Saturday, December 30, 2017

Languages education in the discussion of the Future of Education in the ACT

It is disappointing to see little mention of languages policy or language education in the discussion so far. As ‘Many Voices’ the ACT Language Policy notes, Canberra is a multilingual city where different languages are part of the natural development of the community as a whole. The policy recognises the many benefits of learning and developing skills in more than one language, and states that “the maintenance and development of first, second and subsequent languages is essential.”

The community conversation about the Future of Education has identified ‘Learning for the Future by developing 21st century skills’ as a major theme. Language learning has been shown to have a central role in developing critical thinking, problem solving skills, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, cultural literacy and relationship building. These are all identified as 21st century skills in the Themes document.

Another theme notes the need to “engage students by better using their interests and skills to develop a love of, and engagement with, learning”. The skills in other languages students bring with them to school are not always sufficiently valued and built on. An understandable focus on English language and literacy can ignore the vital role other languages can play. As the ACT Education and Training pamphlet 5. Bilingualism and Multilingualism: English as an Additional Language or Dialect Education states:
  • There is a real risk that if EAL/D learners are not provided with targeted and specialised English language instruction, and are not encouraged to maintain home language and literacy practices, they may only develop limited competency in both languages. This will prevent them from reaching their full potential
A wealth of research indicates the cognitive and educational benefits of developing proficiency in more than one language. Failure to actively encourage and support the continued development of bilingual skills in students from CALD backgrounds thus militates against equity, a major focus of the ACT Future of Education exercise, and ignores significant student resources. It can also have detrimental effects on family relationships, identity issues and mental health, all aspects of ‘wellbeing', which the Theme ‘Real Life Skills’ links to academic achievement.

Learning another language is also important for students who live in the 80% or so of Canberra homes where only English is spoken. As noted in the Australian curriculum, Languages:
          Learning languages:
  • extends the capability to communicate and extends literacy repertoires
  • strengthens understanding of the nature of language, of culture, and of the processes of communication
  • develops intercultural capability
  • develops understanding of and respect for diversity and difference, and an openness to different experiences and perspectives
  • develops understanding of how culture shapes worldviews and extends learners’ understanding of themselves, their own heritage, values, culture and identity
  • strengthens intellectual, analytical and reflective capabilities, and enhances creative and critical thinking.
        Learning languages broadens students’ horizons in relation to the personal, social, cultural and            employment opportunities that an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world                      presents. … Despite its status as a world language, a capability in English only is no longer                  sufficient. A bilingual or plurilingual capability is the norm in most parts of the world.

A greater focus on language learning in ACT Education would therefore promote equity and increase the quality of education. Language education should be considered in a holistic way, seeking synergies between English language programs, home language support, and an additional language for all.

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