Q&A | William Bascaule Director AFM: Alliance Française’s modernizing programs, aims to collaborate with Hengqin, Zhuhai

Alliance Française Macao (AFM) has outlined its goals for the next year, with a focus on strengthening its collaboration with local universities, renovating its premises and launching online study options for students who want to practice their French.

Speaking to the Times, William Bascaule, AF director, remarked that the non-profit organization has been through changes in the past two years following his mandate.

Bascaule previously headed Alliance Française Shanghai for ten years before heading to the Macau SAR.

For the director, the lack of competition in the city has become one of the challenges for AFM. Thus, the organization pledged to continue providing a modernized curriculum for its students.

AFM also aspires to participate in the Greater Bay Area initiative through collaborating with neighboring regions including Zhuhai and Hengqin.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – You have been leading the organization for the past two years. What are the measures that have progressed or new ones that you’ve implemented?

William Bascaule (WB) – We had a big problem with the content of our courses. […] It’s been a long time since we have changed our content and modernized it. I would say that the AF does not have any competition, which means that you don’t have to push yourself or go the extra mile. As a team, that’s what we tried to achieve – to modify our content, and I think it was well done. Everything now is clearer and [higher in quality] in terms of program content and the level of information that we provide to our students. The second thing that was lacking were classes for children. The thing that surprised me when I arrived is that Macau is a family town. I clearly understood that we had to develop that because there was a demand. We developed classes for children aged three to six years old and seven to 11 years old. However, we stopped doing the 12-16 years old classes due to content quality concerns.

MDT – Was it better to choose those particular classes?

WB – During [my] first year, we were recreating a lot content for a lot of different programs. We are a small team and we could not focus on everything at the same time. It was a good choice. We decided to focus on the adult classes and stop [teaching] after the B2 level. We focused on levels A1 to B2 as well as developing programs for children.

MDT – Can you remark on any differences in leading Shanghai and Macau?

WB – The students are really different there. The motivation and the purpose of learning French is completely different. Shanghai is such an aggressive and competitive market. You’re always trying to have the best product and improve. If you don’t do that, you’re going to close soon. That was the biggest flaw in AF – the lack of competition.

MDT – How many students does AFM have at this moment?

WB – We formerly had some 900 students but for all the reasons that I have mentioned, we are down to 800. We lost around 100 because of the classes we decided to close but I guess it’s going to come back as soon we are able to provide good quality classes for them.

MDT – The academic term is about to end. Are there any plans for the new term?

WB – The first phase was to create content. The second phase was to test it on the ground. The third phase is to tweak the program a bit – we are already in that phase. We understood that it was difficult to mix the kids and same content. There were just too many and we do not have enough facilities, teachers and revenue to run that many classes. We need to adjust the program a little bit to have different activities for most groups.

MDT – Looking further ahead, what are your goals for the next year?

WB – There are still a lot of things to do. We also focus on developing our collaboration with universities in Macau because that is really important. We are the only official institution that provides classes, so what we do in universities is really important for Macau because no one else in the city is doing that.

We are giving French classes to these students as their extracurricular activity.

It is an important time for me to keep focusing on these universities. We signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with City University and we are developing extra curriculum classes. We are also working on an educational trip to allow these students to go to France. […] Another [goal] is to focus on the renovation of our facilities. We’ve been in the same place for 32 years. This building and its facilities start to become less appealing for the people. I think people would like to have a better environment to take classes in. I would like to find a way to renovate those facilities.

MDT – Are you looking to renovate the place or move out to a private commercial building?

WB – We are looking at both options, but the market price is very high, so because we have been here for 32 years, it’s more convenient and cheaper to stay. But it is still a lot of money to renovate. Moving out also means going to the private sector and depends on the landlord who may increase rent. For us it’s a bit difficult.

MDT – Will there be plans to put your education online as a platform to practice French?

WB – It’s a tricky situation. I know there are many solutions online […] but you need to be able to have some human interaction and practice and do a lot of things that are not convenient online. It’s really more difficult than what it seems. People sometimes are scammed by marketing, which [promotes online platforms as] an easy solution to learn a language. […] We’re going to start providing some simple solutions for people to be able to start. Not to learn French online because I don’t think it is fully possible but to be able to practice their French online.

MDT- Do you see AFM taking part in this whole Greater Bay Area project? If so, what role would the organization take?

WB – We will clearly have to redefine ourselves. I would say [collaboration] with Hengqin and Zhuhai. It would be interesting because we need to find the right solution to provide our services in those areas. Do we have to open new small annexes and offices near Zhuhai or Hengqin? I don’t know yet but for sure we will be part of that project and we need to redefine ourselves and solutions to be  able to provide these services to these people who will [fill] the demand. We are already working with Sun Yat Sen University in Zhuhai. For now, we provide the official exam. Twice a year, they send their students to Macau. It’s going to be interesting to see how we can develop all those domains.

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