Language learning fundamental to social cohesion, Annual Conference hears

Improvements need to be made to language education provision in NSW public schools, Federation’s Multicultural Officer/Organiser Amber Flohm said at Annual Conference earlier this week.

Next year, a new K-10 Languages Framework will be introduced, but there will be no requirement for qualified language teachers to deliver courses and the framework is optional for K-6 students.

Ms Flohm said NSW could learn a lot from the Victorian languages model, which incorporates mandatory K-10 language learning and courses are delivered by qualified language teachers.

She told Delegates sustainable language education in NSW public schools requires improvement in the areas of provision, funding, qualifications of teachers and teacher supply.

“Federation contends that enhancements in this area can only begin to reap benefits for individual children, their families and communities, this state, as well as nationally, when we move away from insular attitudes and prejudice to a society which is more respectful and socially inclusive for all Australians,” she said.

Ms Flohm said language learning was fundamental to social cohesion.

“NSW cannot wait until parents and carers and children … decide they want to value and learn a language, as suggested by the Learning through Languages review. It is the responsibility of government to ensure this becomes an everyday part of students’ curriculum as it is in other parts of the country and internationally,” she said.

English as an Additional Language or Dialect

Teachers without EAL/D [English as an Additional Language or Dialect] qualifications are being engaged under the English Language Proficiency equity loading to meet the needs of these targeted student populations. “This situation is unacceptable,” Ms Flohm said.

“While one solution would clearly point to an increase of the staffing entitlement from flexible funding for permanent appointment of EAL/D teachers — which Federation is pursuing vigorously and also ensures the appropriate qualifications — this is not enough.

“Despite strong policy and advice jointly developed by Federation and the Department in this area, the Local Schools, Local Decisions environment continues to undermine the outcomes of these targeted students and the employment of EAL/D teachers.

“Frankly, as teachers, we can be complicit in letting this occur.”

Ms Flohm asked regarding the situation in TAFE: “Why is it acceptable for multicultural experts in TAFE to be replaced with generic positions to ‘service all communities’? Why is it acceptable for TAFE to do away with positions being tagged as multicultural? Why is it acceptable to cut courses to some of the most disadvantaged multicultural communities in TAFE because they don’t make profit or tie to industry?”

“I would argue these decisions reek of institutional racism and go unquestioned by many every day,” she said.

Speak up in your workplace

“As teachers, we often talk about being role models for our students and communities and the messages our actions send, but have we really reflected as a profession on these decisions being made under our noses?” Ms Flohm asked. “Why aren’t we standing up and speaking out in staff meetings, executive meetings and staff rooms and discussing this with our colleagues and leaders, instead of leaving it to small groups of affected teachers, who can often feel marginalised from their ‘mainstream’ colleagues?

“You as a public education teacher and unionist have great power and responsibility in every classroom, staffroom, school, TAFE and community where you work. You can affect change individually and collectively — change which shows every teacher colleague, student and community member that we stand with them and value their cultural and linguistic diversity, and that we stand against racism at a time when NSW, Australia and many parts of the world offer little hope.”

Government refugee policy

Ms Flohm also commented on the federal government’s off-shore detention policy for asylum seekers.

“The current obsession with punishing those fleeing persecution and those who want a better life for their families by [the federal] government and others around the world is nothing short of horrific,” Ms Flohm said.

“We have 134 children indefinitely detained in Nauru. There are more than 50 children born into immigration detention under our watch.”

“Public education institutions must continue to hold the highest of standards of equality, equity and aspirations for the future — now more than ever,” she concluded.