Arwel Williams, Bilingualism Manager at Coleg Gwent, considers creative opportunities to embed bilingualism in post 16 education, learning from experts and peers from near and far.
Bilingualism and teaching and learning go hand in hand and we see in our colleges that bilingualism is at its best when it is naturally embedded in learning programs, as well as in the general ethos of our colleges.
It was inspiring to hear about the experiences of a large delegation from Wales to the Basque Country recently at a meeting of ColegauCymru’s Bilingualism Network. The presentation by members of the delegation inspired very interesting discussions on good practice in terms of normalising a minority language and the importance of sound policy and effective language planning.
I would very much like an opportunity to follow up that presentation with a discussion on how to structure the mainstreaming of bilingualism such that it becomes effective and natural. That is why I’ll be attending the forthcoming Teaching and Learning Conference, where experts from the Basque Country will lead two sessions on this very issue.
Of course, the linguistic nature of the communities served by our colleges varies widely. But the main challenges are common to us all. Although not a natural bilingual catchment area, Coleg Gwent has seen growth in the number of Welsh speakers. The new Welsh medium secondary school for Newport, which is expected to open in September this year, should stimulate further growth. The most recent statistics and research also strongly suggest a growth in demand for bilingual post-16 education in the coming years. There has, in addition, been an increase in demand for Welsh-speaking workforce in all areas of Wales, including catchment Coleg Gwent.
It is therefore important that we as a college, and indeed, all Welsh colleges, plan effectively for meeting this demand for bilingual education. The further education sector has a big responsibility to ensure continuity of Welsh-medium education from school to bilingual education at post-16 and also to contribute to a bilingual workforce in our communities.
The ColegauCymru Bilingualism Network is an active and important forum that supports colleges as they expand bilingual provision and promote the use of Welsh. It provides an opportunity to share new ideas emanating from conferences such as the Learning and Teaching Conference, plus the experiences of network members in their individual colleges as well as visits to other countries. Personally, attending the network has been very helpful to me in my first year as Bilingual Manager at Coleg Gwent. The level of cooperation and support is great and it is a pleasure to be a proactive member of the network.
It has also been my pleasure to be part of the ColegauCymru application for Erasmus+ funding to visit Catalonia during the coming year. The proposal, if successful, will seek to gain an overview of the structure of vocational provision in Catalan, and consider how it meets the linguistic needs of the workplace. It will also be a golden opportunity to observe innovative Catalan lessons in vocational schools and of course, share good practice between the two countries.
This is an exciting time in the history of bilingual teaching and learning in Wales. Opportunities to share good practice and to consider creative opportunities to embed bilingualism are very important and go a long way to in motivating and inspiring informed discussions for future improvements.