Many working in Galician education were on strike today. The strike was called by the Queremos Galego platform in response to the Xunta’s (Galician govt.) planned educational reforms which would see the role of Galician in compulsory education reduced from at least 50% of the syllabus to 33%. The PP (conservatives) Xunta, which took office last year, has proposed that Galician will be given equal status in the system to Spanish with the introduction of a third of subjects in English making up a trilingual system.
Although President Feijóo and his Xunta appeared to think the idea was a decent compromise, it has been attacked from almost all quarters, with other political parties, cultural groups including the Real Academia Galicia and teaching unions all queuing up to have a go.
One of the main criticisms has been the proposed role of English. Teachers in the General Workers Union (UGT) have said it is unworkable and will lead to chaos. The left-wing coalition Esquerda Unida described it as “utopian”.
I don’t think the policy has been thought through for a number of reasons. In future, the plan is to recruit teachers who are capable of teaching other subjects through English. While I recognise this as a form of CLIL, I wonder where they are going to find the teachers whose English is good enough to cope. My understanding from speaking to someone working within the Galician education system is that in future teachers will be required to have a B1 in English of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages .
Here’s what such a student is supposedly capable of: “Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.”
And here is the description in Galician: “Nivel B1: Se adquiere cuando el estudiante es capaz de comprender los puntos principales de textos claros y en lengua estándar si tratan sobre cuestiones que le son conocidas, ya sea en situaciones de trabajo, de estudio o de ocio; cuando sabe desenvolverse en la mayor parte de las situaciones que pueden surgir durante un viaje por zonas donde se utiliza la lengua; cuando es capaz de producir textos sencillos y coherentes sobre temas que le son familiares o en los que tiene un interés personal y cuando puede describir experiencias, acontecimientos, deseos y aspiraciones, así como justificar brevemente sus opiniones o explicar sus planes.”
I have highlighted in bold what I consider the main points. In my opinion, that kind of level is not nearly high enough to cope with presenting English in an educational setting, and what about student essays and homework? Are they to be corrected by teachers whose own English would need a lot of correcting? I would say they’d need at least a B2 level (upper intemediate) and continual assessment/improvement or more likely C1 (advanced English) simply in order to cope.
If few local teachers are up to the job (and I can’t imagine that they will be too happy that they cannot teach, say science, because their English isn’t good enough) then what are the alternatives? Bringing in a load of teachers from the UK or other countries? And will these teachers be able to handle the Galician and Spanish dimension that will inevitably arise in the classroom?
In short, the introduction of a third of the syllabus in English is not only some way down the line, as the government now ackowledges, but probably unworkable. However, there are already signs that the Xunta is backing down. But not before taking a potshot at what they see as nationalist extremists out to spoil their cosmopolitan initiative. According to reports, there were somewhere between 30-60,000on the march in Santiago today in protest. The evidence would suggest they came from all over the political spectrum.
The legality of the draft bill has also been questioned. The Spanish Constitution states that families are only allowed to intervene in educational policy on matters concerning religion or morals. This brings us back to the new Xunta’s claim that parents should be allowed to choose the language in which their children are to receive their core education.
Another criticism of the current system has been that Spanish-speaking children were having difficulties studying subjects in Galician. If that is the case then how are pupils going to cope with the introduction of a foreign language into subjects where they already have high failure rates?
Finally, it strikes me as odd that there has been much talk about the “imposition of Galician” and how this was eroding freedom, yet this same party wants to bring a non-official language (English) into the education system and give it the same classroom time as Spanish and Galician.