Bilingual education Madrid style: a badly conceived recipe

Any cook knows that a good recipe needs excellent quality fresh products and time, the most important ingredient of all. To some extent, education is pretty much the same: it needs good teachers and a great deal of patience. But in Madrid this can apparently be done away with. Here we cook "Madrid style", in a rush and without the ingredients.  

The local government of the Madrid region, the Comunidad de Madrid, has been pushing for quite some time to make secondary education bilingual in English and Spanish. Indeed, most high schools do currently display a large sign by the main door proclaiming their bilingualism. What this actually means is that some of the subjects are taught in English and the rest of the curriculum in Spanish, with no intent at language immersion.  With many Spaniards finding foreign languages to be an insurmountable barrier, this move could only be welcomed in principle. However, making an entire education system bilingual is, obviously, easier said than done. And in fact, the problem that such a move tries to solve is actually hindering the solution.

For whatever the reason, the truth is that very few adult Spaniards speak any foreign language. Some blame it on the fact that all major films are dubbed into Spanish, some on the isolation of the country during the Franco years and yet some others on the lack of opportunity to travel abroad up until recently. Certainly, what there’s never been a lack of are academies and language schools, and yet this seems to be an unbridgeable gap. Obviously, school teachers are no exception to this rule.

Needless to say, teaching a subject to teenagers is a difficult task in itself. Teaching it in a language that is foreign to students and teachers alike would be an extra challenge. But doing it when the adult in the room does not master that language seems hopeless. The kind of crazy idea that only politicians could come up with when elections are looming. But this is exactly what the Comunidad de Madrid has tried to do. One wonders at the sight of so many proclaimed bilingual high schools where the heck have they got so many proficient English speaking teachers from. The answer is nowhere.

As if this wasn’t enough to compromise the whole scheme, a friend of mine recently told me about yet another problem that parents trying to provide their kids with the best education possible are facing. While most secondary education has turned “bilingual”, primary hasn’t. Which seems good common sense, considering they would be facing the same problems as their higher counterparts are. The problem is that bilingual high schools have stopped receiving students from non-bilingual primaries, which means that in some cases kids attending lessons in their neighbourhood can’t move on to the next level of education locally, instead having to find a place wherever they can and in some cases having to travel miles every day. My friend’s daughter is still too young to face this problem but unless this situation is reversed she won’t be able to attend the high school that is, literally, a fence away from her primary and the only one in the area. Common sense would suggest either turning schools linked like these bilingual at the same time (despite the difficulties) or somehow allowing kids to continue their education locally, instead of just banning them from attending on the grounds of a lack of language skills. But then, common sense is something our local politicians seem to have in very short supply.



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Comments: 2
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