Bilingual Education – A priority for teachers and students in La Rioja
13. January 2017
Article by Begoña Aguirre Brea
The skill of actively using at least one foreign language is one of the objectives to be pursued by any educational system, since it contributes to the learning process of students and favours the possibility of employment abroad.
The Ministry of Education, Training and Employment of the Government of La Rioja has prioritised the linguistic development of teachers and students of schools in La Rioja and at the same time has promoted bilingualism.
Taking this objective into account, the ‘Centre for Innovation and Educational Training (CIFE)’ had the task to develop a long-term, structured action plan whose main characteristic is the support of initiatives that promote the learning of the English language. It is an initiative that encourages early attention; the students begin their exposure to a second language at the beginning of their school life. In addition, the Ministry’s plan acknowledges the autonomy of its local schools. Each schools, depending on its possibilities and resources, has different options to project its own plan of bilingualism.
In the framework of autonomy of the schools, aware of the importance of implementing actions to promote language learning, in 2004-05, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport launched the Language Immersion Projects in Schools (PILC). The project consisted of three steps. Mode A, in which teachers used the foreign language to communicate with the students in aspects related to routines, greetings, instructions, statements, etc. and could even develop small parts of the curriculum as long as they did not impede the comprehension and assimilation of the content. Mode B, in which the teachers delivered the content of a unit or a didactic sequence of the curriculum in a foreign language themselves.
After the evaluation of this project, seeing that the results obtained had been favourable, Mode C was introduced in the course 2013-14. Teachers finally contributed to the content of a subject of the curriculum in the foreign language. Mode A has now become redundant since the language skills of teachers and students in a second language are much higher than they were in 2005.
At present, Language Immersion Projects (PILCs) are conducted in those local schools where other types of more intensive language learning activities cannot be implemented or new actions do not cover all courses.
However, PILC’s success among teaching professionals and the educational community in general gave way to the entry of decree 7/08, April 14, which regulated the call for schools which wanted to start a bilingual project.
Several secondary schools started these projects but only one primary school implemented it. One requirement was that for each bilingual class there must be another non-bilingual one in order to ensure children and parents had a choice. It was also one of the reasons why the primary schools found it difficult to launch the initiative. Currently, the programme works very well in secondary schools.
The need to include English in the curriculum led to the creation of Bilingual Programmes. They are still in the piloting phase. All students receive at least two non-linguistic areas of the curriculum in English. Currently, there are 16 schools dedicated to the ‘CLIL approach’.
These schools have a specific programme of support in English language and one or more native assistants depending on their needs. In addition, teachers participating in this initiative, as well as those belonging to the Bilingual Sections regulated by Order 7/08 of April 14, 2008 are a priority group, both for language training and methodological training offered by the Centre for Innovation and Educational Training (CIFE) throughout the school year.
Finally, the current academic year a new decree for bilingualism for primary schools is being prepared in La Rioja. It will drew conclusions from bilingual piloting experiences and regulate education in this area. This decree will be in force by the academic year 2017-18.