CLIL- Questions for David Marsh.

David Marsh has worked on multilingualism and bilingual education since the 1980s. He was part of the team which conducted groundwork leading to the launch of the term Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in 1994. In 2002, he coordinated production of CLIL – The European Dimension: Actions, Trends and Foresight Potential for the European Commission (DG EAC). This overview of the situation in Europe was used in the compilation of the 2004–2006 EC Action Plan: Promoting Language Learning & Linguistic Diversity. During 2008–2009 he coordinated an international research team (on behalf of the European Commission) examining the evidence available concerning the impact of multilingualism on the brain. He is currently acting as Strategic Director for CCN (Europe), and handles various educational development and research initiatives in the European Union and East Asia.

David - Buckingham Palace 11-2008

1. Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am based in Finland and for many years have been involved with educational transformation, particularly in additional language learning. This has involved assignments across the world, mainly in the European Union, Asia, Africa and more recently Latin America.

2. Finland frequently ranks very high in international evaluation studies, why is this?
This is mainly through a sustained drive to improve the aspirations of its citizens and society through strengthening its social, economy and political security, and doing this, partly, through ensuring quality inclusive education.

3. You are known internationally as an expert on educational integration particularly in relation to AICLE/CLIL. What is AICLE/CLIL?

CLIL is a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language. AICLE/CLIL describes the types of learning environments, that need to be created to make this type of education successful.

4. Where did the CLIL journey begin?
In the early 1990s Europe was attempting political integration, but additional language learning outcomes were far too poor. In fact, quite miserable, given the amount of time dedicated to language learning in the curriculum across K-12. The European Commission was looking for solutions. Finland was suffering an economic crisis that was a microcosm of the European Sovereign debt crisis which has now struck Spain. Finland needed to rapidly develop international life skills, and my CLIL journey was heavily related to this at the time.

A group of us looked at successful language learning movements across the world, analyzed these according to research, searched for commonalities of successful practice, and then designed models which could be used in mainstream schools with broad cohorts of learners. There was no blueprint we could import or export, so we needed to seek and suggest solutions in situ. The term was launched in 1994, after two years of consultation with subject and language educators. At that time, we recognized that although language teaching in some contexts was superb, there was often rarely enough time within the curriculum for teachers to achieve the outcomes they desired. So something had to be done – politically, socially and educationally. The story is not unlike that of Canada, although the chapters are very different.

5. What are the driving forces behind CLIL?
These have evolved over the past years. The demand for higher proficiency in English language has always been significant. But as understanding of the potential of the methodologies spread, so languages other than English are increasingly being used for CLIL. So, one major driver is additional language learning.

Secondly, there is the question of improving the learning of other subjects. Counterintuitive as it may seem, improving the learning of other subjects by learning them through a second/foreign language is also a significant driver.

Thirdly, research from the educational neurosciences on the benefits of having two or more languages active in the environment is an important player.

Fourthly is the significance of literacies in this digital information age. As the Internet generations develop Digital (as an additional language) so there is a need to rethink all subject learning through a language-sensitive perspective.

6. Are you familiar with the recent TIL Decree in the Balearic Islands?
I have read an English translation of the Decree.

7. How does it compare to any other similar legal decrees that you have seen?
The depth of detail in the text shows that it has been constructed by both system-based and practical educational expertise. The objectives are sound. What is weak is the description of the delivery process. This description tries to accommodate different school-based resources for embarking on this type of trilingual education system, but lacks the kind of precision and time-frame which is required to ensure success.

8. Are you aware of the controversies and resistance to this from both teachers and the general public?
I only have second-hand knowledge of this. On the basis of this, it would seem that the delivery plan for TIL now needs to be managed in an appropriate way.

9. Managed in what sort of way?
Changing the medium of instruction and learning in any society is a highly sensitive issue. Stakeholder engagement with all parties is essential. The objectives have to be clear to all key stakeholders. The delivery plan has to be negotiated and jointly constructed. Like all good things in life this requires people feeling secure, and most importantly, giving sufficient time for start-up. Innovation like this is always messy, and sometimes the status quo has to be challenged and this may require courageous decision-making. I don’t know enough to say more about how TIL was introduced. But what I do know is that educational innovation usually invites a degree of ‘rough and tumble’ in the early days.
Globally success can be seen where a small operating unit is created which coordinates communication and implementation between all major parties involved, especially administration, schools and the general public.

10. What are the key elements required in what you call ‘the delivery plan’?
There needs to be a flow of learning assured from early years through to the end of secondary education. This flow requires a process of curriculum mapping which leads to a curricular plan for the three languages which accommodates age-based learning requirements in terms of how much of which subjects are taught in which languages. It requires cohesion of how the three languages are taught as subjects. It needs to ensure that children whose home language is none of the three languages are fully able to engage in the flow. It needs to accommodate children with special or specific needs, the proportion of which is often much higher than people often think. It needs to ensure coherence through the school years so that across the islands there isn’t a risk of children having different fragmented learning experiences. Finally the resources have to be in place, or in the case of English, embryonic as the plan beds into the system. I assume that these have been thought through but they are not strong enough yet in the original decree itself. What often happens is that a detailed delivery plan follows a decree, and in TIL this is largely school-based. It would be best to have a single strategic road map for all of the schools. This is not difficult to do.

11. Do you think that the Decree is actually sound?
An opportunity for the children of these islands to experience quality trilingual education is admirable. If I were a parent with children in this school system I would welcome it.

12. One burning question here is the level of linguistic competence in English that a teacher should have to ensure success in the English medium courses. What is the minimum level, thinking of the European Framework scales?
We are talking here about a plurilingual education experience with all the cognitive, linguistics and life skills that this entails. There are different ways that teachers who have diverse levels of competence in English can work together to ensure success. I would look for integrated curriculum strands as opposed to separate subjects for the English medium education – the same strands across the schools at both primary and secondary level. This then will enable similar quality base materials to be shared and used across the schools, and the same repertoire of activities and processes. The minimum level of fluency in English language of an individual teacher is not the first issue to be addressed. Each school will have wide diversity of English language skills amongst its staff. It is the process that is first and foremost the issue to handle. The language skills of an individual teacher are in second place. If there is initial widespread linguistic deficit then the process will be different to one where a school has linguistically able staff. Let me put it this way, this is an issue of methodologies and blending of languages not just language. It is about AICLE/CLIL.

13. So, as you leave the Balearic Islands now, what are your thoughts?
This is a window of opportunity for the lives of the children in the present and future educational system, and the autonomous region. I hope that polarization of agendas, (political, cultural, social and professional) doesn’t blind those involved to what can be achieved. Think additive, not subtractive. Think of this as a catalyst for transforming education, not just a matter of Catalan, Castilian and English. Think of it as education for the 21st century bringing out the best in all the young people, the future adults upon whom future social and economic security depends. And, finally there are longer-term aspirations that often transcend the shorter-term ‘realpolitik’ – aspirations that apply to citizens of differing political interests, and TIL is one of those. As Andreas Schleicher of the OECD recently said, ‘your education today is your economy tomorrow’*.

Thank you.

* OCED: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Andreas Schleicher has become one of the world’s most influential figures in education.

Download the Catalan translation of this interview.
Download the Spanish translation of this interview.

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