The bilingual programme has been in full swing for some time now and several schools have opted into the scheme. This news, however, has really made me stop and think.
For those of you who are not familiar with Spanish, the article says that by 2019 all (yes ALL) the primary schools in the Region will be part of the bilingual, or immersion, programme. This means that, apart from teaching English as a foreign language in the traditional way, schools will also have to choose one of three different levels of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). At the lowest level pupils will study Science in English, whilst at the second level they will study anywhere up to 50% of the curriculum in English (excluding maths and Spanish language/literature). This means that third level schools will be delivering upwards of 50% of the curriculum in English.
As an idea, I find it laudable. Indeed, locally we have some good, truly-bilingual schools run by native English speakers, as well as some schools in the bilingual programme with exceptional Spanish teachers who are very dedicated to it. My worry is that teachers who are not linguists are going to be forced into this and that academic results are going to suffer (I have already heard rumblings from teachers to this effect). I know from experience that even children with good levels of English for their age are struggling with the new methodology, and it is easy to see why. Having translated a large amount of Science material for the bilingual programme, I am fully aware of the level of language used in the books and it by no means corresponds to the typical language level of primary school children. Extra effort will certainly be needed on behalf of the teachers, not to mention the extra teachers and language assistants that will be required.
Nevertheless, although I have my reservations about the viability of the programme as it currently stands, I believe it is a fascinating opportunity for language professionals like myself. Both teachers and students are going to need additional language support over the next few years, during the settling-in period, and we are well placed to provide it. I also relish the chance to get to work on more teaching materials and hope I can become more involved in the project.
As this is a subject that fascinates me, I have set myself a little project to find out more about the current reality of bilingualism in the classroom and teachers' expectations for the future. I will certainly post my findings, but please feel free to comment in the meantime. I would love to hear more opinions.
(La versión en castellano está pendiente de escribir. Lo haré en cuanto pueda.)