THE Basque country is to extend its policy of promoting tri-lingual education to 16 to 18-year-olds with the introduction of a bachillerato school-leavers' exam studied in three languages: English, Spanish (Castellano) and Euskera, the Basque language.
The innovation builds on the success of a fast-growing programme to teach the three languages to four-year-olds.Now 230 schools - 60 per cent - offer tri-lingual classes and it is forecast that all primary and secondary schools will do so by 2002.
The state college of Botica Vieja in Bilbao has been chosen as the first centre to pilot the trilingual bachillerato because of its tradition of innovative education.
The 22 students from 11 schools who have just begun the course have all had to pass an exam in Euskera and English.
The bachillerato is the primary route to university in Spain. Students study core subjects and then select options depending on the degree they wish to pursue. Students must pass the internal bachillerato exams in May before going on to do the selectividad exam in June, set by the university.
At Botica Vieja college the core bachillerato subjects of history (4 hours a week), religion (2 hours) and physical education (2 hours) will be studied in English; linguistics in Castellano and philosophy in Euskera.
Alfonso Unceta, assistant minister of education in the Basque country, said:
"We have been teaching English at these levels for some years and now generations are arriving at bachillerato level with sufficient competence to learn in that language."
The aim is that students should be able to go to degree courses in European universities, participate in international exchanges and be better prepared for the labour market.
Javier Gonzalez Burutxaga, adviser on educational innovation, said that, in the long term, he hoped every 16 to 18-year-old would be studying trilingually.
"We are determined that every student should be able to speak three languages by the time they finish their studies," he said.
Four million of Spain's 40 million population live in the Basque country.