Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 13 February 2008) . . Page.. 149 ..
I am not going to advocate a particular model but I believe that we need to provide students with some continuity through their school days. I think we can look at innovations such as language camps and intensives that would provide a deeper and more engaging experience of languages for kids. Schools need to embrace their languages and build connections with cultural communities so that the schools themselves can be enriched by that experience. We need to provide better support for language teachers. We should take advantage of the federal government’s renewed interest in language, especially Asian languages, and see if we cannot get overseas qualified language teachers retrained for the ACT.
I am disappointed with the curriculum frame for suggesting that intercultural communication is an “us and them” thing and I think we should revisit it. I would also like to see the government take up the challenges and develop a plan for language teaching that will give kids a meaningful experience, to underpin their view of the world and open up opportunities for many of them. I do not think the ACT can turn around and deliver a comprehensive, best practice, system-wide languages program for all our kids tomorrow, but I do think that we can start doing things to achieve that now.
MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Minister for Industrial Relations) (12.08): I thank Dr Foskey for bringing forward this motion. I foreshadow now that I will be moving an amendment later in the debate that will better reflect the strategies the government has already put in place to improve intercultural understanding and language education offered in ACT public schools. But, with Canberra as the seat of the federal government and the residence of the diplomatic corps, the concentration of people in the ACT who have travelled and have been exposed to languages other than English is well above the national average.
As my colleague Mr Hargreaves outlined yesterday in question time and again this morning during the debate on Ms Porter’s motion, this city celebrates our multicultural background, most visibly during these two weeks during the multicultural festival. Our schools are microcosms of this multicultural society, and our student population draws from over 70 nationalities. Currently in ACT public schools over 17,000 students are enrolled in various levels and types of language classes. The seven most commonly offered languages in ACT public schools are Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. However, other languages are offered by a range of other schools: Korean and Latin, and Hindi has just been introduced at one college in 2008.
This is a unique situation that carries with it the responsibility for the ACT to take the lead in intercultural understanding and language education. Although the number of students studying foreign languages in Australia has steadily fallen over the last 11 years, the ACT government, along with a number of other state and territory governments, have recognised that the study of languages other than English is an educational requirement for students living in the 21st century. As recently as September last year, all states and territories reiterated the relevance, significance and importance to young people in Australia today of the need to possess intercultural understanding and exposure to learning a second language. This was outlined in the Council for the Australian Federation’s paper, The future of schooling in Australia.