Page 5026 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 28 November 2018

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MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (6.15): I support Ms Lee’s motion and wish to deliver a few brief remarks on behalf of my colleague Mrs Kikkert, who had to leave. Mrs Kikkert’s remarks are in the context of being the mother of five children who are all enrolled in the territory’s public school system. She is also a bilingual Australian and one who, like nearly 24 per cent of Canberrans, grew up using a language other than English at home.

Her husband spent his earlier years in the Netherlands where, naturally, he spoke Dutch, but he also learned English from his mother. He then learnt Tongan as a third language in his twenties. And Mrs Kikkert shares these details as a way of supporting all that has been said in this debate about the benefits of learning a second or even a third or fourth language. These benefits go far beyond just the ability to communicate with or understand a broader range of people.

Naturally, Mrs Kikkert, like so many other Canberra parents, wants her children to enjoy those same benefits that come from learning a second language. Unfortunately, her family has encountered some of the issues identified by Ms Lee in her motion. For example, one of her children had the opportunity 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 5. Needless to say, this muddle of approaches has not resulted in any proficiency in either language.

Sadly, this experience is not unique. As a spokeswoman from the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association recently pointed out, many Canberrans are concerned about the lack of clear pathways for language students in the capital; it is not a working system. The research on this point is quite clear: students need constant exposure to a language over time in order to acquire it.

To help fix this problem, some of Mrs Kikkert’s children enrolled in a community language school, and she would like to specifically thank the ACT Community Language Schools Association for all they do to provide informal language learning opportunities in our community, including creating opportunities where the government school system has failed to provide them.

On that point, she speaks strongly in favour of Ms Lee’s motion for the recommendation that the ACT government work more closely with that 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 in the nation’s capital, and I urge the government to do more to take full advantage of these resources. This could include working with community language experts keen to teach in order to ensure they are available to school students and that this relationship can be formalised, whether that is by the issuing of credit or merely annotating a student’s school record.

Mrs Kikkert has had discussions with expert language instructors who teach both in the ACT and across the border in New South Wales. They have informed her that creating a permanent record of a student’s achievement is far easier in New South Wales than it is here. Clearly, this could be fixed.

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