[lg policy] Australia: Dilemmas of language teacher supply

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 13 19:05:50 UTC 2012

Dilemmas of language teacher supply

Australia's language problem

Bernard Lane explains why Australia's tertiary institutes are falling
behind with their foreign language policies.

AUSTRALIA has about 6700 language teachers in secondary schools,
according to the latest count. This 2010 figure was "a small
increase'' on the 2007 number, a federal education official told
Senate estimates last month. The official, Janet Davy, said the Staff
in Australian Schools survey was intended to show whether or not there
were teacher shortages in languages. She could not say by how much
numbers had increased in 2010 and took this question on notice.

Shadow universities minister Brett Mason had asked about the supply of
language teachers in the context of past Asian language policy, the
new national curriculum on languages and Opposition leader Tony
Abbott's promise of a better effort on languages. "Were enough
teachers ever found (to put into practice past language policy)?,''
Senator Mason said.
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"I ask this question quite sincerely because Mr Abbott has made
commitments and will the Opposition face the same challenges? I
suspect the Opposition will.'' If elected, the Coalition says it would
work "urgently'' with the states to make sure at least 40 per cent of
Year 12 students take a language within a decade. The proportion doing
so now is about 12 per cent; about 6 per cent study one of the four
Asian languages. Last week school education minister Peter Garrett
announced funding of $870,000 for the Asia Education Foundation to
help put into practice Asian literacy elements of the national

Prior to a series of 2010 reports from the foundation, there was a
lack of solid national data on school students taking the priority
Asian languages of Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean. Ms
Davy's testimony during Senate estimates points to a similar history
of incomplete and dated statistics on language teachers. Her remarks
suggest that national data were unobtainable in 2007.

In 2010, she said, the survey estimated there were 2,800 primary
teachers teaching languages.Some 15,000 primary teachers had behind
them least one semester of tertiary study in a language, the
corresponding figure for secondary teachers being 12,800. Ismet
Fanany, director of Deakin University's Centre for Teaching Asian
Languages and Cultures, said the existing stock of staff should not be
overlooked in the debate about teacher supply.

There were teachers who felt they needed help with language teaching
methodology, classroom techniques and how to prepare and present
learning materials, Dr Fanany said. Many of them are not where they
should be in terms of language method,'' he said. He said one reason
for this was that language teachers, many of them born overseas, were
more likely than other teachers to have qualifications in fields
outside education, meaning they had missed formal instruction in
teaching methodology.

Thanks to money from the Rudd-era National Asian Languages & Studies
in Schools Program, the Deakin centre was helping current teachers to
improve their proficiency and skills, including their grasp of
methodology, Dr Fanany said. Another NALSSP grant is behind a program
at the University of the Sunshine Coast where sixty high school
students have been awarded scholarships to study two university-level
subjects in Indonesian.

They would get credit for the courses and guaranteed entry to most
university programs, USC said. Only two high schools in the region
offered Indonesian, a language with high drop-out rates in secondary
schools across the country. USC said its "Headstart to Indonesian''
program drew together students from 15 schools in the Sunshine Coast
region and teachers from 12 schools for online as well as on-campus

Teachers taking part would get credit towards a graduate certificate
or graduate diploma with the possibility of further study on the
island of Lombok, Indonesia, where USC runs in-country programs.

As for the school students, one year of study should enable them "to
land on the streets of Indonesia and interact proficiently,'' said USC
Indonesian lecturer Phil Mahnken.

"Hopefully, many will go on to higher levels of study and also add
professional skills to their Indonesian language and culture skill.''


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