On 21st and 22nd February, the University of Alcalá hosted a seminar entitled “Learning through a foreign language”, organised by the British Council in collaboration with the University and the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. People responsible for educational policies in different regions in Spain, inspectors, teachers, coordinators of Bilingual Projects at different levels, and University representatives were invited to participate in this initiative. It was a pleasure for me to receive the invitation from the organiser. I would really want to thank the British Council and the University of Alcalá for their kind invitation, as this was a great opportunity to exchange views on educational policies regarding bilingual education, both at a micro- and macro- level.
Although I was unable to attend the Seminar on 21st, I very much enjoyed attending the sessions on Friday, representing the University College where I work, Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros. These sessions were conducted by Prof. David Lasagabaster (Basque Country University), and Prof. Ana Halbach (University of Alcalá). It is my purpose to briefly comment on these two sessions and the main ideas I took with me from them.
The first idea I would like to put forward is one Prof. Lasagabaster highlighted in his session and afterwards in the round table time. It is true that teachers are very much obsessed with the “triumph” of bilingual education, and this will take time. If we think about how English was taught twenty years ago, we can affirm that this subject was considered a doss subject. Classes were teacher-centred and devoted to the learning of grammar and sets of vocabulary without any contextualisation. The result was that students were able to pass the subject without opening their mouths. Pay a visit to a bilingual school now and you will see that things have changed a lot and, obviously, they will change even more if an effort is made to push this opportunity of changing education a little bit further. Even so, this is a long-term process, and it will take time.
A second issue I will be mentioning is related to teacher training needs. Prof. Halbach was asked about the biggest need of teachers who are train to become bilingual teachers in Spain. She mentioned “Planning” as the most evident need. I agree with her up to a point, as a consider that a difference should be made between Primary Teachers and Secondary Teachers. Until now, Secondary teachers could well be teaching in a High-School without having to take any subject related to teaching during their university studies. Things are different for Infant and Primary teachers, who have many subjects regarding this issue during their studies. Even so, I agree with prof. Halbach on the need of providing with better training regarding CLIL planning (which is not necessarily what students are receiving in most universities). The integration of language in their teaching plans, and their training on scaffolding techniques is absolutely essential to reach these goals.
All in all, it is great news that institutions working on bilingual education are hosting debates like this, which offers us the opportunity to share what we are doing, and to work together in the same direction. As it was said during the Seminar, we should create the kind of SYNERGY we need to improve education standards in our country, and bilingual education has open a door for us to seize the chance.