Alsace teachers oppose bilingual education

Corinne Nicolet at the SNUiip office in Strasbourg. PHOTO Bobbie van der List

STRASBOURG – In the first months of 2011 bilingual classes were doing strikingly well, compared to the monolingual classes in the Strasbourg public primary schools. Bilingual education seems a freeway to the German job market. Teachers however, form an obstacle – upset because they don’t have a say in the process of opening bilingual classes.

Bobbie van der List

Corinne Nicolet (53) is teacher at a French primary school. In her free time Nicolet works for the SNUipp (trade union for teachers in Alsace primary schools). While monolingual classes had to close, bilingual classes were opened in 2011. That’s the main concern of SNUiip.

Graph ics

Top: statistics about bilingual and monolingual classes in district Strasbourg in 2011. Bottom: information about bilingual education in the Alsace

Bilingual classes without the teacher’s permission

For parents it’s possible to start a bilingual class within a public school. All they need is to get permission of the institution responsible for education, called Académie de Strasbourg, and the particular municipality. The minimum required to start a class is 16 children. ,,The classes are imposed on us.”

,,Even if the school doesn’t want to teach with the bilingual method, they’re forced. 12 hours in French and 12 hours in German.”

Although Nicolet thinks that having a bilingual education is a good thing, she does say that imposing bilingual teaching methods to schools, confronts head masters with practical problems.

Not enough German speaking teachers for the schools

,,In the Alsace region there aren’t enough German teachers. The Alsace is the only region where we can speak German. I don’t speak German; I speak Spanish. But for me it’s forbidden to speak Spanish with my pupils. Here it’s German, German, German, German.”

She says it’s ridiculous, especially for an iconic European city as Strasbourg. ,,Why can’t we teach in other languages? Arabic, Turkish, English?”

Volunteers are folding leaflets and newsletters. PHOTO Bobbie van der List

Isn’t it logical since German is the language people use near the border?

,,Yes, it’s logical. But in other regions in France, near Cataluña for instance, you can speak English, Spanish and Catalan in the school. And here you cannot speak any other foreign language other than German.”

Can’t afford expensive classes during  cut back reforms

The recent education reforms also have a negative influence on the bilingual ambitions of parents and regional authorities. Retired teachers don’t get replaced anymore – that’s the policy in Paris. ,,Only this week we closed  120 teaching posts. Only in the Strasbourg department. On a national scale 16.000 jobs will be cut.”

A direct result of that policy are bigger classes, with more pupils. ,,While the schools are facing cutbacks, the government is helping to open bilingual classes.” Nicolet thinks that money could be used more wisely.

,,It’s a big problem, for the first time. And how can you learn a foreign language in a class with 33 children?”

Newsletters for the biggest trade union in France - FSU. SNUiip is part of that trade union. PHOTO Bobbie van der List

Strategy to get better education

Besides the financial worries of German classes, she still believes it’s an elitist ‘thing’. ,,Especially high educated parents use the opening of bilingual classes as a strategy to get better education for their children.”

Nicolet explains that the bilingual classes are smaller than monolingual classes in the same public schools. In that regard, children in bilingual classes get more attention than their pairs in monolingual classes.

,,It’s a strategy used by the parents to get a better education. They don’t care about the language.”

For the response of the Alsace Regional Council on the accusation of the SNUiip, click HERE.

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