“We want to continue working and promoting new opportunities for e-learning”
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
The return to pre-pandemic dynamics and making the most of the opportunities afforded by digital technology were the objectives the Etxepare Basque Institute set out this year for the promotion and dissemination of the Basque language. "With the start of the new school year in September, we began to think about how to deal with the Coronavirus. We’ve made progress in the area of teaching, for example, but some of that work has had to be rolled back due to changing circumstances." Garbiñe Iztueta, Director for the Promotion and Dissemination of the Basque Language, takes stock of the year. “We want to continue working and promoting new opportunities for e-learning.”
The lecturers and language assistants who teach Basque language and culture at 36 universities in 19 countries around the world have experienced very different situations depending on the country. At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, all of them were able to travel to their destination countries, with a few exceptions, such as Russia and South America. The same went for September 2021, but a new assistantship was opened at the University of Tbilisi in Georgia.
"Despite the pandemic, we have managed to maintain the number of applicants. And although the Georgia programme started with a slight delay, we finally managed to get the language assistant over there in September. It´s a project that has given us hope," Iztueta said.
In 2022 there will be an international conference on literature at the University of Tbilisi, where they are also working on creating a ´Basque section´ in the programming. The conference takes place every three years and is slated for next year. "It’s an interesting project,” noted Iztueta, “although it might be online.”
In addition, three new chairs will be launched in 2022. "The groundwork for the first one was signed in Quebec in 2018, with McGill University in Montreal, and an agreement including all the specifications will be signed in 2022. With the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the Alan R. King Chair in Sociolinguistics will be created, and the first lecturer will be selected. The third is the Frank Bidart Chair at California State University Bakersfield, which will work in the research and creation in the fields of culture and innovation.
Iztueta feels that their goal has been met in terms of returning to pre-pandemic dynamics. "There have been better and worse times and we’ve had to readjust our work several times during the year. But the teachers have been able to return to their universities and Euskal Etxeak Basque centres while complying with the necessary measures. Qualification exams were able to be done face-to-face. This year, for the first time, they were held through an open call: in addition to students from the Euskal Etxeak and the universities, anyone who wanted to sit the exam in Madrid or Barcelona could sign up."
Iztueta believes that the educational models have been d. "For example, in the Summer Course that we organise annually with the University of the Basque Country, we are seeing good results with a hybrid formula that combines face-to-face and online learning. We’ve seen that this has made it more accessible to interested students and we’ll continue to work on this combined system. The same thing happened with the barnetegi full-immersion experience in Amorebieta. We will continue to work on these opportunities."
This year, readers and teachers from the Euskal Etxeak were able to meet in person. Eleven people from the Basque diaspora in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay took part in the Maizpide barnetegi in Lazkao through the Euskara Munduan programme. The group started learning Basque from the ground up in 2013 and after completing a full-immersion intensive Basque course for the first time, they will teach Basque at their local Basque centres.
Iztueta says that the number of students in these as well as the online activities has stayed the same, "mainly because the participants managed to keep motivated. Unusual measures were taken in 2020, and in 2021 they have adapted well to the needs,” she added.
From challenges to new opportunities
Looking to the future, Iztueta asks how digital tools and platforms can be used to consolidate Basque language teaching and learning on an international level. She believes that there is a great need to increase the presence of Basque in the digital world, and that this will have to be done in the coming year.
"We’ll continue to incorporate streaming into our training programmes, working on ways to improve and strengthen lectureships in this way. For example, at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, there were exceptional teaching needs, and we were able to meet them by combining the lecturer´s classes with another lecturer to support him or her online. At ELTE University in Budapest, we don´t currently have the resources to set up a lectureship, and online teaching has made it possible to teach Basque to these students from the programme in Brno.”
"We want to work on reinforcing the new teaching methods, since we’ve seen that they strengthen the international university network and that this is very beneficial,” Iztueta said.