16 June 2009

NSW Schools and Bilingual Education

When something sounds too good to be true then it really is, don't you think?

The NSW government has indicated that it is going to fund a four-year project to the tune of AUD 2.25 million that seeks to introduce bilingual education into NSW schools. The idea is an excellent one. Simply, if Australia is going to be competitive in the future it needs leaders and business people who are capable in languages other than English. Considering, our geographic location in Asia, then it makes sense that the focus be on Asian languages.

The beef though, is that AUD 2.25 million hardly seems a sufficient investment into the future of language education let alone as an investment into bilingual education. The project is going to initially target four schools. So, the simple math here is that there will be a little over AUD 550,000 per school, which then equates to about AUD 135,000 per year. This is not a lot of cash considering that specialist teachers will need to be employed and the schools set up to be able to teach a bilingual curriculum.

The schools who want to be a part of the project will need to apply and show that they are capable of running a bilingual curriculum. At least, this is what the NSW Minister of Education is saying. The government's view seems to be that our future economic prosperity depends on it. Perhaps they are right, particularly when one considers that the NSW Treasurer is about to hand down a state budget that has some AUD 900 million in deficit factored into it.

The focus languages are going to be Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian. The bilingual curriculum is to be taught by native speakers. These native speakers will also need to hold teaching qualifications.

The bilingual curriculum will start in kindergarten and be about 90 minutes in length. As students progress through the grades this amount of time will be increased as will the number of subjects that are being taught in the second language.

It goes without saying that one of the keys to learning a language is starting young and keeping at it until you master the intricacies of the language. These intricacies are not only technical, such as grammar, but also the use of a language in its natural setting where grammar rules might be more relaxed.

Hopefully, the NSW government will see in its infinite wisdom to get more serious about this project and allocate a considerably larger sum to ensuring its success.

(picture can be found here. The picture highlights that the bilingual debate is one prevalent throughout Australia)

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