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Bilingualism #5. The first Italian-Brazil bilingual and bicultural state school: history of a paradigm shift
Portal of the Italian language

Bilingualism #5. The first Italian-Brazil bilingual and bicultural state school: history of a paradigm shift

Categories: Culture and creativity -Language and education

At the CEROF in Rio de Janeiro, a fundamental event in the diffusion of Italian language and culture and for continuity in teaching the Italian language.

Bilinguismo lo studio dell italiano nel mondo
Bilinguismo lo studio dell italiano nel mondo

edited by Annarita Guidi

I think the Italian language is beautiful and interesting. It has started to be part of my day (Amanda Ribeiro Holanda, class EMIBI 20021, CEROF)

It has been amazing. I have become more and more interested in the Italian language. I study in the classroom and also outside, through websites and apps. It has also been very productive and fun (Rebeca da Rocha Walter, class EMIBI 20021, CEROF)

‘The introduction of biculturalism to the public school system in the State of Rio de Janeiro is the sign of a change in attitude towards Italian culture, and of an interest in it that is no longer just general or instrumental. In fact, it is not just a question of adding another language to the curriculum – a significant step in itself, since usually English and Spanish are the only languages found on school curricula – but of introducing a paradigm shift in a country that has received a major contribution to its development from immigration, and from Italy in particular, especially in the south of the country. Over time it has come to understand that cultural enrichment derives not only from the assimilation or overlapping of cultures but also from the mutual recognition of intrinsic value‘.

Thus Professor Patrizia MagnascoHead of Education at the Embassy of Italy in Brasilia since 2018, responsible for north and central Brazil with extended jurisdiction of the consular districts of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Recife – began the story of a crucial project for bilingual education and the promotion of the Italian language.

As a teacher of English language and literature, Prof. Magnasco has worked on multilingual projects and courses for years, launching projects and courses in science and computer science. As Director and founding partner of an Istituto Tecnico Superiore for Energy Efficiency in Sicily, for a decade she directed a cluster of technical institutes combining scientific-technological interest with pedagogical research on language learning.

Prof. Magnasco supported the Consulate General of Italy in Rio de Janeiro in the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretariat of State for Education (SEEDUC), for a project to introduce Italian language and culture in a state school in the capital. ‘The strong determination of the Consul General, the willingness and inclination of SEEDUC to introduce a bilingual and bicultural course in Italian into the state curricular educational programme, and the interest of the prestigious Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in offering teaching and educational support to the teachers at the school (in view of potential educational continuity between the high school and the university) determined the conditions for drawing up agreements between the parties’, explains Prof. Magnasco.

The introduction of a bilingual and bicultural course in a state school is also important because the experience of bilingualism and biculturalism is neither widespread nor common in Brazil. The only two Italian-Brazilian state-authorized private schools are the Fondazione Torino, based in Belo Horizonte, and the Montale in Sao Paulo. ‘Originally founded as schools for the Italian community, they have increasingly turned to a local public, who are attracted by the quality of the education on offer. Today, Brazilian students follow the bilingual and bicultural education offered by our Italian state-authorized private schools, not only to obtain a qualification that is recognized in both countries, but also to participate in an educational and interdisciplinary programme that is synonymous with high quality and cultural exchange‘, says Prof. Magnasco.

“In the 2019-2020 Piano Paese (national action plan) for the promotion of the Italian language, drawn up by the Embassy of Italy in Brazil, educational continuity in Italian language teaching figured among the strategic objectives to be pursued in order to promote the development and reinforcement of disseminating our culture in Brazil. This is precisely because, excluding the situation in the south of the country, Italian is only occasionally taught in schools and a few universities and in any case not at all ages. Thus, in the State of Rio de Janeiro, in 2020, synergies were activated that led to the establishment of a bilingual-bicultural (Portuguese-Italian) section in the Colégio Estatual Rodrigo Otavio Filho (CEROF) based in Rio de Janeiro, a school run by the state through the Secretariat of State for Education (SEEDUC). It is a regular, full-time secondary school specializing in Languages, Coding and Technology, with intercultural teaching of Italian and a focus on Art and Culture. The experiment, which has been in progress for two years, will hopefully be extended to other public schools in order to introduce gradually Italian into the state school curriculum and to guarantee the desired continuity in the teaching of our language from primary and secondary school up to university level,” continues Prof. Magnasco.

‘The introduction of Italian language teaching in the public school system, including in the early grades, in a country where most of the Italian courses are managed by private institutions, and those in public schools are concentrated almost exclusively in the south (such as Santa Catarina, Paranà, Rio Grande del Sud and Sao Paulo), is intended to activate in the state of Rio de Janeiro a virtuous circle in the State of Rio de Janeiro that leads to continuous growth in the number of students of Italian language and culture at all the various stages and levels of education , makes degrees in teaching Italian/Portuguese more attractive and results in growth in the supply and demand of qualified Italian teachers on the local market, the shortage of which has always been one of the most serious issues in Brazil’, she adds.

How was the bilingual and bicultural project developed in the state of Rio de Janeiro?’In the CEROF State School – chosen to start the pilot project – in 2020, a bilingual section was originally initiated thanks to the support of the Italian Ministry of Education. Given the success of the initiative and the number of enrolments, in 2021, the Education Secretariat of the state of Rio de Janeiro (SEEDUC) committed to supporting the school’s bicultural programme for the years to come, not only bearing the general management costs for which it is responsible, but also providing teachers qualified to teach Italian, selected through an open call. The teaching programme of the first Italy-Brazil bilingual and bicultural state school in the state of Rio will therefore be able to continue in total autonomy, with the first section already in operation covering all three high school grades and foreseeing the addition of other sections as the number of enrolments increases. The State Secretary for Education, Comte Bittencourt, offered his support to the Consul General Paolo Miraglia del Giudice to identify other state schools where, in the future, the same bicultural curriculum could be implemented, and has expressed interest on the part of the state government in further developing collaboration with Italian institutions in the field of the promotion of Italian‘.

How is the psychological and educational project organized? ‘The emphasis is on the culture associated with the second language. This strategy aims to provide all learners with the opportunity to use the second language and become familiar with another culture by providing differentiated learning experiences in the second language. Using formal and informal educational methods, the course aims to facilitate learning the Italian language, included in the curriculum through a core of common subjects, called the Articulatory Core (Italian language, art and culture) and a Linguage Core (language workshops and virtual exchange), in addition to the ‘Life and Culture’ project for experiencing Italian life and culture in a personalized way. Being bilingual does not automatically mean being bicultural, that is, living two cultures’, concludes Prof. Magnasco. ‘You can in fact be bilingual, using another language as a tool, but to be bicultural you have to, as far as possible, create a continuous and deep, non-asymmetric relationship with people of the other culture. Acquiring a language may be a cognitive task but knowing how to use it in a culturally effective way is also an affective process. The Life and Culture project, which is part of the curriculum, alongside the subjects and workshops, is designed to guide students in this process. And the collaboration between SEEDUC, the Consulate General of Italy and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro aims precisely to create opportunities for experiences and continuous dialogue with Italian language, art and culture among the students at the State Schools of Rio de Janeiro‘.

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