[lg policy] Australia: Please Premier, don't cut foreign language targets

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Oct 13 14:30:32 UTC 2015

Please Premier, don't cut foreign language targets*Opinion*
By Rachelle Cole <http://www.abc.net.au/news/rachelle--cole/40562>

Posted yesterday at 9:46pm
[image: Children in a classroom]
Photo:* Foreign language learning in schools helps students develop a
global perspective. (AAP: Dan Peled)

*The decision by the Victorian Government to dump foreign language targets
in public schools is short-sighted and doesn't take into account how vital
these programs are in the 21st century, writes Rachelle Cole.*

Until last week, Victoria was leading Australia with ambitious targets to
increase the number of students studying a foreign language.

Unfortunately, the Government just dumped these targets
taking the view that quality is more important than quantity. While quality
is important and needs to be addressed, this is not a good enough reason to
dump the target.

The reality is that the targets are working to increase the number of
students studying foreign languages and this is equipping a more diverse
range of students, not just those at privileged schools, with the skills
and outlook needed to be successful in an increasingly globally connected
Australia. With this decision, Victoria risks following Western Australia,
which, after taking a similar decision in 2010, has experienced a 27 per
cent decline in the number of schools teaching languages

Acknowledging the serious decline of languages education in schools and the
need for Australia to better develop and harness its linguistic resources,
the previous Victorian government introduced a target to have every student
from prep to year 10 study a second language by 2025.

As a step towards this goal, all government schools were required to begin
by offering languages to preps by 2015. While some schools are still not
offering programs, or have applied for exemptions, government figures show
a significant increase
The targets have provided the impetus that many primary (and secondary)
schools needed to begin developing second language programs.

The targets are especially important for schools that serve disadvantaged
communities. In many of these schools, poor overall results and competing
priorities meant that they previously had chosen to focus on the basics of
literacy and numeracy, failing to offer language subjects. In response to
government policy, many schools have introduced languages.

These mandated targets are helping school communities to see language
programs as a core part of the curriculum. They are realising that not only
do languages provide students with the skills to access new cultures,
social networks and markets, but, as the research suggests, they can help
build students' literacy skills.

Not long before dumping the targets for language programs, Premier Daniel
Andrews was quoted as saying: "So while language certainly helps, cultural
awareness ... has probably never been more important.

Andrews is right to say that culture is important. However, his comment
fails to understand that language and culture are inexorably intertwined
and thus language programs are the best way to teach students about other
cultures. Learning languages helps kids "see culture" more clearly.
Students do not just learn the languages of France, Indonesia or China in
classrooms, they learn the basic skills to understand what culture is, they
learn about their own culture and they learn the skills to engage with
people from different cultures.

In addition to these important intercultural skills, language learning
helps students develop a global perspective. As they engage with issues
affecting our region, and participate in exchange programs they develop a
sense of the opportunities that are available beyond Australia's borders
and as a consequence are more likely to take advantage of these in the
future. This is particularly important for students from low socioeconomic
backgrounds, who may not otherwise be exposed to these ideas at home.

Victoria is not the only state to abandon policy commitments in relation to
second languages in schools. While previously requiring that languages be
taught in primary school, in 2010, the Western Australia Government changed
this policy to give schools more room to focus on literacy and numeracy.
The results speak for themselves. Department figures revealed that 135 of
the state's 516 primary schools had dropped the languages programs by 2013.
Thankfully, other states including Queensland and NSW are developing new
policies that involve mandated targets. Queensland, for example, has
recently developed a new "global schools" policy
which requires that students learn a language from years 5-8, which it
hopes will reverse the decline and elevate the status of the subject.

With the recent news of Australia's accession to the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, and an increasing emphasis on trade and investment with Asia,
intercultural understanding and a global outlook are just the 21st century
skills that we need all Australians to possess. Our school students today,
whether they are doctors, lawyers, hospitality workers or electricians,
will have to work with people from other cultures or in other countries,
and we need them to be equipped with the skills and mindset to do so

The Government's inability or unwillingness to address issues of quality
shouldn't be used as an excuse to abandon a policy that is critically
important to giving all our students, not just those that are privileged,
access to opportunities in 21st century Australia.

*Rachelle Cole* <http://www.abc.net.au/news/rachelle--cole/40562>* is an
Indonesian teacher at a secondary school in Melbourne and an alumnus of the
Teach for Australia program. She is the co-founder of the Australia
Indonesia Youth Association Ltd.*


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