Learning biology in Dutch bilingual education: any reason for concern?
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Dutch bilingual education has been under investigation since the early nineties. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an educational approach that aims to help teachers teach the content of a school subject through a second language. Previous studies found that the final exam grades of students in bilingual streams (CLIL students) did not deviate from students in regular Dutch education (non-CLIL students), but it is still unclear what the influence of bilingual education is on students’ comprehension of the sciences. In this study, research was conducted with 16 CLIL students and 49 non-CLIL students. Both groups were in their third year of secondary education and were taught by the same biology teacher. The CLIL and non-CLIL students did a biology test in English and Dutch, respectively. The answers were then analysed on: number of points (test scores), time needed to finish the test, the number of words used in the answers, the number of subject-specific words that were used and the percentage of correctly used subject-specific words. A significant difference was found in the test scores for CLIL (M = 8.3, SD = 2.72) and non-CLIL students (M = 10.3, SD = 2.95); t(63) = -2.343, p = 0.022, d = 0.69. However, none of the differences found for the other variables were significant. These findings point to a possible concern for the comprehension of biology content for CLIL students when taught and assessed in their second language, but more qualitative research on possible causes is needed.