Wilhelmsson: Educating Future Eurocrats
September 29, 2009, 11:17 am
Piet Van De Craen is a full-time professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the secretary of the European Language Council
. Via brain scans, he has now found that bilingual children solve cognitive problems with less effort than children speaking only one language. Kids bilingual from home had better results than those that only had a second language from school. These findings where based on only 13 children being brain-scanned, but they do support the use of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL
) on school aged children (i.e. do not only teach language but offer real bilingual teaching). In addition, Van De Craen emphasizes that this, of course, also means that additional languages should be introduced as early as possible.
The good news is that at the European Institutions' schools, CLIL is practiced as the children get older. The bad news is that choice of language is strangely limited; compared to the general Brussels environment, they start rather late with second languages. Some local schools start even later, some earlier. But it is, in principle, a city where everyone is at least bilingual. Now given that quite a lot of children follow their parents' footprints, we can assume that a fairly high proportion of the kids going to the European Schools are our future civil servants in the European Union.
So it does feel a bit outdated that they have their native language as a first option and that only at the age of seven does the option of a second language present itself – and that the options are: French, German or English. The choice of a third language arrives at the age of 10. In the teenage years, a fourth language can be added, and the options widen a bit (well, if there is sufficient demand to form a class for your chosen tongue). At least one of the European schools offers Chinese, but otherwise only European languages are on offer.
In principle, this means that Eurocrats' kids can go through a full education in Belgium without ever learning the minority language (French) or the majority language (Dutch) Dutch, the latter being unavailable until the age of thirteen even for a child born in Brussels! This may be practical for future integration back home but must also contribute to a lot of alienation among youths in Brussels. Not to mention, it is rude towards the host country.
It would seem natural to have one of the local languages as a first foreign language with obligatory English as a second one – with some other big language such as Arabic, Chinese, Spanish or Russian as third. Native language(s) can be studied by support education if needed. This would facilitate a greater level of European integration, maybe ensure a little more independence for the kids and hopefully give them a better start in a globalized world.
Well, this wasn't really among the aims of 1953, in the words of Jean Monnet:
Educated side by side, .... Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.
The current system probably does deliver new Eurocrats that can Â“complete and consolidateÂ” the work of their parents, but I do not believe it is good for children to be programmed in that way. If the European schools are the greenhouses for future Eurocrats, I would like to see them raised as empowered citizens, enabled by critical thinking to drive development forward to ensure that they fit into a more global world than the one of 1953. ItÂ’ is a concern for us all as the European Institutions become more and more important in all sectors of life.