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Emiliano Valtulini, Italian PON support, Trinity College London, Italy

Emiliano Valtulini is a member of the Italian support team for Trinity College London. He told The PIE about the new requirements for students on EU-funded PON programs and how serving as the mayor of a small town led him to become Trinity’s “PON expert”.


By raising students’ language proficiency they will be inspired to attain a language certification allowing them to truly become European citizens

The PIE: How did you become Trinity’s PON expert?

Emiliano Valtulini: My role as PON expert was born out of my role as a mayor of a small town in the North of Italy, Roccafranca. Being a mayor gave me the opportunity to develop an in-depth knowledge of institutions, laws and regulations – and also the chance to start working with Trinity. In 2006, I organised a competition called ‘Melting Pot’ in Roccafranca, and I asked Claudia Beccheroni, Trinity’s national manager if she wanted to sponsor it. The event was aimed at fostering intercultural dialogue through English as a lingua franca. Claudia was enthusiastic and after that the event was re-organised every year, sponsored by the Roccafranca council and by Trinity.

From there, I got to know the testing industry better and to understand what Trinity College London was doing for schools and students in Italy, and I fell in love with their mission. At the same time, being mayor in this small town near Brescia, I often dealt with applications for EU funding for the benefit of my fellow citizens and that knowledge can be applied to PON programs as well. Claudia [Beccheroni] has been my mentor, as she has always closely followed the PON programs and managed to bridge the ‘bureaucratic’ language with what Trinity does with Italian schools.

The PIE: What is the aim of the PON programs?

EV: Last January, a new call for applications was published. It is called ‘PON for schools’ and it’s divided into 10 actions, of which at least four directly concern English language learning: one for basic competencies, another for adult training, and then, of course, the European citizenship and the so-called ‘alternanza scuola-lavoro’ [school-work alternation] which focuses on internships. The aim of the latter is to allow students to experience the world of work abroad.

“I think the English language is the way to reach the objectives of both [PON] programs”

The project is very successful in Italian schools, and it’s being promoted by the Ministry. The European Citizenship action instead aims to promote awareness of active citizenship within Europe.  I think the English language is the way to reach the objectives of both actions.

The PIE: How many schools are involved in the projects?

EV: A round of projects for the 2014-2020 actions around internships and European citizenship has just been approved – those for internships in January and those for European citizenship just recently. There are about 3,500 schools that have received funding. Of these, 1249 will carry out internship projects and 2,198 European citizenship projects. Precisely because the projects have been approved so late, they have the chance to be completed by August 2019. For this reason, probably, most of the new PON students will attend language courses abroad over the coming academic year.

The PIE: What is the relevance of PON programs for the testing industry?

EV: All students going abroad for a language course with a PON funded project must have a language certification of at least CEFR B1 level before leaving Italy.  Schools can choose from the Ministry of Education list of approved exam boards . The exam can be a two-skill exam or a four-skill exam, this will depend on the aims of the project itself. However the emphasis on the importance of improving audio oral skills is quite clear for the Ministry of Education.

This is a change from the past. A B1 level is higher than the level required in the past, but this is also due to the fact that these PON projects that involve a stay abroad are aimed at 16-19 year old students.  I think it is a positive development for our young people because we are pushing all our students to attain a higher linguistic competence.

“The English language is compulsory for almost all students at every level in Italy”

This is an advantage for the English language teaching industry as well, of course. The English language is compulsory for almost all students at every level in Italy and everybody wants to study it because if you speak English you can get a good job, as you well know! A final exam at the end of the language course abroad is not compulsory, but it is an option that  schools can include in its project. The level in this case needs to be B2.

The PIE: This is another difference from the past.

EV: Yes, this is another difference from the previous PON projects, for which a final exam was compulsory. For the current round of projects, no additional funding is specifically allocated to the language certification, but it falls into the pot for ‘managing activities.’ This segment of the funding is calculated by multiplying the number of participating students by the number of language course hours by a fixed amount of €3.47. Schools can cover travel and food expenses, for example, and decide if they want to allocate part of that amount to cover the costs for a language certification at the end of the course.

The PIE: Isn’t this bad news for the language testing industry in the UK?

EV: Yes, I would say that for the language testing industry this is bad news, however, we hope that a focus on higher linguistic abilities will encourage students to pursue a language certification anyway. Students already arrive with a B1, then they will take an English course, and we hope that the course will support them to progress to a B2 level where they will be ready and motivated to sit a certification for their personal growth.

We see this as a positive aspect. We are confident that by raising students’ language proficiency they will be inspired to attain a language certification allowing them to truly become European citizens and be able to work in Europe.

Since there is no additional funding destined to the language certification, and that the language certification not compulsory, it may be that demand will be lower than in the past. However, we hope that by raising the level we will also raise demand – I think this is the Ministry’s rationale as well.

“We hope that by raising the level we will also raise demand”

The PIE: At the English UK conference you joked that the difference between PON and POR is just a letter – what else?

The N in PON stands for nazionale, and these are projects on a national level, coordinated by the Education Ministry. The R in POR instead stands for regionale, meaning that these are instead managed by the regional administrations. There were four POR projects last year, in four regions: Molise, Veneto, Calabria and Puglia. A difference with the national programs is for example in the policy in regards to the final language certifications: the regional administrations, in this case, decided to allocate specific funds just for the exam.

The PIE: And now, to the Brexit question. The UK ELT industry benefits from these EU projects and is nervous at the thought of losing access to them. Do you think this is likely to happen?

EV: This is a question that no one can answer. I hope, also speaking as a mayor, that the UK and the EU will be able to find an agreement. Considering how important the role of the English language in the world is, it would be a real shame if such projects were not possible anymore.

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