Tainan City Government is the first municipal government in Taiwan to install the Content and Language Integrated Learning Project (CLIL) in 8 elementary schools as part of its policy to adopt English as the second official language. The Tainan City Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL) cooperated with National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) on a one-year research project where the research team from NCKU are usually present at the CLIL classes to conduct qualitative research that evaluates how teachers teach and how students learn. To collect quantitative data, OEASOL also collaborated with the Language Training & Testing Center (LTTC) to arrange oral tests based on the General English Proficiency Test (GEPT) Kids in the 8 elementary schools. The test dates are divided into two sessions, one in September, 2017 when CLIL was just introduced, and the later one in May this year. The result and analysis were recently released: the report by LTTC indicated that “students from all schools have demonstrated significant improvement.” The bilingual curriculum in Tainan, which has attempted to teach most academic subjects in English, evidently strengthened children’s ability to listen and speak in English.
OEASOL stated that when CLIL was first launched, there was much uncertainty on whether a teaching method that is relatively more common in primary education in European countries would be plausible in Tainan. As CLIL celebrates its first anniversary, experts from both NCKU and LTTC reveal positive results from their research, which serves as a huge encouragement to OEASOL and the 8 schools.
The GEPT Kids Oral Test was intended for students who have been taught in the CLIL curriculum. Out of the 50 students sampled from each school, first to fourth graders were the majority, occupying almost 90% of the tested students. The first session was carried out between September 18th and 25th in 2017 and the second one between May 7th and 11th this year. The test was performed in the form of one-on-one interviews which were thoroughly recorded and graded by an examiner of GEPT. GEPT Kids is designed by LTTC specifically for elementary school students in Taiwan and the only standardized exam that tests children’s English proficiency whilst incorporating students’ life experiences and the universal Common European Framework of Reference for Languages into the testing content.
According to the score report by LTTC, “the oral proficiency in English of first to fourth graders improved by a scale of 5 to 8%, while more than 80% of the third and fourth graders have hit a high rank on the English Language Proficiency Indicator.” The rate of students who could read short sentences with the appropriate pronunciation is a high 84%, which LTTC describes: ‘“most students’ pronunciation is natural and correct; listeners could comprehend the spoken message even if there is a mistake.” In terms of the ability to greet others, describe a picture, tell a story with an image, and discuss a personal issue in English, more than 66% of first and second graders are able to achieve it, while the data of fourth to six graders strikes an 80%. Overall, students’ performances are impressive.
LTTC also elaborated on the grading systems of the GEPT Kids Oral Test, explaining that 5 suns are equivalent to a full score and a score of more than 3 suns satisfies A1 on the CEFR scale whereas those who attain more than 4 suns are close to achieving A2 which is almost at the elementary level of GEPT. LTTC expressed that all students have improved between the first and second sessions, increasing the average number of suns from 2.1 to 2.7. In the latest session, more than 40% of the students received a score of more than 3 suns and 24% of them 4 to 5 suns. In short, not only have the test-takers greatly improved in 9 months, but also almost a quarter of them have almost attained a proficiency level equivalent to elementary GEPT!
The results of the oral tests delighted OEASOL. In order to get a better sense of the effects of bilingual education, OEASOL established a separate research project with the research team from NCKU, who have submitted a midterm report this March in which they remarked: “overall, the outcome of the program is exciting. We could see a significant transformation on students, who in the beginning were frightened of or dismayed by learning in English are now able to communicate in English voluntarily.”
OEASOL points out that, whether it be the quantitative data obtained from the oral test or the qualitative research by NCKU, there is solid evidence that the bilingual curriculum in Tainan has significantly bolstered the English proficiency level among primary school students. It is confirmed that teaching academic subjects in English enhances children’s ability to listen and speak in English. The city government is currently working towards the goal of expanding the curriculum to more elementary schools, hence encouraging more schools to devote themselves to bilingual education.