Page 134 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 13 February 2008

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support for language teaching, and with the concurrence of the children concerned, my son attends that school. It is a sorry situation that, instead of saying, “Here is something unique,” the minister wants to talk about how good the ACT government education system is. He had one of a kind—the only one in the country. It was a little one; there were 60 or 70 children there, but it was growing. It needed assistance. What did this minister do? He said: “No, we don’t like that. We’re going to close it down and turn it into an infants school.” We do not want to talk about that policy; it may be good or it may be bad, but he had something that was one of a kind and he is going to shift it, take those 60 or 70 children and make them part of a larger stream in another school, which will almost certainly, over time, kill that program.

This is being done instead of having something that is one of a kind—a bilingual education program that was really starting to show results. For example, it is actually not quite as hard or as daunting as people think it is. A seven-year-old boy can go into a classroom and then come home and say, “I have to do my maths homework, it’s in Italian.” Of course, it is a good place to start teaching children languages because they have already got the concept of numbers behind them. When I ask my son his times tables, he can’t tell me them in English but he can do so in Italian, because that is how he learnt his times tables. It is not an elitist thing, because the children who go to the Lyons Primary School come from all over the place. They come from Indigenous communities, they come from migrant communities. They do not just come from the Italian community; they come from the Sri Lankan community and the Indian community. They come from rich families and poor families.

One of the things that have been said to me by the people who had the foresight to set up this school system was that every child at the Lyons primary Italian immersion bilingual program is extended, and participates in a gifted and talented program, because language teaching brings out the best in all of them. It brings out confidence in people where hitherto they did not have it.

The ACT government—indeed, successive governments; it is not just the Stanhope government—as with all Australian governments, has been very poor in the area of language learning and language teaching. If we decided to have a radical change in policy, it would now be very difficult for us to source appropriate teachers to implement a different policy.

I think it is unfortunate that this motion today is sentimental and mawkish about how wonderful it is to eat paella and spicy sausages as a testament to multiculturalism. Those things are fine, and we all appreciate the activities as part of the multicultural festival, but the fact that we, as a group in this Assembly and as a community as a whole, are substantially monolingual means that we cannot truly appreciate these societies. You cannot truly appreciate the culture of another society until you learn the language and learn the way that people think. The way that people structure their language is a key to how their society and their culture work. We can only rub at the windows and look longingly at that until, as a community, we embrace language teaching.

Ms Porter’s motion contains nice words—that we recognise the important role of languages in this International Year of Languages. But what are we, as people in this ACT Legislative Assembly, as people who are looking after the education of our

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