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New language course goes the distance

Eleanor Caldwell reports on how Vektor is working with cyberspace to promote post-16 study programmes.

As the 5-14 modern languages revised document is finalised and amendments to Standard grade introduced to this year's diet of exams, languages at post-16 remain an unpopular option for many pupils.

When projected class sizes are of three and four pupils, the second language option is frequently rendered unviable and subjects such as German and Spanish struggle to maintain their place in the post-16 curriculum.

New distance learning materials could be one answer. Multimedia language company Vektor, which runs a distance learning project called A Level 2000, has entered discussions with further education colleges in Scotland to develop a Higher 2000 programme for French, German and Spanish.

At a meeting last month, staff from Aberdeen, Stevenson and Langside colleges were told by Diego Garcia Lucas of Vektor that the content of the new A-level courses could be adapted for Higher Still, while the distance learning formula remained the same. Based on a Vektor CD-Rom, the current A-level course runs over a 50-week period and offers weekly video-conferencing with a native speaker to whom assignments in both audio and written format are submitted. Pupils are also supported by an on-site teacher mentor who ensures that all work is being completed and submitted.

It is hoped that through collaborative work with the FE colleges, who have staff in minorty languages, schools will be able to offer Higher Spanish, for example, to one or two pupils. Working on a cluster basis (not necessarily determined geographically), pupils could join cyber classes and conduct interviews and exchange course work with one another by email.

Diego Garcia Lucas says: "I find that given a choice between submitting written or audio work, boys often prefer to speak and prepare an audio exercise. The pupils have a 'digital course book' and those who cope not only learn a language and develop their ICT skills, but develop a new form of independent learning."

Twenty-two pupils in England are participating in A Level 2000 in French, German and Spanish at a cost of pound;550 per pupil each year. College representatives agreed that a joint schoolFE initiative incorporating ICT, the language skills of FE college tutors and the newly acquired skills of ICT-trained modern language teachers could present a vital remedy to the current ills of post-16 languages.

Stevenson College in Edinburgh has now agreed to go ahead with the scheme, offering Higher 2000 to pupils from local schools. Head of languages Roger Brecon says: "The name of the game is co-operation." Colin Lamont, the Higher Still implementation officer for East Lothian, agrees: "It was refreshing at this year's BETT technology show in London to see something actually designed with Scotland in mind."

For further information visit Vektor's website at www.vektor.com

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