Education in the 21st century (II) Growing together in a social, inclusive and digital education system

The objective of the national research and innovation strategy is to make Luxembourg a country where sustainable, diverse and digital knowledge can thrive. Education plays a key role in this objective. In a cosmopolitan country, it is therefore logical that the education system allows students to grow and learn in an open, diverse and multilingual environment. This is a challenge that researcher Tahereh Pazouki and teacher Sarah Scholtes are eager to embrace! In a first article, we shine a light on the Magrid programme with its creator Tahereh Pazouki. In a second article, we discuss the French literacy pilot project - launched in September 2022 - with Sarah Scholtes.

Literacy in French: growing together

In the Grand Duchy, Luxembourgish, German and French are taught in traditional primary education. This multilingual system is both an advantage and a challenge. In order to provide more equal opportunities for all students with extremely diverse linguistic backgrounds, the Ministry of Education, Children and Youth launched a pilot literacy project in French in September 2022 in four primary schools across the country. The programme is based, more specifically, on the experience gathered in state international schools that follow the European school curriculum. Sarah Scholtes, a teacher in level 2.1 at the Schifflange school, is actively working on this project directly in the field.

Please could you introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Sarah Scholtes. I have been a teacher since 2007 and taught most of my career in level 2. This year marks a first for me, I am a teacher of a level 2.1 class that is literate in French.

Luxembourg is a multicultural society and many languages are spoken on a daily basis in the Grand Duchy. Does multilingualism play an important role in education?

In Luxembourg, multilingualism plays a significant role and the school system must take this linguistic diversity in account. In level 1, the emphasis is initially placed on Luxembourgish, before focusing on German and French in subsequent levels. By this stage, all pupils are literate in German. Moreover, German has also been used as the language of communication in most lessons. However, this has now changed for the pupils enrolled in the pilot class. The French literacy project focuses on learning to read and write in a language that is more familiar to some pupils than German. It is easier for children learn to read and write in a language whose structure they have already mastered or which is closer to a language they already know. Previously, Luxembourgish was considered as a gateway to German. Today, this is no longer the case. Literacy in French is central to making the Luxembourg education system more equitable for the large number of children living in Grand Duchy with an immigrant background and a Latin-based mother tongue. Moreover, parents, irrespective of their country of origin, often opt for French as the language of integration. The use of French further nurtures the link between the school and the home and allows parents to be more actively involved in children's school activities. However, I am not claiming that German should be neglected. The main aim of this pilot project is to ensure a positive beginning in language learning.

Sarah Scholtes

For years you have been teaching children to read and write in German. However, this year things are different. You are teaching in French! What is your initial impression after a few weeks of lessons?

My first impressions are extremely positive. In contrast to the German-speaking curricula, with which I have worked in recent years, the French-speaking approach is more ritual-based. Vocabulary is developed through songs, poems and stories that are repeated and then recited by heart by the children after a few days. Overall, I get the impression that I speak much more in French now than I did in German beforehand. Moreover, I no longer need to translate as much for the children. Speaking French in everyday life as well as during extracurricular activities, coupled with the Trampoline programme (an analytical approach to learning), further simplifies the early stages of literacy. At the start of the school year we systematically practised phonological-awareness exercises on a daily basis. Currently, we are working on the grapheme-phoneme correspondence and the fusion of several graphemes. With the help of literary texts, reading comprehension is developed little by little.

What sort of feedback are you getting from the children?

The children adore the different rituals. If I forget one ritual, they immediately remind me.

Do you speak French in every lesson or do you still use other languages?

For pupils who are literate in French, the roles of French and German have been reversed compared to the pupils who are literate in German: French is the main written and spoken language - "Language 1" - and German - "Language 2" - is learned orally. We speak French in French lessons (9 hours) and Maths lessons (6 hours). German is taught for one hour per week. All the other subjects are taught in Luxembourgish. For us, it was important that Luxembourgish remained the common language of communication and the language of integration for all. As we have a mixed group of children from two different classes in level 2.1, in the secondary subjects the pupils write the classwork in the language in which they are literate. This approach reflects the open-minded approach to languages, outlined in the study plan.

How can you introduce children to a language in a fun and entertaining way?

Learning a language is fun when the teaching is varied and the children are actively involved. Hence, the phases of discovering sounds with all the senses are longer than those when we write in school books. Pupils come to level 2.1 in order to learn to read and write, and to stay motivated. Therefore, it is essential that they quickly achieve their goals. They need to see that their efforts are worthwhile. In this regard, books are just as useful as digital media. Literacy in French does not change the academic pathway to secondary education later on.

Many thanks to Sarah Scholtes for this interview. We would like to inform our readers that, due to layout constraints, some parts of the interview have been summarised.

When the time comes for children to go to secondary school, they must have the necessary skills in both languages - French and German - in order to access secondary education (classic, general or international). French literacy is therefore an additional tool which can be used to better cultivate the needs of the pupils. It is up to the parents to choose in which language a child will learn to read and write.