Inspiring: Schools in Australia join forces to rescue languages

Sarah Eaton, speaker, keynote, second languages, literacy, Canada, foreign languagesIs the language program at your school gasping for its last breath? If so, you are not alone. Language programs across the globe are suffering from decreased enrollments, diminished interest from students and perhaps most frustrating, lack of money to keep the program going.

Schools in Victoria, Australia, have banded together to turn all that around after enrollment in language programs plummeted in the area. The stats look something like this:

Primary students taking languages in Victoria, Australia

1999 – 89%

2010 – 69%

Secondary students taking languages in Victoria, Australia

1999 – 54%

2010 – 41%

That is an alarming drop in enrollment. The new program, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), is slated to change all that. The initiative is so innovative, it made the local paper. The new program takes a content-based language teaching (CBLT) approach to second languages, teaching core subjects such as math, science and humanities in a second language. Schools will share resources and even share teachers, to ensure that children have access to the best quality learning experience possible.

The article reports that:

The government so far has funded 14 language clusters involving 102 primary and secondary schools across the state to trial the system over 18 months until the end of this year.

The languages chosen are Italian, Indonesian, German, Japanese, French, Chinese and Auslan, with schools offering one to three of those. Each cluster has a lead school that works to ensure standards are met and to co-ordinate the distribution of resources.

The government is also chipping in for 25 annual professional development scholarships for language teachers who want to upgrade their skills, and 45 scholarships for undergraduate students studying to become language teachers.

This is a brand new program, so there is no way to tell yet if it will be successful. What is inspiring though, is the collective commitment on the part of the schools and supported by the government, to make language learning a priority. The fact that they are also offering scholarships to teachers-in-training shows that they are not only thinking about today, but they are also thinking about tomorrow by investing in the education of aspiring language teachers.

Kudos to you, our friends in Victoria, Australia. You are finding creative ways to collaborate and turn a dismal and down-spiraling situation into inspired education for the 21st century.

Check out the original article, by Amanda Dunn, published in The Age.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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