My online social networks were alive yesterday after an article in the Courier Mail revealed that the mandatory status of Languages in Qld was being questioned. In the backlash that has begun, I feel I stand alone among my Qld colleagues in my opposition to mandatory Languages, though my opposition is probably not with the same intentions or motivations as the current review.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the inclusion of Languages in schools. Those who know me will know that I am passionate about Languages education. But, I’m up for stirring the pot on this issue and would encourage you to debate the ramblings outlined in this post.
When the policy of mandatory Languages was introduced in Queensland in 1991, the Queensland government was showing a commitment to establishing Languages as an integral part of a well-rounded education, in an environment where it was not particularly valued. The ultimate aim was to increase the number of students graduating from Qld high schools with a Language. But alas, twenty years on and Queensland has embarassingly low retention rates at well below the national average (MCEETYA, 2008), and even further away from the initial aim set by the Australian Language and Literacy Policy of 25% (ALLP, 1996). For all intents and purposes, the program failed. So personally, I’m not worried about the axing of mandatory Languages.
What I am worried about, is what will be put in its place.
An argument was presented to me by (colleague and fellow lover of languages) naz on twitter that other subjects are mandated, why not Languages? That’s true. For all other subject areas there is a set (national or state) curriculum, and there is an expectation that it is taught. But I’ve never heard Maths, English, PE, etc in the same breath as the word ‘mandatory’. There is no argument. They just are. When we align the concept of compulsion with Languages, we are communicating that there is an alternative. And it looks like that alternative is being considered.
That Languages has many benefits for students is not a controversial statement. Although the rednecks and cynics may try to suggest otherwise (read some of the comments below the Courier Mail article for evidence), there is plenty of empirical evidence which clearly proves the many cognitive and social benefits to learning a language. What isn’t clear in the research literature is exactly how much language input or study is required for these benefits to be ‘activated’. Surely one lesson 30 minutes a week isn’t enough to bring about the benefits that are espoused? What about programs that are delivered with a bare minimum of resources and minimal budget? What about a program taught by someone without training in language pedagogy? What about a program that is pushed aside for things ‘more important’? A program that is taught in a corner of the room? A program that in many eyes is there to provide Non-Contact Time to the ‘real’, classroom teacher. Sadly, the reality for too many primary school programs is instability, lack of support, and huge variety in program design (De Kretser & Spence-Brown, 2010; LoBianco, 2009; Slaughter, 2007).
I don’t think the argument at this point should be about mandation (Sarah Palin thinks it’s a word, but I like it anyway). Too many people can turn around and say that it hasn’t worked – and we don’t really have a leg to stand on. Because at the end of the day what was mandated was Languages, what wasn’t mandated was anything else necessary for quality languages education (time, resources, teacher education, support).
I would therefore humbly like to propose an alternative model for Languages Education in Queensland, based a bit on my research into teacher shortages and attrition, and a lot on gut instinct.
*X-number of schools opt to become ‘Language schools’
*The best teachers are selected to teach in these schools, helping alleviate the shortage of quality Language teachers, a major factor inhibiting program success, according to just about any report into Languages education in Australia #
*Administrative and community support is assured as schools are self-nominating
*All students in these schools learn a Language or Languages from P-10 for a mandated number of hours each week.
*These schools are supported through extra funding which is earmarked for Languages, not siphoned into other areas
*Resources and facilities are given to allow online communication between classes in Qld and their international counterparts, and where possible engage in student and teacher exchanges
*Teachers are given support through training and development of teaching methodology and language proficiency
*In 12 years the first round of students graduate with high levels of proficiency which they have gained through programs with adequate time, resources and support
*Graduates are competitive in a global job market, and get jobs using their Languages skills
*Parents and students see real outcomes and ask their local schools why they aren’t a ‘Language school’
*Languages education grows in Qld because communities see the benefits, not because they hear about them and are expected to accept them as gospel
*Courier Mail starts praising Languages education and the comments are mostly positive, and none show thinly veiled xenophobia (ah, but I dream).
My current APA referencing guide isn’t up-to-date with how to reference a Tweet, but in his infinite wisdom Jo LoBianco Tweeted on 8 July, 2013, “If Oz lang policy were less boastful, its rhetoric more tempered, language more realistic, goals more modest, its outcomes would improve”. So, do we want quantity or do we want quality? Of course both is the ideal, but we need to start small, and we need to be realistic.
OVER TO YOU …
*What is your reaction to the Courier Mail article?
*What do you think about mandatory languages?
*For readers outside of Qld, how is Languages education delivered in your state/country?
*What do you think of my model for Languages education? Could it work?
Add to the discussion in the comments below,
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#Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2011). Shape of the Australian
Curriculum: Languages. Sydney: Author.
#Australian Language and Literacy Council. (1996). Language teachers: The pivot of policy. The supply and quality of teachers of Languages Other Than English.
#Commonwealth of Australia. (2002). Review of the Commonwealth Languages Other than English Programme. A report to the Department of Education, Science and Training.
deKretser, A. & Spence-Brown, R. (2010). The Current State of Japanese Language Education in Australian Schools. www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NALSSP/Documents/CurrentStateJapaneseLanguageEducation.rtf
Liddicoat, A. J. (2010). Policy Change and Educational Inertia: Language Policy and Language Education in Australian Schooling. In A. Liddicoat and A. Scarino (Eds.), Languages in Australian education: Problems, prospects and future directions. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars.
Lo Bianco, J. (2009). Second Languages and Australian Schooling. Australian Council for Educational Research: Melbourne. http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/AER_54-SecondLanguagesAndAustralianSchooling.pdf
Ministerial Council on Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs. (2008). National report on
schooling in Australia 2008. Additional statistics on Australian schooling. Melbourne: Author.
#Nicholas, H., Moore, H., Clyne, M. & Pauwels, A. (1994). Languages at the Crossroads. The Guide to the Report of the National Enquiry Into the Employment and Supply of Teachers of Languages Other Than English. National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia.
#Simpson Norris Pty Ltd. (1999). Language Teacher proficiency or teacher language proficiency? Environmental scan of information relating to the competencies/qualities/knowledges required to be an effective language teacher. A report prepared for the NALSASS Taskforce. http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/nalsas/pdf/language.pdf
Slaughter, Y. (2007b). The study of Asian languages in two Australian schools: Considerations for language-in-education policy and planning. PhD Thesis. University of Melbourne. http://repository.unimelb.edu.au/10187/2289