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Bilingual education is a programme that is designed to offer education to foreigners or minority groups in their native language. This system has been in place for many years now and dates back to the 1960s.
Its history is as follows: In the 1960s, there was a high influx of foreigners who were Spanish and Mexican. They realized that there was a problem with the current education system because most of the Spanish students were quitting school. The Spaniards did not find it relevant as they couldn’t understand what was being taught. They decided to protest against this. The American president at that time gave them a listening ear. He signed an Act allowing non English speakers to be taught in their native language and to broaden their horizons. This law was reviewed in the 1970s to rectify its anomalies and to make it more efficient.
A number of questions and arguments have been put forward for or against these programmes. In this system, English is a secondary language geared to making students catch up with their academics until they can get comfortable enough to join mainstream English classes.
What l think about bilingual education
‘Bilingual education is a step backward in our education system’
There are plenty of critics in the country opposing this programme and here are the disadvantages;
First of all, students are denied the opportunity to improve their language skills. The question most foreign students normally ask themselves is; what is the need of improving my English when l can still acquire knowledge in another language? Consequently these students relax and may never be fluent in English.
During its inception, bilingual education was formed with the main aim of preparing non- English students to fit into English speaking classes. But this good intention has remained theoretical. In reality, students simply go on and on in bilingual classes without graduating into mainstream classes (Glodis, 2000).
Bilingual classes bring about isolation of students attending those classes. In most schools offering this programme, bilingual classes are situated at a totally different location from other mainstream classes. This makes the minorities appear different and other students may not view them as part of the school. In other words, discrimination may spring up. This is because students become dependent on their native language and cannot blend in with the rest of society (Rosell, 1996).
Bilingual education does not allow students to enjoy benefits of both worlds. This is because students only enjoy scientific, historical and literary works in their own language. They are not able to have a deeper understanding of other people’s culture and way of thinking as views will only be from one side.
Foreign students who attend mainstream classes develop a sense of tolerance of other people’s culture. They get to interact with native students and learn their way of life. However, this is not the case with bilingual programmes.
Bilingual education encourages students to learn only one language. If these students were in mainstream classes, they would be proficient in two languages. Research has shown that most students who can speak two languages or more have a high intelligence quotient. This is because students become great thinkers since they associate two words with one object. Bilingual education thus slows down or prevents foreign students from learning two languages and exploiting their full academic potential.
If a student attends a bilingual class during his/her entire stay in college, then he/she will have fewer employment opportunities in the country or in the community. This is because most industries like banking, accountancy, marketing, law, medicine and education all involve reading and writing English. Besides, one needs to interact with clients or with fellow staff members. However, this is not possible when students are not proficient in English. It should be noted; that students may be able to speak English but may have a problem writing or reading it properly hence they will be unable to apply the skill acquired from a bilingual school (Rosell, 1996).
Foreign students attending mainstream classes have a higher self esteem than those attending bilingual classes. This is because research has shown that students who are proficient in two languages or more feel better about themselves. They are confident in both languages and feel like they have an added advantage over their monolingual counterparts (Glodis, 2000).
It has also been shown that students attending bilingual classes have not shown any academic improvement. For example in the state of California, it was found that 17 % of Spanish speaking students drop out of school while in mainstream classes the number is lower than this amount by seven percent. It was also found that lees than five percent of students graduate from bilingual classes to mainstream classes. The duration by these students is also excessively high. It was found that some students took about 7 years to complete a course in a bilingual school than the normal 3 years in a mainstream class.
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The study further reinforces the idea of failure by the bilingual programme in that, test scores of foreigners in bilingual classes are lower than those foreigners in mainstream classes hence showing that the education system is ineffective (Rodriguez, 1998).
The government is spending a huge sum of money on this system which doesn’t even yield results. This therefore means that state resources are going to waste.
Teachers in bilingual classes are paid much more than those teaching regular classes. This is no small amount; it can be about four thousand dollars more than regular teachers. These teachers have to be trained and the government has to invest so much just to hire them. Millions are going into this programme yet no tangible results are coming from it. Unless the bilingual system is improved, it will simply be viewed as a waste of resources that could have been more useful in another industry (August, 1997).
The bilingual system has brought about a lot of discontent from parents of these foreign students. This because they know that one cannot excel without proper English knowledge. Some Latin speaking parents in Los Angeles have protested over their children’s attendance of bilingual classes. This is an indication that it is a failing system if the people it was designed to help are now protesting against it.
Bilingual education divides the country ethnically. This is an impediment to the unity of the country. Language is a symbol used to unify a country. If one mentions the country United States of America, then it is immediately associated with English speakers. This will not be the case if immigrants are allowed to live in the country with scanty knowledge of the language. Latinos will keep to themselves, Russians will keep to themselves and so will the natives (Glodis, 2000).
English is a secondary language in these bilingual classes. Yet linguists argue that language is best learnt in a free environment from peers. However, this is not the case in these schools. A language is quite difficult to learn when it is taught in a matter of fact way within a classroom setting. If foreign students attended class with plenty of English speakers, then they would learn the language very fast.
A number of factors have been put forward to support the bilingual education system. Some of the advantages of bilingual education include;
Bilingual education helps students with little or no English skills to acquire knowledge. This means that if the programme was not in existence, then foreign students would have to first learn the language proficiently before they can start going to school. This would be a great a hindrance to their learning process.
Teaching students in a language they understand, improves academic performance. This is because students will not have to waste valuable time trying to figure out what concepts mean or translate facts then understand them. They will be focusing on the subject matter and not on the language used or what it could possibly mean in their native language.
Bilingual education instills a sense of pride in one’s culture. Students attending these classes will feel that their languages are good enough to be used as a medium of exchange. It makes them feel confident that their culture is not inferior. Also, because English is still taught in these classes, then students are able to appreciate the diversity of culture in the country (August, 1997).
Bilingual education gives foreign students a sense of identity. They do not feel like they have totally lost themselves in other people’s way of life. This gives them a sense of security and purpose in life.
It is quite clear from the above arguments that the bilingual education system has not succeeded. It had quite noble intentions at its inception but this has not to come to pass. It has instead bred a group of ill equipped students, who have very limited knowledge of English, are dependent on their languages, perform poorly in class and have no place in the real world outside their schools.
It should be noted however, that the spirit behind the bilingual system should be borrowed and used to implement a new programme. The purpose of establishing a bilingual system was to integrate foreign students who had little knowledge in English and to provide them with an opportunity of acquiring knowledge regardless of their shortcomings.
There was a system of ‘swim or float’ in the 1970s, where students who couldn’t fit in with the countries’ culture were secluded. This is abit too harsh.
My recommendation would be a new system called immersion classes. These classes have already begun in some parts of the country. They involve teaching foreigners the English language and other lessons or crucial facts about the American society. These are skills for life. They will enable foreign students to integrate easily and quickly into the country. The classes will pick specific issues that are important for survival and students need not spend a lot of time in these institutions. They can be perceived as bridging courses that will give these students a chance to access equal opportunities in the education system, workplace and in their social lives.
August (1997); Improving Schooling for Language Minority Children: A Research Agenda, National Academy Press.
Rosell, K. (1996): The effectiveness of bilingual education. , a journal by Rossell Keith.
Glodis, G. (2000); Current Bilingual Education Fails, MA Telegram
Rodriguez, G. (1998); English lesson in California: The Nation