Languages education in Australia in 2008
This article provides an overview of the current situation in the teaching of languages by providing some data regarding student participation in languages, outlining activities being undertaken collaboratively at the national level and providing information about recent Australian Government initiatives.
One feature of languages education in Australia is the large number of languages taught. The 2003 MCEETYA Review of Languages reported that 146 languages were taught in Australian schools (including ethnic schools). The recently released report An Investigation of the State and Nature of Languages in Australian Schools indicates that by 2005 this figure had decreased slightly to approximately 133 languages.
Data from both the MCEETYA Review and the State and Nature report found that:
The AFMLTA finds this downward trend of concern – for how will we be the clever country when many of our students are missing out on a key learning area?
The most recent and significant initiative in recent times is the National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools: National Plan for Languages Education in Australian Schools 2005–2008, agreed to by MCEETYA in 2005. The Statement describes the nature and purpose of languages education, it gives a strong profile to intercultural language learning and, importantly, it states that all languages are equally valid.
The Plan identifies six inter-dependent strategic areas for developing languages in Australian schools: teaching and learning, teacher supply and retention, professional learning, program development, quality assurance and advocacy and promotion .
The Plan is now in its final year, and it is not yet clear what will happen as of the end of this year – whether it is to be extended, rewritten or discontinued remains to be seen.
Since 2005, the Australian Government has allocated 5% of School Languages Programme (SLP) funds annually (approximately $1.4m) to national level projects stemming from the Plan. The national projects which have been implemented to date include:
Other projects are yet to be identified and announced.
In addition, the following projects have also been funded through DEEWR:
These projects are having a significant positive impact on the field.
Recent Australian Government initiatives
Recent Australian Government initiatives are currently generating a certain sense of optimism, as well as a certain degree of caution.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG), through its Productivity Working Group chaired by Education Minister Julia Gillard, has developed a comprehensive set of the aspirations, outcomes, progress measures and future policy directions in the key areas of early childhood, schooling, and skills and workforce development that will guide education systems across the nation.
The Schooling Working Party’s agenda is being driven by the key education election commitments: the ‘Digital revolution’, trade training centres, a national curriculum and support for teaching of Asian languages.
In terms of Asian languages, the Australian Government has committed $62.4 million to the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP) – a program to promote the study of Chinese (Mandarin), Indonesian, Japanese and Korean in high schools. Over four years the funding will provide:
This is the first time that languages have been given such close attention by a Prime Minister – and this certainly augurs well. Currently, DEEWR is engaged in an information-seeking and consultation process with the jurisdictions and key stakeholders to inform the development of a detailed implementation plan which will be in place from the beginning of 2009.
From 2009 the National Curriculum Board will oversee the teaching of languages in schools (note that this is all languages – not just Asian languages), working with the States and Territories to:
Finally, there are two other initiatives that will impact on languages that deserve mention. At the recent 2020 Summit one of the 10 topics for discussion was ‘Australia’s future in the region and the world’. The background paper developed to frame this discussion highlighted the need for students to have better language education and greater links with other countries.
The focus was on Asian languages for regional literacy. This emphasis is a deep concern for the AFMLTA, which maintains that all languages are equally valid, and that a broader range of languages should be available and supported. However, at least languages are very much on the national radar in a way they have never been before.
Students too are acknowledging the importance of languages. For example, at the 2020 Schools Summit, in response to the topic 'placing Australia as an international leader and role model', students said: 'We should encourage language learning in schools, so we can communicate with others'.
The federalist paper that was released last year, titled The Future of Schooling in Australia (Council for the Australian Federation, 2007) described six discipline areas (English, Mathematics and Science, Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Arts, Health and Physical Education) as well as cross-disciplinary learning areas (technology, civics and citizenship, business) that were essential goals for schooling. At its recent meeting of 17 April 2008, MCEETYA agreed that the current national goals are to be reviewed and that a new Declaration be released later this year – and, importantly, that the federalist paper form the basis of this review.
This too augurs very well for languages – and for our students. If we can strengthen the place of languages in the curriculum, and improve languages education in our schools, we will be well and truly on our way to providing our students with the sort of education that will equip them to participate actively and meaningfully in a globalised world.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)