The purpose of this study is to raise awareness amongst the international schools teaching community of the importance of addressing bilingualism of their students in a coherent and structured manner. “International schools are found in various parts of the world. They have been set up primarily to serve the educational needs of the children of those working outside their countries of origin” (Carder 2007). My experience of working in this type a school tells me that improved awareness amongst teachers would not only develop student’s self-esteem and belief in their ability but also raise their academic achievements. I found that even a simple explanation of how the second language is acquired and the importance of developing their mother tongue to help that happen, has a positive impact on students’ motivation and manage their expectations. This study will deal with “additive” bilingualism, “this is when the second language is learnt in addition to, and does not replace, the first language” (Carder 2007). Even those international schools, which use a very rigorous selection criteria to ensure that their students are capable of accessing the curriculum and produce good results find that there is a vast range of nationalities on their roll. According to Carder (2007), even if the students are very proficient in the English language, they still have “hidden” talents or abilities which could not be discovered through English alone.
This study aims to encourage teachers, students and parents not to underestimate the importance of a student’s mother tongue in the race for grades and levels. Cummings (2001) identified that “bilingual children perform better in school when the school effectively teaches the mother tongue and, where appropriate, develops literacy in that language“. It follows that bilingual students at international schools are likely to benefit from a structured approach in development of both languages within the curriculum. Calder (2007) reports positive results in Vienna International School where, amongst other strategies, subject content is delivered and assessed in both, First (L1) and Second (L2) languages. Leaders and administrators who are at the moment reactive in their approach to multi-language situation in their schools and who view this diversity as a problem, might consider trying a proactive approach and adjusting their policies and school plans to reflect this.
In my experience, teaching in an international school makes every teacher a language teacher. Hence, such teachers would benefit from appropriate support and guidance in the form of professional development and on-going support from specialists and specialist departments. This study might also be of interest to parents who are choosing a school for their child and are considering how much support he or she will get with their learning.
The study is limited to one international school in Qatar which delivers the British curriculum and to a group of 25 year 9 boys over a short period of time. The strategies and methods will be adopted from the research done by British and American educators. For example, Gregory & Burkman (2012) argue that the “key to closing the achievement gap” is the development of a “high degree of literacy“. Citing Gregory & Kuzmich (2005a) they introduce a range of graphic organisers and writing frames to support “visual representation of thinking processes“. Calder (2007) and Cummings (2000) are in favour of using mother tongue and English in every lesson to ensure understanding and support the development of both languages. Cummings (2000) also suggests the framework for “contextual support and degree of cognitive involvement in language tasks and activities” which are vital for informed lesson planning. My own experience in education is narrowed to mostly teaching in Britain, this may introduce bias in my evaluation of the results.
I am currently working as a Geography teacher in one of the international schools in Qatar. Some of my views and feelings about teaching and local educational issues I put in a blog which I maintained since my arrival. It holds some of my impressions on how parents choose a school for their children; the issues of choosing IGCSE options in a School in a Middle Eastern country and ever present issues of teaching styles and homework. If interested, the blog can be accessed on: https://anitinerantpedagog.wordpress.com.
My teaching career started in 2000 in one of the inner-city schools in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK and I have been teaching for thirteen years. Whilst teaching in the UK I worked closely with Newcastle University to mentor ITT (Initial Teacher Training) students for both short and long-term teaching practice. At any given time, my classroom had either a small number of bilingual students or none at all. Strong Special Educational Needs (SEN) department had a range of programs to help newly arrived or existing bilingual students. As a teacher, I was aware of the needs of these students and planned my lessons accordingly.
In 2011 I moved to the Middle East and assumed a Head of Department role for Humanities in my current school. This was a completely new experience for me as the overwhelming majority of my students are now bilingual or “emergent” bilinguals (Garcia & Kleifgen 2010). Within a short time, I realised that great majority of students struggle with English -medium delivery of curriculum. Being a bilingual myself, I could strongly emphasise with the challenges they face. This prompted me to conduct present research.
Qatar is small country in the Middle East which only recently started to use the wealth generated from their natural resources for the development of the economy, health care, infrastructure and education. In 2008, His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani approved the most important document, Qatar National Vision 2030, which is now shaping the country’s future. Education has been recognised as one of the pillars of building a successful and stable society. “Qatar more than doubling its education spending over the past five years to reach more than $6bn this year” (The Peninsula 2013).
Formal education, as it is known in the western world, is a relatively new development in Qatar. In 1948 the first official school for boys was established, followed by formal education of girls in 1957. Equal attendance in schools was achieved by 1970 (Gulf Times, 2012). The latest and most radical reform was introduced in 2002. It encouraged and supported the establishment of Independent schools which are now working under the guidance and supervision of the Supreme Educational Council (SEC). Their priority is an education of Qatari nationals and citizens (Qatar, Supreme Education Council, 2012). The Council also oversees the other types of schools, though, to my knowledge and experience, their involvement is rather superficial and lacks structure and consistency. Also there is no publicised national or local strategy from the SEC to address the needs of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or bilingual learners.
The first international schools were set up to cater for children of non-Arabic speaking expatriate workers. However today the situation has changed. Expatriates comprise the great majority of the population, about 87% (Jesse Solomon, 2012). Their children have limited choices of schooling in their mother tongue as the great majority of international schools in Qatar are English-speaking (Information available from Expatwoman.com/qatar). Considering that native English speakers account for less than 13.6% of the migrant population (Jesse Solomon, 2012), it is evident that some of the biggest challenges many such schools face are to do with English as an additional language.
Some international schools are solving these problems by using a highly selective entrance criteria, which is openly declared on their websites. Park House English Private School, for example, advertises on their website (2013) that, “good command of English” is essential and that “priority is given to first language English speakers”. It is no surprise that the school results in IGCSE in 2012 are A*- C – 87% and A*-A – 36%.
Doha College has approximately 1600 students on the roll and also presents itself as a “selective entry school”. It operates under the sponsorship of the British Embassy and delivers even greater results: A*-C – 89% and A*-A- 54% (Doha College website, 2013). These are much higher than 2013 GCSE results in the UK, A*-C -68.1% and A*-A – 21.3% (BBC News, 2013).
There are some schools, however, which accept students with a wide range of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) – where spoken language is developed to operate within a given environment, and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) (Cummings, 2012) where students have mastered academic language to various degrees of proficiency, and also with a variety of special educational needs. Al Khor International School is a good example. It is sponsored by two main gas companies in the country, and educates the children of their employees. This is the only school in the whole country that I can find, which has a large and well-structured English as Additional Language (EAL) department which is integrated in all subjects across the curriculum and develops individual support programmes for their students (Al Khor International School website).
I have lived in Qatar for over one and a half years and most of that time I have been teaching in my present school. It is an international school which operates a British Curriculum, and all the instruction is in English. The intake consists predominantly of children from Qatar and other Arab nations, others are from Indian, Pakistani, Spanish, Korean, English, Canadian and Australian backgrounds. As a result, for 88.4% of learners, English is a second language. It is also significant that 38.2% of the total student population are Qatar nationals (School statistics 2013).
According to my observations, one of the other important issues to consider is that Qatari Nationals, encouraged by the government which promotes the population increase through large families, are often having six, seven or eight children. Not all of the parents are well educated and there is an over-reliance on foreign-language speaking servants to bring up these children. As a result, the younger generation often lacks the support needed to learn their mother tongue and have only limited English language skills taught by adults with often mediocre skills themselves. In my school, 80 % of native Arabic speakers study Arabic and 20% attend ‘Easy’ Arabic (School Statistics, 2013). Cummings (2001) observed that “the level of development of children’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development” and it follows that these students have difficulty in achieving competence in English.
In my school, the curriculum has been ‘lifted’ from the UK and imbedded without any adaptation for the needs of the 88.4% of students who are bilingual. At the start of every year, the English department conducts the baseline tests. And every year they are faced with very challenging results (School statistics, 2013). There is some EAL support as per the School Improvement Plan though it is provided for by an unqualified teacher. There is no department to coordinate the support for students and teachers in school on the issue, or professional development opportunities to raise the question of adapting teaching and assessment to the needs of majority of the learners. In fact, the Plan clearly states that there is “One summative assessment method” (School Development Plan 2012-2015).
The EAL policy, written in 2011, is only followed in English lessons, and is conformed with to limited extent. Consequently, the IGCE results for 2013 stand at 55% of A*-C including Math and English and at the top end, only 19% achieved A*-A (School statistics, 2013).
From the personal point of view, this study will allow for my deeper understanding of triggers and processes involved in teaching bilingual students. This will inform my own practice and also will support the professional development of other staff.
My stay in this country is temporary. If and when I am to return to the UK, I am likely to face similar issues as, in 2011, OfSTED identified that pupils for whom English is an additional language were ‘making inadequate progress’ (NALDIC).
Al Khor International School, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://akis.sch.qa/ [Accessed 25 November 2013].
BBC News, 2013. ‘GCSEs 2013: Top grades fall for second year in a row’, BBC News [Internet] 22 August. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23783094 [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Carder, M. (2007) Bilingualism in International Schools: A Model for Enriching Language Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Cummings, 2012. ‘Dr Jim Cummins explains the differences between BICS and CALP’. . Available at: http://vimeo.com/56112120 [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Cummings, J. (2001). ‘Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why is it important for education?’, SPROGFORUM, 19 [Internet]. Available from: http://www.fiplv.org/Issues/CumminsENG.pdf [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Cummings, J. (2000) Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire, Toronto, Multilingual Matters Ltd., Kindle edition
Doha College, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://www.dohacollege.com/ [Accessed 25 November 2013].
EXPATWOMAN.com, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://www.expatwoman.com/qatar/search.aspx [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Garcia, O. & Kleifgen, J.A. (2010) Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Language Learners. New York, Teachers College Press, Kindle edition.
Gregory, G.H. & Burkman, A (2012) Differentiated Literacy Strategies: Grades 7-12 for English Language Learners, London, Corwin, Kindle edition.
NALDIC news. ‘OfSTED requires teachers to meet bilingual learners’ needs’, NALDIC [Internet]. Available at: http://www.naldic.org.uk/eal-advocacy/eal-news-summary/131211 [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Park House English School, 2013 [Internet]. Available at: http://parkhouseschool.com/Home [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Qatar. Supreme Education Council (2012) , ‘ Education and Training Sector Strategy 2011-2016: Executive Summary’. Doha: Supreme Education Council. Available at: http://www.sec.gov.qa/En/about/Documents/Stratgy2012E.pdf [Accessed 25 November 2013].
Solomon, J 2012. ‘Qatar Migration Profile’ [Internet]. The American University in Cairo. Available at: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CFAQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcmrsdb.aucegypt.edu%2Findex.php%2Feng%2Fcontent%2Fdownload%2F1906%2F11330%2Ffile%2F12.Qatar%25202012.pdf&ei=Djh2UreYFcTLsgby_4GIBQ&usg=AFQjCNHiqwqlgH_Q-0ryKzRZR1MpHsiSPg&sig2=HXxNECcQ5m0pWGL5RUi52Q [Accessed 25 November 2013].
The Gulf Times 2012, ‘Celebrating Qatar’s rich history of education’, The Gulf Times [Internet], 18 December 2012. Available from: http://www.gulf-times.com/opinion/189/details/335895/celebrating-qatar%E2%80%99s-rich-history-of-education http://www.gulf-times.com/opinion/189/details/335895/celebrating-qatar%E2%80%99s-rich-history-of-education [Accessed 25 November 2013].
The Peninsula 2013, ‘Qatar’s education spending among highest in the world’, The Peninsula, 16 August. Available from: http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/249047/qatar’s-education-spending-among-highest-in-the-world [Accessed 25 November 2013].
School Statistics are available on request from the author.