Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Waiting For TIL Mark Two

When the Partido Popular gets round to publishing its manifesto for the 2019 regional election, there will be more than just passing interest in what it has to say about education. Readers will be vastly more attentive than they were in 2011. Those readers who never read the 2011 manifesto.

Biel Company should beat José Ramón Bauzá and be elected as the party's president later this month. He will then be the party's candidate for the Balearic presidency. Bauzá, a fallen figure in search of some purpose greater than having been sidelined, condemned to a place in the Senate and widely ignored, is most unlikely to win. Stranger things have happened of course, but a Bauzá victory would be most strange.

Even before the party gathers for the congress at which the party's leadership will be decided, the issue which came to haunt the Bauzá administration is being given a thorough airing. This is mainly because it is Bauzá who is doing the airing. He said recently that "we (although it's not clear who we are) have been working with experts to find an appropriate and effective way to apply trilingual teaching (TIL)".

Was this an admission that the TIL he introduced was not appropriate and effective? Not that he has said as much, and nor will he ever do that. He admits to having made mistakes but has not specified what these were. There are many who will happily identify mistakes, the biggest of which was TIL.

Company is not ruling out TIL. He believes that it could be introduced by consensus, but only if there is an avoidance of ideological issues: maximum consensus without any imposition. He has stopped short of condemning Bauzá, but there's no disguising the reading between the lines. There were things that the last PP government did which made its defeat at the 2015 election all the more likely, and TIL was most definitely one of them.

Regardless of who is elected as leader, the 2019 election manifesto is certain to be more specific about trilingual teaching than the 2011 manifesto was. And that manifesto could not have been any less specific. It didn't mention TIL. What came to antagonise so many - and I include myself - was the blatant untruth that the electorate had voted for TIL because it was there in the manifesto. This untruth was then repeated by those who didn't bother to check. The "democratic will" card was played when in fact there was no card available: TIL as an election pledge was to become a fabrication.

The reference made by Company to imposition says it all. TIL was imposed - or imposition was attempted - as a thinly disguised means of downgrading Catalan. Once the "free selection" of teaching languages by parents - Catalan or Castellano - proved to be a failure, Bauzá introduced TIL. English was the patsy for an initiative that from the outset demonstrated education policy subnormality. That's because it wasn't used for educational purposes; only political ones. Had it been only for early primary and infant levels, then there would have been some sense. But this wasn't the case.

Bauzá now says that experts are assisting with a "new formula" for TIL. Where were those experts when he was president? Were they ever presented? Were they ever named? One person who was close to being an expert was Bauzá's "professor", his first education minister, Rafael Bosch. He had a background in education. When he came to appreciate the difficulties with TIL, he was ousted, branded a "Catalanist" and replaced by the inexperienced Joana Maria Camps, under whom the policy degenerated into protest and farce.

It was seemingly Bauzá who offered himself as the expert. Off he and Bosch went to Switzerland to see how multi-language education operates. As Switzerland is in any event a multi-language society, it was not representative of what he was seeking. But there was a question about his policy that was never truly raised and so given a satisfactory answer. Why was teaching in a foreign language felt to be so important?

Having a third language from the start of a pupil's education cycle should have benefits - one can see that - but what of countries where there are high levels and standards of English, where it isn't a teaching language per se: the likes of the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden? While there are instances of its use, it is more a case of it being integrated into school life and, especially in the Netherlands and Sweden, everyday life.

There is therefore a considerable societal difference in the Balearics, and it is this which needs addressing. Introducing English at a very early age may well assist, but doing so would require overcoming obstacles, not least some of the teaching community. Imposition isn't the way. If Bauzá is really a good educationalist, then he should have learned that lesson.

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