x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

A professor's plan for bilingual education

A new academic programme could have students taking courses in two languages.

SHARJAH // Students could soon have an opportunity to take classes in two languages.

A proposed programme, called "creative bilingual education" aims to strengthen language proficiency in bilingual pupils, says Dr Anatoliy Kharkhurin, an associate professor of psychology at the American University of Sharjah.

Dr Kharkhurin has applied for a fellowship from the European Commission and will start the programme in the next academic year at a bilingual school in Berlin.

He also is going to apply for a grant from the Emirates Foundation, and hopes to run the scheme at a school in Dubai or Sharjah in 2013.

Dr Kharkhurin, who has spent nearly a decade studying the affect of bilingualism on creativity, said that while bilingualism is common in the UAE, many people here do not develop a full command of both languages.

"Bilingual children tend to have limited skills in each of their languages," he said.

"Let's say you speak English at school, and at home you speak Arabic. Your vocabulary in Arabic will be more related to activities related to your home environment, while your scientific and academic language would be English."

Dr Kharkhurin hopes to bridge the gap with this new programme, in which school classes such as mathematics, physics and art would be instructed in two languages.

It is likely to be introduced in Arabic and English - the most common language pairing in the Emirates.

Dr Kharkhurin insists that the programme would not interfere with the academic curriculum, with students taking the same course as usual but switching language each lesson.

"So let's say you're taking mathematics - one class would be in English, and the following class in Arabic," he said. "You don't change the educational process, you just present the same content, but in two languages."

The programme would first target 10-year-olds, with plans to expand down to kindergarten and up to Grade 12. It would be open even to those with only one language.

"The European Commission has published a number of initiatives that aim at improving the linguistics skills of the citizens of Europe to make them fully multilingual," Dr Kharkhurin said. "That's why the project will first take place in Europe, because the European governments are already interested in this kind of work."

As well as language proficiency, the programme aims to help children's creativity, which often diminishes as they grow up.

"Some researchers, specifically [the American psychologist] Mark Runco, refer to this as the 'fourth grade slump' - that by the fourth grade, children lose any touch with creativity.

"And I believe this is the harm caused by the educational system. So it is important to change the educational system as well to introduce this creative technique and methodology to nurture these skills."

 

mismail@thenational.ae

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