[lg policy] Australia: Queensland Government backflips on foreign language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 18 15:47:11 UTC 2010

Queensland Government backflips on foreign language

Tanya Chilcott
January 16, 2010 02:25pm

THE State Government has backflipped on its controversial decision to
drop the mandatory status on the teaching of foreign languages in all
state schools following The Courier-Mail report this morning. Acting
Education Minister Stephen Robertson moved to separate the Bligh
Government from the Education Department changes, stating the
"optional" approach to foreign languages in Years 6, 7 and 8 was not
Bligh Government policy and was not endorsed by cabinet. "It is not in
accordance with our commitment to providing all students with a
world-class education - of which LOTE (Languages Other Than English)
is a very important part - and this optional approach will not
continue,” Mr Robertson said.

An "urgent" review has now been ordered "to ensure schools meet the
requirements of Government policy". It comes after The Courier-Mail
revealed the mandatory status of foreign languages had been dropped in
Queensland, with the changes implemented state-wide last year.
Education assistant-director general Yvana Jones said the status was
dropped because a one-size fits all approach didn’t work in state
schools, with research showing children were disengaging from LOTE and
resources could be better targeted.
About 298, or nearly one-quarter, of state schools chose not to teach
either a language or intercultural investigations under the LOTE
program last year, according to figures supplied by the Department.

Ms Jones said principals had to get the permission of their school
community before they could drop a foreign language. The move
attracted widespread criticism from experts and critics.

Earlier report:

HUNDREDS of Queensland schools have abandoned teaching foreign
languages under controversial changes kept quiet by the State
Government.A decision to drop the mandatory status of foreign
languages has been criticised as "short-sighted", "damaging" and
"out-of-step" by experts, who warn it will further erode lagging
literacy and numeracy standards in Queensland schools. But the
Education Department says the move is about better targeting resources
towards schools that actually want to teach Languages Other Than
English (LOTE) and boosting their programs.

It comes despite a push by Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin
Rudd, Australia's greatest advocate of foreign languages, for greater
student proficiency in Asian languages.
Mr Rudd was a key player in the Goss Government in the early 1990s
when Queensland led a national push to make LOTE available in all
primary schools. Under changes implemented statewide last year,
schools are allowed to drop foreign languages in Years 6, 7 and 8 –
the years it used to be mandatory. Experts have attacked the move away
from teaching foreign languages in Queensland schools, warning it will
disadvantage students and turn Queensland into a cultural backwater.

LOTE teaching is compulsory in schools in Victoria, NSW and Western
Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory is set to make it
compulsory next year. Australian Federation of Modern Language
Teachers Associations president-elect Sherryl Saunders said research
showed learning a foreign language built neural connections in the
brain, helping students to better understand their first language. She
said the situation was "absolutely desperate" for students as it would
disadvantage those in schools that chose not to teach a language.

University of Queensland Professor of Education Dr Richard Baldauf
said the new policy was out-of-step with the impending national
curriculum. Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said it was "a
backward step" as countries like China required students to study at
least two languages. But Education Department assistant-director
general Yvana Jones denied the decision had devalued foreign language
studies. "I think what is being said here is that the one-size model
doesn't fit all and that school communities need to have a say in what
best suits students about what level of engagement they have with
LOTE," she said.

Under the program, schools also can teach "Intercultural
Investigations" instead of just language and principals need
permission from the school community to abandon foreign language
studies. High schools that decide to teach language then have to offer
it as an elective in Years 9-12, an option previously not required. Ms
Jones said she could not give a definite number of schools that had
dropped a second language but "by default" 298 – or about a quarter –
of state schools didn't report teaching either a language or
intercultural investigations in 2009 under mandatory reporting
requirements. She said anecdotal evidence showed the program had seen
an increase in the number of schools studying a language in Years 1-3,
particularly Japanese.

The move has the backing of Queensland Council of Parents & Citizens
Association president Margaret Black, who said "a one-size fits all
approach" wasn't suitable in Queensland. "There are pockets of schools
that have a large component of international students who may not
speak English but may speak another language very well, so therefore
their LOTE becomes English," she said. Ms Black acknowledged the issue
was divisive, with strong support for teaching foreign languages from
some teachers and parents including Brisbane mother-of-two Roxana
Molina. Having arrived in Australia speaking Spanish as a child, Ms
Molina found her language background helped rather than hindered her.

The mother-of-two, who excelled in English, works as a dentist. She
enrolled her son Alex in Spanish classes while he was in nappies and
two years later she is seeing the rewards. "His English is really good
as well, for his age, and a lot of people comment on that."Numerous
requests by The Courier-Mail for information on the new program went
unanswered by the Education Department last year.  Some stakeholders
were unaware Queensland schools had been dropping foreign language
studies until contacted by The Courier-Mail.

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