Born in Australia, educated in UK and settled in Finland, its main objective was to discover and solve one of the "dramas" of some European countries. "We did not understand how it was possible that after eight years of studying English at school, the students left the classrooms without being able to pronounce a sentence in that language," he says. The big problem is, in his opinion, the methodology of the centers, based on the memorization of theory and repetition, and the secondary role that teachers give to critical thinking.
Marsh, who has advised the Finnish Government on pedagogical innovation, has led different projects for more than 25 years in that country and currently helps Mexican schools in their process of methodological transformation, was last September in the second Educational Innovation Congress of Zaragoza, where he answered the questions of EL PAÍS.
Question. Why countries like Spain do not get their students finish compulsory education with an acceptable level of English?
Answer. In the early nineties, the strategy of European integration of languages identified monolingualism as a serious problem in many countries. When analyzing the hours that were destined in France to learn German or in Spain to learn English, they realized that the results were very poor. The students did not master the language to communicate effectively. After eight years of schooling, it was not understood that some children could barely pronounce a sentence in English. It was a clear symptom that something was not being done well and wasted resources. At that time I started working on an initiative of the European Comission to create a group of experts who will design an effective program. After two years, a team of psychologists, linguists, pedagogues and scientists came to the conclusion that there was a way to do it.
P. What method did they develop? How is it different from traditional teaching?
R. Learning a language requires formulas to exchange knowledge and cooperate. What is happening in Spain and in other European countries is that the monolingual method is used, this means that you try to teach English with the same formula used in the Spanish language class. It has been proven that this does not work. CLIL is a methodology that is based on group work, in constant conversation. In learning a language through other subjects. The professor's speech is no longer useful. In most countries, bilingual schools are located in privileged areas, where students come from families with high incomes and travel abroad. They are not real examples, but an exception. The term bilingualism is captious.
P. A student who does not stay abroad, will he never be able to master another language well?
R. When we started to develop CLIL, the first thought was to call it mainstream bilingual education (in Spanish, generalized bilingual education). But we detect a problem: the word bilingual is dangerous and generates false expectations. Those expectations feed ignorance. Many people think that being bilingual is mastering two languages to the same degree. Parents believe that if they take their child to a bilingual school they will acquire another language in the short term. CLIC is not a very attractive name, but it was a tremendous commitment on our part. The time has come to review the meaning of bilingual school.
P. What is the main mistake teachers make?
R. Many of them enter class, close the door and speak. Although they say that their class is very interactive, it is usually a teacher's monologue. They think that working groups is a waste of time, that it takes 10 minutes just to organize them. The problem is that they are not trained, they do not have the tools to make a group work. Then there are the families of the students, who complain because they do not want their children to play in class. Listening to a guy talking does not work; You have to put it into practice.
P. Is there a guide that shows teachers the steps to give a successful bilingual class?
R. The key is in the activities in the classroom and in understanding that this dynamic is based on scientific evidence. The teacher has to understand that what he is doing is for the good of the student. In Italy and Spain we have seen that teachers do not understand what this is about the activities and, in many cases, they do it because they are forced to do so. From the investigations of Russian psychologist Lev Vigotski and the Swiss Jean Piaget In the twentieth century, we know that in a group children are more likely to overcome a complex task than alone. Working in small groups in an intensive and structured way is fundamental. The teachers have to control the times very well, plan.
P. There are families who may fear that their children are part of an experiment. Put the emphasis on the learning of a new language to the detriment of subjects such as History and Mathematics. Is it a good idea to give those subjects in English?
R. They could be right and their children are wasting their time. If the methodology used by the center replicates teaching in Spanish instead of focusing on reasoning in English, they have a problem. The teacher asks stupid questions, such as what the student would do if the lottery were to him. If we ask artificial things, we stay in a superficial learning. On the other hand, if you ask them what is the difference between a hero and a celebrity, you are not forcing them to construct an argument in English. There you connect with your emotion, that is the power of CLIL.
P. If effective learning of new languages is so related to educational innovation and renewal of methods, does it make sense to implement it in public centers that have not yet been transformed?
R. We do not have time. An education system needs 20 or 30 years to evolve. Our world changes so fast that we can not wait for the school to adapt. Another question is how does innovation impact the international positioning of schools. Finland has lost its position in PISA, the most recognized international test on education in the world, prepared by the OECD. I used to be in the world top in different rankings, but opted to teach thinking and went down. There are some countries that are cheating, leaving rural areas out of the measurements to score higher. In Finland we have opted for the so-called learning by phenomena, a subject that crosses several subjects and at the same time uses English. For example, unwanted pregnancy in young women, is studied in the subject of economics and from the perspective of health policies.
P. Many teachers are forced to teach in a language they do not master.
R. It is imperative that they have the desire to do so, the concern. If you force them, you are playing with fire. The correct way to implement it is with volunteer teachers during the first years, to make them feel comfortable with the language and to go little by little.
P. Does the CLIL method work with traditional evaluation systems?
R. You have to review the evaluation systems. In Finland standardized tests have been eliminated and until students are not 19 years old they do not face these exams. In CLIL, all lessons include self-assessment, not done at the end of the course. In the case of English, what are certificates, for example, those of Cambridge English? They are standardized tests that are based on algorithms and that often fail, they are not sensitive with the competences of the students. The certificates are based on a number, they are very expensive and employers no longer look at that. They prefer to sit the candidates and see what they can do. Not everything is based on the number of words you master, but on your ability to generate a speech. It's about teaching to think.
P. Is there any aspect of traditional teaching that you would keep?
R. In many countries, schools are run like factories, with military calendars that create stress for children. I have been analyzing what the research says about what factors influence when it comes to learning and one of the fundamental is the level of satisfaction of teachers. Emotions are a determining factor when a child connects or disconnects. Another key is the adaptation of pedagogies to digital media, it is no longer valid only with papers. A recent study of University of Melbourne notes that children are changing very fast, is the fastest generational change ever seen. That change of mentality is causing them to get bored easily in class, and that generates more frustration. Learning by playing is not a waste of time.