I spent a very interesting morning discussing vvto (early foreign language education) research projects. We were the jury designated to determine which of the various projects submitted should win this year’s prize (500 euros) and the title of “best vvto research project”. The jury comprised myself, a university teacher trainer (primary ed.) who is also chairman of the Vedocep (www.vedocep-levendetalen.nl), the head teacher of a vvto primary school and another university teacher trainer (primary ed.). There were various prerequisites which may have meant a number of possible projects were automatically excluded but we did, nonetheless, have a fair few to choose from. Until the results are publicised (3 November) suffice to say that the quality varied ENORMOUSLY as did (thankfully) the range of topics. Personally I’m thrilled with the winner – it shows the direction vvto should be taking in the Netherlands. The jury had plenty to discuss – was the theory ok, was the link with the practice relevant, was the research innovative, was the CLIL aspect ok etc etc. But eventually the choice was easy. The prize will be awarded during the SLO conference on November 3rd and published on the European Platform’s website.
If vvto becomes much bigger over here (and it certainly is heading in the right directions) then maybe the Netherland’s MFL education will re-deserve its old status and will move back up the rungs to be able to compete with various other European countries.
In my opinion the most important aspect of vvto is actually “what happens next”? By this, I mean that these children who generally will have been learning English from the age of 4 will eventually make the move to secondary education. Most of the secondary schools in the Netherlands are just not ready for an influx of this type of pupil. There are a number of bilingual secondary schools around but generally they have very little differentiation so that by the end of the first year most of the children are at a similar level (the ex-vvto kids ‘hang around’ on their plateau until the rest catch them up!). Most of these secondary schools are aimed at the slightly higher than average achievers (the country is ‘pillarised’ with streaming at the gate – similar to the old British system of grammar school versus comprehensive and 11+ exams). It’s essential that secondary schools in particular learn how to differentiate appropriately for these young pupils. What’s more, there will be an even greater influx of bilingual kids into further education (colleges and universities). In the Netherlands many of these colleges and universities already offer courses in English so that’s not a problem – but I suspect the current teachers will need some CPD to to get them up to the level of their pupils!
What does all this mean for a country such as the UK which seems to have a steady decline in MFL learners? Much research has already demonstrated the positive effects on the brain of bilingualism. To say it very deliberately provocatively: does this mean that the Dutch will soon be more ‘intelligent’ than the Brits? 😉 Will this change the genetic pool and gradually render the UK 3rd class world citizens? Hmmm, food for thought!