Well what a first day on our Catalonia visit! After wandering the streets of Barcelona and a failed attempt at getting the bus, we received directions for the Metro. Two Metro train rides later, we arrived in a residential area which houses the plain looking government building surrounded by lovely palm trees and foliage.
We received a warm welcome from Maria Pascual who’s responsible for our visit throughout the week. Maria is a government officer as well as a teacher, a role known as a ‘Technical Assistant’. During her energetic and passionate presentation we learned that Catalonia has a dual vocational education system where students receive their education by spending a period of time in a School/College and a period of time with an employer. The system is relatively new and they’ve successfully increased the number of students following such a system from 590 during 2012-13 to 7809 in 2016-17. The companies who provide the work experience are assessed by the government to ensure that they are suitable and of a high standard to provide the students with the SKILL and LANGUAGE that they need to succeed. The education is provided through the medium of Catalan and there is an emphasis on learning foreign languages (English, French, German) in order to prepare individuals for a global and competitive labour market.
7.5 million people live in Catalonia with 10 million Catalan speakers worldwide. It was noted that it is not the minority status of the language that is problematic, rather the marginalising of the language as it does not have official status, unlike in Wales.
It was very interesting to learn that the ability to communicate in Spanish is taken for granted and therefore there is not a need to concentrate on the Spanish language in VET (as it is taught as a subject through compulsory education, 6-16 years). Spanish remains the dominant language and it is naturally accepted that children and young people are immersed in the language outside of education. The emphasis is therefore placed on Catalan and other foreign languages.
“The power of the Spanish language is huge in comparison to the Catalan language… so the power of the Spanish language is obvious… the language that we have to protect is still Catalan because many people who don’t have Catalan as the home language, the only place they can learn Catalan is in school” (Monica Pereña Perez, Swyddfeydd Llywodraeth Catalonia, Barcelona, 9 Mai 2017)
The government also have a policy that individuals who wish to be civil servants and teachers (on all levels) in the education system must have a fluency level of C1 in Catalan. So, if they can’t reach this level of fluency on the European Language Framework, then they cannot work in the public sector. A significant emphasis is placed on teacher training in order to up-skill them in delivering their specialist subjects through the medium of Catalan and to specialise completely in their vocational areas. Teachers also receive support in delivering specialist subjects (e.g. maths) via second-language teaching methods in order to respond to the range of linguistic needs across the class and through using only Catalan. There was a feeling of being progressive and innovative in their definite linguistic policies that places Catalan as a priority and is embeded across the range of Government policies.
The Government emphasises the importance of local industries and designs the curriculum to reflect social, industrial and technological needs. The central part of the plan is to provide education in Catalan and introduce other foreign languages.
This was followed by a delicious lunch in the cafeteria where we eagerly discussed and debated what was heard during the morning. There was a lot of food for thought and comparisons were made, naturally, with what is happening in Wales and it created a sense that we don’t have a clear linguistic policy.
After lunch, we went to a Vocational School specialising in five areas of the curriculum (international trade industries, transport and logistics, marketing, sales assistants and opticians), Institut Joan Brossa in the city of Barcelona. The school offers a provision that is specifically targeted and is led by Tatiana Soler Pastor who gave a special presentation to the group. Tatiana coordinates vocational provision at the school but also teaches in the fields of commerce, marketing and sales. She talked about her specific methodology of teaching in different languages including Catalan, Spanish and English. It was very interesting to hear from Tatiana about the demand for Catalan language skills amongst employers. Students must develop Catalan and English language skills in their technical field. The Catalan language has prestige among employers who place status on these skills that encourages learners to continue developing their linguistic ability. There was a presentation and a visit to an optometry classroom / lab and relationships were formed between individuals from Wales and the teachers at the school, which is one enormous benefit of Erasmus+ projects.
It was noted that language is a tool to aid learning and support tutors and learners to become experts in their fields. Multilingualism is an integral and natural part of vocational provision that feels very different from what happens in Wales where we may put too much emphasis on the technical elements of language (especially the grammar!).
Our first day has been extremely useful and interesting, though a bit long! The group is looking forward to a relaxing evening before starting again tomorrow morning with a visit to Institut Carles Vallbona.