Language Policy for Schools
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lee for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly. I rise today to speak in vigorous support of it.
I speak as a mother of five children who are all enrolled in the territory’s public schools. I also rise as a bilingual Australian – one who, like nearly 24 per cent of Canberrans – grew up using a language other than English at home. My husband spent his earliest years in the Netherlands, where, naturally, he spoke Dutch but also learnt English from his mother. He then picked up Tongan as a third language in his early 20s.
I share these personal details, Madam Speaker, as a way of supporting all that has been said in this debate so far about the benefits of learning a second (or even a third!) language. These benefits go far beyond just the ability to communicate with or understand a broader range of people.
Naturally, my husband and I, like so many other Canberra parents, want our children to enjoy the same benefits that come from learning a second language. Unfortunately, in this space, my family have also experienced many of the issues raised by Ms Lee. One of these has been the lack of a consistent language pathway. For example, one of our children had the opportunity to start to learn a second language in the first two years of primary school, but no opportunity at all for the next three years, only to have a completely different language offered in year five. Needless to say, this muddle has not resulted in any proficiency in either language.
Sadly, our experience has not been unique. As a spokeswoman from the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens’ Associations recently pointed out, many Canberra parents are, quote, ‘concerned about the lack of clear pathways for language students in the capital … It’s not a working system’, end quote. Research on this point is clear, Madam Speaker: students need constant exposure to a language over time in order to actually acquire it.
To help fix this problem, we enrolled some of our kids in a community language school. I sincerely wish to thank the ACT Community Language Schools Association for all they do to provide informal language learning opportunities in our community, including creating opportunities where this government has failed to provide any.
On this point, I speak up strongly in support of the recommendation in Ms Lee’s motion that the ACT Government work more closely with this association in order to share resources so that language education can be offered in a school setting where needed. We have a wealth of human and other resources here in the nation’s capital, and I urge this government to do more to take full advantage of these resources.
This would include working with community language experts who are keen to teach in order to make sure that they are available to school students and that this relationship can be formalised, whether that means the issuing of credit or merely annotating a student’s school record. I have personally spoken with expert language instructors who teach both in the ACT and across the border in New South Wales. They have told me that creating a permanent record of a student’s achievement is far easier in New South Wales than it is here. This clearly needs to be fixed. The Canberra Academy of Languages is currently able to issue credit to its students, but its accreditation is with the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies, and therefore it only works with students in years 11 and 12. We need to extend these opportunities into the lower years.
Clearly, Madam Speaker, we need a serious action plan for second language learning in this territory, one that responsibly pulls together all of the resources that are already at hand, seeks to create new opportunities and resources, and embeds into our schools rational and consistent language pathways for our students. Many of our students want this to happen. We can see their passion for language learning in the example of the two Narrabundah College students who recently launched an online petition in response to finding out that their Indonesian course had been cancelled, without any known consultation, halfway through their studies.
We are the nation’s capital. We have thriving multicultural communities, an abundance of diplomatic missions, committed community language instructors and more. In light of our situation, we can and absolutely should be the nation’s leader when it comes to second language learning opportunities. The Canberra Liberals are united in our commitment to that educational future! I commend this motion to the assembly.