Challenges and Opportunities for Dual Language Immersion during COVID

This virtual panel sponsored by QFI, on July 23, 2020, as part of the 73rd annual Education Writers Association National Seminar, was moderated by QFI’s Dr. Carine Allaf and Julia Sylla. The panel discusses the growing dual language immersion model of K-12 education in the United States. Special attention is given to the opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19 and the racial justice movement.

Currently, QFI supports the four existing public school Arabic DLI programs in the United States through grant funding, convenings, and professional development. The three panelists for this session are Myriam Met, former Deputy Director, National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland; Dawn Samples, Avant Assessment, and Gregg Roberts, American Councils for International Education.

They have worked with QFI to develop Arabic immersion programs in the United States and have been active in the dual language immersion field in the US (across all languages including French, Chinese, and Spanish) for more than 20 years.

QFI has been involved in DLI since 2013 with its first partner, PS/IS30 in Brooklyn, New York. Since then, QFI has partnered with Baltimore International Academy in Maryland, Elizabeth Learning Center in California, and AIMS in Texas.

Since 2000, the number of DLI programs have grown exponentially from 260 to an estimated 3000 in 2019.

Dr. Myriam Met explains that DLI is a form of education where students are schooled for at least 50% of the school day in a language other than in their native tongue. What makes DLI different is that it is not only about learning languages, it also is learning math, science, and other subjects in another language, as in, “schooling through the medium of another language.” Students study the same curriculum as if they were learning monolingually.

This is like “growing a brain on steroids.”

There are multiple benefits to DLI. DLI students perform at least as well as monolingual students and excel at certain subjects. The cost of these benefits is lower than almost any other type of specialized schooling. Surprisingly, students learning English as a second language (ESL) who participate in DLI programs outperform ESL learners who are only learning English.

Dawn Samples explains the urgency of supporting DLI programs during the pandemic. In addition to language learning, DLI programs offer social-emotional learning and support. Of the utmost importance is protecting student well-being. The key is to, at all costs, maintain strong pedagogical practices.

Time spent learning in the language is one obstacle to grapple with. We are going to have to rethink how we are delivering instruction, and leverage and redistribute resources.

Providing enough time and space in a language online is especially challenging in a DLI environment.

“Anxiety is the enemy of learning.” Keep calm and speak Arabic!

Gregg Roberts explains that “equality is not equity.” Equality suggests providing every student with the same experience. Equity means working to overcome the historical legacy of discrimination, marginalization, and underinvestment that disadvantages specific groups of people, especially defined by race, home language, and low socio-economic status.

There is a gentrification of DLI programs that have happened across the US which has made it more difficult for students that are not high performing to participate in those programs. This is a trend that must be reversed.

DLI is one of the most powerful tools we have for desegregation and equality. It can bring diverse communities together.

Some of the positive implementations we see happening through DLI programs are that they create a system to reduce racial and socioeconomic isolation, produce opportunities for children to build relationships across racial and ethnic lines in two languages, and lastly, create staff diversity.

The full webinar is available here