HomeNewsAustraliaCompulsory language classes to become a reality in NSW Schools

Compulsory language classes to become a reality in NSW Schools

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The Western Australian government recently announced that a momentous curriculum change is set to take place in Western Australian schools: compulsory language classes for all year three public and private school students.

With the new curriculum, it is expected that all students from Years 3 to 8 will learn a second language by 2023, effectively positioning Western Australian students to reap in the benefits of bilingualism.

Will NSW students be left behind?

A 2016 report released by the Centre of Education Statistics and Evaluation titled ‘Schools: Language Diversity in NSW’ indicated that 33.1 per cent of students in NSW government schools came from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Unsurprisingly, Arabic and the Chinese languages are at the top of the list.

While diversity of language is indeed woven into the very fabric of NSW Schools and knowledge of another language, especially Asian languages, is becoming an increasingly valuable and vital asset to have in Australia, students of NSW schools are letting the benefits of learning a second language slip through their fingers.

In 2016, Labor leader Luke Foley summarised the extent of the issue at Labor’s state conference where he said that “by 2050, Asia’s economy will account for more than half of global GDP growth. Our future economic prosperity relies on doing business in Asia, yet in NSW the number of students studying Asian languages is declining.”

As it stands currently, the study of a language in NSW Primary Schools is merely optional with the decision to deliver a language program being made at an individual school level. While the Confucius Institute delivers support for Chinese language and cultural education in 13 classrooms across NSW and the Nihongo Tanken Centre provides a stimulating and authentic environment for students to further develop their Japanese language skills, these programs are optional and no compulsory language learning programs have been put into place.

Indeed, it is only when students reach high school that the study of 100 hours of language over one continuous year between Years 7 and 10 becomes mandatory.

The momentum to study another language clearly does not flow into year 11 and 12 where students have the option to elect to study a variety of languages. A total of 66 languages courses, including Aboriginal Languages, are offered for the Higher School Certificate. Yet, in 2016, only 4,283 out of 67,924 students in NSW Department of Education schools studied a language for their Higher School Certificate.

When contacted by Le Courrier Australien for comment, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education had the following to say on its stance towards NSW students learning a second language in schools: “The NSW Government recognises the importance of students studying languages, particularly Asian languages, in schools.”

Pressed as to whether the NSW Department of Education plans to follow the Western Australian example of compulsory second language education, the NSW Department of Education failed to comment but said that “it is a priority for the government to ensure the number of Year 12 students studying a language rises to 40% by 2023.”

Whether learning a second language will become a compulsory aspect of NSW education in the future is a matter to be watched closely.

Milena Mitić


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