If public education in Madrid has a distinctive characteristic, it is the Bilingual Program of the Community of Madrid (PBCM), in which 51% of the students in Primary Education and 62% in Secondary are currently enrolled. Despite its almost two decades of operation, the administration has never carried out a rigorous evaluation of this program nor has it collected the vision of Madrid teachers. Faced with this serious deficiency, the Movimiento de Renovación Pedagógica Acción Educativa together with the MRP Federation of Madrid, and in collaboration with various entities, carried out a survey in 2021 in which 1,724 teachers participated (879 from centers with the PBCM) whose detailed results They will be published in the coming weeks. Here we offer a brief preview.
In line with previous research, the vast majority of teachers acknowledge that teaching subjects in English reduces the depth of the content taught (81%) and negatively affects the level of student comprehension (87%). In turn, two out of three teachers state that the tests used to assess subjects taught in English are simplified. Previous studies have also observed a lower level of depth in textbooks in this language. Therefore, there is a widespread perception that PBCM impoverishes and simplifies learning.
In addition, 87% of teachers consider that this program has pernicious effects on learning Spanish, pointing out one or more of the following consequences: it reduces the range of vocabulary, it increases the difficulties related to written expression and it generates reading comprehension problems. On the other hand, only 19% consider that students learn the contents of the subjects taught in English in Spanish, something that contradicts the curriculum decrees, which establish that the terminology of the areas or subjects must be acquired in both languages.
These learning problems increase substantially in the case of students with special educational needs or with learning difficulties, according to 92% of teachers. This perception is in line with previous studies on students with disabilities. The majority of teachers (51% in Primary and 77% in Secondary) also consider that there is hardly any specific support and adapted evaluations to compensate for the difficulties involved in receiving subjects entirely in another language. This demonstrates a serious breach of the regulations, which establish the need to make flexible and use methodological alternatives in the teaching and evaluation of the foreign language, as well as the convenience of using Spanish when justified. Added to this is the fact that specialists in attention to diversity are not usually prepared to reinforce the contents taught in English, and that the training of conversation assistants is insufficient to support these students. It also violates, as the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has raised, the right of students to “be educated in their mother tongue and [a que] access through it to science, culture, or, in general, to the multiple developments of thought that educational work implies”.
It is striking that such an emphasis is placed on learning English while the results in terms of learning this language are clearly improvable. As an example, after having completed all of Primary and Secondary at the PBCM, 28% of the students finish 4th of ESO without reaching the B1 level and only 45% achieve a B2 level. Perhaps these results are related to the fact that two out of three teachers qualified to teach subjects in English consider that such qualification does not ensure sufficient proficiency to teach a subject in this language, and with the fact that one in two does not have specific training in CLIL methodology ( specific methodology for using a foreign language in content teaching).
The bilingual program also requires a great commitment on the part of families. 90% of teachers affirm that it is common for students to need external support for the fact that they receive classes in English. It is also frequent that the school recommends to families that they reinforce in Spanish the contents of the subjects taught in English. This situation offers an explanation for why Madrid is the region with the highest spending by families on private classes, especially English, and calls into question the advertised democratizing nature of the program, since the success of the students depends, to a large extent, on , of the capacity (competence, financial resources and time) of families to reinforce learning in Spanish and pay for external support.
The view of the teachers also indicates that the bilingual program is responsible for patterns of systematic selection and exclusion. A significant part of the teaching staff knows cases of students without special educational needs who have been dissuaded from joining a bilingual center (21%) or the Secondary Section modality (42%), as well as students who have had to leave the center (42 %) or Section (77%). Access barriers and expulsion processes, even if they are well-intentioned and seek not to harm vulnerable students, are illegal because they violate a fundamental right of children and represent an unacceptable institutional barrier to inclusion.
Regarding the segregation processes, 9 out of 10 Secondary teachers indicate that the student group-classes are usually organized in a pure or stagnant way depending on the modality, with groups made up of a clearly differentiated student profile: the groups Section have a higher proportion of students with high grades and less vulnerability, while those of Program concentrate those with lower grades and greater difficulties. Through this “skimming” process, the Madrid educational system institutionalizes the segregation of students into different itineraries and reinforces educational inequality.
In short, the majority of teachers deeply question the PBCM because it negatively affects learning, segregates unfairly, harms those with the greatest needs and establishes inequalities within the teaching community. Despite this, the Community of Madrid continues to extend the model to more stages and more centers. It is urgent that the government that leaves the polls on May 28 reconsiders the foundations of this model to move towards the inalienable objective of designing an educational system that compensates for inequalities and leaves no one behind.
Also sign this article Cristina Orio.
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