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“This is a a section of the school population that has major language difficulties, due to the rather closed family circles of the pupils themselves on the Costa del Sol, where most British families speak their native language only, shop in British supermarkets and shops, go to bars where only English is spoken and generally make little effort to integrate into Spanish society,” says Joaquín Perea, coordinator of the Intercultural Programme of the Education Delegation in the Junta de Andalucía.
One of the results of these difficulties is the school mediator, whose function is to attempt to bridge the gap between immigrant families and the schools. There are currently 13 such mediators in the province, and one of them is Mary Jones, who works with pupils and their families in the Axarquía region. As far as Jones is concerned, there are many reasons for this failure by British pupils to adapt. To begin with, and as is the case of Spain, Britain has never had a bilingual tradition, thus making it all the more difficult for British pupils to learn Spanish. The British way of life does not help either, we are told. “The British are not a very expressive nation, and are not accustomed to speaking in loud voices in public. They have a difference concept of personal body space as well,” says Jones.
She adds that the difference in timetable is a further complication to full integration. “At playtime in schools here, they want to have lunch instead of playing, and when the Spaniards are having lunch, they want to play,” she says. But the biggest difficulties they have is the educational system itself, which gives rise to a lot of misunderstanding between teachers and parents. “In the United Kingdom, they tend to promote creativity and self-expression, and many of them leave school without being able to read and write well. Here, the system ensures that they all learn the basics, according to established rules,” says Mary Jones.
This means that most pupils taking part in the intercultural plan for immigrants, a programme set up to assist foreign pupils in Spanish schools, are British.
The first tool used in this programme is the so-called Temporary Classes for Linguistic Adaptation, whose function is self-explanatory. There are 149 such classes throughout the province, with 80 teachers, and they are located in the areas with the highest numbers of foreign pupils.
A total of 1,975 children attend these classes in groups of no more than ten. Another instrument used is integration support through extracurricular activities in Spanish, provided in 112 primary and secondary schools.
But the efforts being made go further than teaching language alone. “It is not enough to teach them a new language,” says Joaquín Perea. “We must also encourage a more open system where there is real cultural interchange.” To achieve this, the schools also teach the languages of origin of the foreign pupils. “They should not lose their ability to communicate in their own languages, and they must learn to read and write in these languages as well,” he adds.
The schools have also had to adapt to new times, as far as teaching methods are concerned, and this has meant additional language training for primary and secondary school teachers. “At the beginning, when massive immigration started in Spain, the teachers were at a loss as to how to handle foreign pupils. They have had to be re-trained in this respect,” says Perea. Part of this training has been a series of projects aimed at teaching teachers, and so far, there have been 120 such projects iniciated, at a cost of 600,000 euros.
Teachers are also able to travel to the countries some of their pupils come from, to gain a better understanding.