Meeting the needs of local industry and the local community
Day #3: findings of the delegation from Wales’ further education sector which is visiting the Basque Country in order to share good practice on bilingualism in the post-16 education and training sector.
Setting out on day 3 to Tolosoldea vocational college, we were first greeted by colourful graffiti-covered walls – creative students had been at work. The buildings and environment reminded us of colleges at home, one or two tired looking buildings with other areas transformed and modernised.
We were welcomed by a team of six lecturers and a presentation in English – with help from our interpreters, Jon and Pablo. Then we were taken around the learning areas, whilst hearing of the teaching methodologies employed – challenge-based; critical thinking; reflecting on own skills and independent learning.
Every college specialises in those subjects that respond to local industry needs. The specialisms of this college are in industries such as engineering, electrical and mechanical. It is the companies who identify the demand for workers and who then lead on creating the curriculum in response to gaps in the workplace. The close collaboration between colleges and local companies has been very apparent in all aspects of the visit so far.
This college offers every course through the medium of Basque – it’s the only college that does so. This is the identified need – a finding of research 15-20 years ago – and is the main language used in the area. There isn’t a shortage of teachers to teach through the medium of Basque. Each teacher has the highest Basque language qualification, that is, HE2 according to IRALE levels.
We came to understand that governmental structures in the Basque Country are very different to those in Wales. Here in the Basque Country, teachers are employed centrally by the Basque government. On the other hand, staff at Tolosolde were surprised to hear of regular inspections by Estyn. Such a system does not exist here!
Also different are the Basque-medium community schools. That was where we turned next following a traditional Basque lunch.
At a nearby IKASTOLA – a Basque-medium community school – we had presentations from the head of an IKASTOLA school and the head of the IKASTOLA network. This system of Basque-medium community schools had been created in homes and community buildings by families, professional educators and the wider community. By the people for the people. Initially, they had offered something different to the community. By now, there are 4,500 teachers and 51,600 students in the IKASTOLA schools.
We heard from Ana – a member of the management team of the Tolosako Immakulada Lanbide Ikastola vocational school – that the medium of instruction of the school had been changed from Spanish to Basque in just five years. Amazing! It was clear that it had been a whole school initiative and that it had been everyone’s responsibility – including the students, teachers, parents and the wider community.
50-60% of vocational students at the school speak the Basque language. Students attend this particular school in order to develop their language skills and study their chosen subjects. Language immersion is the way that students learn and build upon their linguistic ability. Put simply, the main aim is that students leave the school with the ability to communicate and work in their field using the Basque and Spanish languages.
We’ve seen a positive attitude towards multilingualism in the Basque Country. It’s clear that the vision is supported by all – the ownership of the Basque language is central to the system and the community is key to the success of the Ikostola schools.
Thank you to the team #CymruBasg for jointly contributing to the blog, namely: Angharad Mai Roberts, Claire Roberts, Bryn Hughes Parry, Anna Fflur Davies, Branwen Thomas, Caren Efans, Osian Jones, Fflur Rees Jones, Helen Humphreys, Lowri Morgans. Additional editing by Sylvia Davies.