February 20, 2024

Virginia Puado is a flight attendant and one of the most valued skills in her profession is languages. For this reason, at the age of 45, she wants to obtain a French degree at the Official School of Languages ​​(EOI) in Leganés. In 2021 she began the advanced level -C1- and next year her training will finish, although not as she had planned. At the center, intermediate and advanced French classes will no longer be face-to-face and students will only be able to study it remotely ―videoconference with teachers and homework in a virtual classroom― or by transferring to schools in other municipalities. The online modality will also be mandatory for students from Aranjuez, Tribunal, Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Coslada-San Fernando de Henares, where the Community of Madrid has surprisingly eliminated classes on site in certain languages.

“Students who want to pass a level and finish their French studies in Leganés have no alternatives. Offering the option of studying remotely seems good to me, but they cannot make it an obligation”, criticizes Puado. The highest level of French – C2.2 – is only offered in person at the Jesús Maestro center, in the Chamberí district, the largest school in Madrid. By public transport from Leganés it takes just over an hour, combining commuter, metro and bus. “I am the mother of a 12-year-old boy and from home I have an hour and a half there and an hour and a half back, plus the two and a half hours of class. That means mortgaging all morning or all afternoon and thus reconciling is impossible, ”adds the woman.

The Community of Madrid announced on June 18 in a note that “it was expanding the offer of distance courses” in the Official Language Schools for the 2023-2024 academic year. Specifically, the remote modality will be applied at intermediate and advanced levels -from B1 to C2- of German at the Aranjuez headquarters, French at the Leganés headquarters, English at Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Italian at Coslada-San Fernando de Henares. In addition to the maximum level of Spanish for foreigners in the EOI of Court. Most of the local and several national media replicated the information from the regional government, but the publicized measure does not really “expand the offer”: where distance classes are established, face-to-face classes disappear, as reflected in the new schedules published by the Ministry of Education and updated on the web pages of the aforementioned centers.

“They announce it with very specific language, so that people don’t notice the cut,” criticizes Elena García, 23, a French student at the Leganés school. She is also the one who has promoted a collection of signatures on-line ―More than 27,000 people have already signed― for the Community to back down. “If you want to go to another school where there are face-to-face classes, you have to apply as a new student. That means that they may not catch you and you lose the place ”, he adds. This course, more than 37,000 students enrolled in one of the 29 public language schools in the region.

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“No instructions”

Cari Baena, vice president of the association of teachers of official language schools (Apeoim), says that the centers received the news of the change in model shortly before the end of classes, in mid-May, by surprise and without any explanation. “We don’t know what route this has and less than three months after the start of the new course there are no clear instructions. They call the directors one by one, corner them and tell them that the distance school is going to be imposed in their school ”, she complains.

The teacher is also head of studies at the EOI of Tribunal, where the face-to-face classes of C2 in Spanish disappear. This course there were 31 students signed up for that level, but for the next one none have enrolled. “They don’t want to do classes remotely, they want to talk and practice with other students. The student profile is varied and not all are technologically proficient people. We want new models to be established, but with a head”, says Baena. Several teachers from the Leganés school – who prefer not to identify themselves – say that they have been combining in-person classes with blended classes for years, and that both worked. “Last year they took away, for example, the blended attendance, without explaining why, and this year everything at a distance. It is very arbitrary”, criticizes one of them.

Entrance of the Official School of Languages ​​Madrid-Tribunal on June 26, 2023.
Entrance of the Official School of Languages ​​Madrid-Tribunal on June 26, 2023. samuel sanchez

All the teachers consider that the pure distance model is a barrier for the students: “During the pandemic we gave all the classes by videoconference and it was exhausting. They lose the emotional aspect, social relationships, belonging to a group. You can communicate, yes, but learning a language is more than that.” Many of their students have told them that they do not have time to move to another school and that they plan to stop studying French. “We understand that resources must be distributed, but not by closing groups. We asked to start with a pilot group, but not all of a sudden, at all high and intermediate levels. It has been very violent and without preparing the teachers”, adds another teacher.

lack of demand

The Community of Madrid has not responded to the question of why they have changed the face-to-face model in some schools and not in others, nor what criteria they have followed to select the centers or languages ​​that will be affected. Even so, the students of the EOI of Leganés sent a letter to the Ministry of Education in search of explanations. In the response, the Administration indicates that the face-to-face offer of B2 and C1 in French is given in other schools, and that “if any student does not wish to enroll in the distance modality at the Official School of Languages ​​of Leganés to continue said studies, You can do it at another Official School of Languages”.

The text also alludes to the “little existing demand” at level C2 “since its implementation, as is the case with other languages”. The student Puado says that last year there were about 18 students enrolled in her advanced class and that most planned to continue with the highest level this year. “They are removing face-to-face classes at high levels and in schools that do not have student problems, there is demand for face-to-face classes and it is unfair,” adds García. Cari Baena points out that the same thing happens in the C2 in Spanish at the Tribunal school: “Until now we had a very robust line of C2 students and they have suppressed it with a stroke of the pen, after expressly asking not to.”

Rocío Quirós’s daughter studies Italian at the Coslada-San Fernando de Henares school and classes have always been face-to-face, except during the covid-19 pandemic. “Just before enrolling they were told that this year the course would be distance learning, not even the teachers knew. It’s a tease, ”she says. She also criticizes that the tuition price will be the same as with classes in person: 269 euros (250 for tuition and 19 for administrative management) for the 135-hour annual course and 207 euros for the 90-hour course. The Community of Madrid announced last week that it was also eliminating the face-to-face night baccalaureate for adults. Students who enroll for the next academic year may only do so in the blended modality ―with a reduced number of tutorials given in the centers― or remotely.

The center of Coslada was the one that raised the alarm to the rest of the EOIs and where they have managed, after much protest, that face-to-face Italian classes do not disappear completely. Although they will not be like until now either: from level B2 to C2, four hours of class will be taught ―spread over two days― through an application and, an extra hour of homework, a third day in the virtual classroom. “Anyone who wishes can go to the center in person during these sessions (the two-hour ones)”, it is explained on the school’s website. “If the teacher is going to be there, using a classroom, why can’t they go to class and that’s it?” Quirós complains.

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