme, for education and vocational training specialists and decision makers, "is an initiative of the European Commision's Directorate-General for Education and Culture. Its objective is to support policy development and cooperation at European level in lifelong learning, notably in the context of the Lisbon process and the education and training agenda 2020 (E&T2020), as well as the Bologna and Copenhagen processes and their successors." (Source: Directorate-General for Education and Culture's website)
Experts involved in bilingual programs from 11 European countries took part in the Study Visit and learnt first hand about the bilingual programs in Andalusia, Spain. They also introduced the language and bilingual programs in their respective countries. Twelve presentations are available online that portray different realities and ways of implementing bilingual programs. Ireland's experiences are particularly interesting, efforts are aimed at increasing the knowledge and daily use of their native language, Gaelic Irish, in the battle against the dominance of English. Another interesting case is Hungary and their goal to preserve Hungarian minority cultures in such as Romania or Slovakia.  The twelve presentations show a different scenario but with in many cases similar challenges ahead.

report by Pilar Torres about the rationale behind bilingual programs and their implementation in Andalusia is available in the same post. I have mentioned in previous posts that the approach to bilingual programs in that Spanish province is very thorough. I highly recommend you to read the whole report to fully understand the work that they've done in the last 20 years. Some of the strong points of the bilingual programs in Andalusia are the following:
  • The existence of a log term program that goes from kindergarten to the last year of secondary education.
  • It is a program open to all students and there are not prerequisites to start the program.
  • The concept of multilingualism : students are encouraged to take another language outside the two working languages in the bilingual program. This concept of multilingualism is even more obvious with the launching of bilingual programs in not so popular languages in Spain such as Chinese or Portuguese.
  • Collaboration with other countries is encouraged so students can get a dual diploma at the end of the some of the bilingual programs (French and soon Chinese).
  • The use of language assistants as key resource for students and teachers.
  • The compromise of initial and continuous training for the teachers working in the bilingual programs.
  • The establishment of an international teacher network to create quality resources available online.
  • The placement of a bilingual program coordinator in every school.
  • Schools normally use a CLIL approach when implementing bilingual programs.
The program's strengths are obvious but there are also challenges ahead such as how to integrate students with learning disabilities in a bilingual program, or how to create attainable, rigorous benchmarks for all the students. And we should not forget the effects of the crisis in programs like the language assistants or the in-service programs for teachers.

All the participants in the Study Visit agreed to present closing remarks with proposal and ideas to better face the challenges for the future. We can certainly learn a lot from their challenges because we face many similar ones too. We should continue to build the foundation of this kind of international collaboration to improve the quality of our bilingual programs.