Katholieke Hogeschool Leuven (BELGIUM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Pages: 5695-5704
ISBN: 978-84-615-3324-4
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 4th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2011
Location: Madrid, Spain
Generic language skills are a key factor to success in education, as language is the basis of thinking and reasoning, both distinctive features of the European Quality Framework’s bachelor level. In Flanders, however, there is a growing conviction that the language proficiency of youngsters is deteriorating. Given the importance of language skills as a generic competency the Flemish government is “aiming high for languages” for all secondary education degrees (De Ro 2008). To improve students’ generic language skills, Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have been developing language policies (Peeters & Van Houtven 2010) in which the students’ secondary education degree is often used as an (implicit) determinant. In the Dutch language area, however, comprehensive data are lacking on (written) language proficiency of HEI students and its determinants, to empirically support any language policy.

At the Katholieke Hogeschool Leuven, a Flemish university college of about 6500 students in 13 bachelor programs, a project is running to analyse the written language proficiency of students and its determinants. A corpus of 346 texts has been gathered by asking students of all programs at the end of year 1 to write a 500 word persuasive text using a computer and any information they deemed useful. A professional assessor rated those texts on textual structure, argumentation, persuasiveness and language errors. Each criterion was operationalized as an ordinal variable with four levels: very bad > bad > good > very good.
We will focus on students’ secondary education degree as a potential determinant of written language proficiency. More precisely, we will compare the written language proficiency between students stemming from general, technical and professional secondary education. According to the learning outcomes of secondary education (Min. Vl. Gemeenschap 2003) the first two groups are expected to achieve a higher level of proficiency than the third group.
The following research questions will be raised:
• To what extent is the secondary education degree indicative of written language proficiency at the end of year 1 in HE?
• Can relevant subgroups for a HEI’s language policy be identified based on the secondary education degree?

A multiple correspondence analysis reveals ambivalent results. On the one hand, a hierarchy appears on the language proficiency continuum:[high proficiency level] general secondary education > technical secondary education > professional secondary education [low proficiency level]
On the other hand, though clusters emerge at the lower end of the proficiency scale for students with a technical and professional secondary degree, students with a general secondary degree occupy the whole proficiency scale from low to high, whereas they were expected to be merely situated at the higher end of the scale.
For HEI’s language policy, the results suggest that secondary education is no conclusive indicator of written language proficiency, thus discarding it as a commonly used criterion to identify target groups with special needs in HE.

De Ro, J. 2008. Education in Flanders. A broad view of the Flemish educational landscape.
Min. Vl. Gemeenschap. 2003. Vakgebonden eindtermen en ontwikkelingsdoelen secundair onderwijs. Brussel: Dienst onderwijsontwikkeling.
Peeters, E. & T. Van Houtven. 2010. Taalbeleid in het hoger onderwijs: de hype voorbij? Leuven: Acco.
Written language proficiency, HEI language policy, target groups.