Language teachers' graduation a 'certified' success

15 November 2012

Top (from left): NSW DEC Deputy Director General of Schools Greg Prior; NSW Federation of Community Languages Schools board chair Jozefa Sobski; Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Professor Robert Tierney. Above: Students Dana Al Mousa (left) and Dr Anushiya Kannan.

More than 200 community-language teachers, representing at least a dozen different cultural traditions, were awarded their Certificate in Language Teaching in a special graduation ceremony at the University earlier this month.

The certificate – a part-time, 60-hour professional development program – has been taught annually for the past two years under the auspices of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, and delivered online and in Sydney locations.

Course coordinator Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank said the certificate program was a vital element in improving multilingualism in Australia.

"Research has shown that people with a second language have better cognitive, thinking and intercultural skills than their monolingual counterparts, as well as better career opportunities after they leave school," he said.

"Of the more than 4000 language teachers working in after-hours community-language schools across Australia, about 40 percent have unrecognised teaching qualifications from overseas. The community languages schools are a pathway for teachers, who are parents and community members, back into study to upgrade their qualifications. These teachers are a valuable resource for languages acquisition in Australia. Increasing numbers are now continuing on to become teachers in day schools.

"The community-languages schools are an important complementary provider of languages education across Australia, with only 12 per cent of Year 12 students taking a language now, compared to half in the US and UK, the role the schools play is becoming more crucial in language teaching."

Dr Cruickshank said the Certificate in Language Teaching – which is funded by the NSW Department of Education and Communities – provided a pathway into mainstream teaching for community-language teachers, which could benefit not only themselves but also Australian school students.

The graduands heard from two of their fellow students before the conferring of the certificates. Dana Al Mousa paid tribute to the program's teachers for giving her "strength and encouragement to return as a student to a classroom environment after being away from studies for a long time"; Dr Anushiya Kannan, who is secretary of the NSW Federation of Tamil Schools, said the course had given her many ideas for improving her teaching skills and engaging her classes.

"Most of our students have never been to our native countries and to them, talking about daily life in Sri Lanka, China or Korea is as unrelated to them as watching the rovers move around on the planet Mars. We have to find ways of engaging the students when we explain the lifestyle and history of our native countries," Dr Kannan said.

The certificates were conferred in groups corresponding to the study centre attended. NSW DEC Deputy Director General of Schools Greg Prior presented testamurs to students from the Bankstown and Parramatta classes; chair of the NSW Federation of Community Languages Schools board Jozefa Sobski awarded certificates to graduates from the courses held in Surry Hills, Strathfield and online; and Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work Professor Robert Tierney officiated for students who completed the intensive course at Strathfield Girls' High School during the July school holidays.

Dr Cruickshank said the response to the course had been enormous, even attracting enquiries from overseas. In response to demand, two additional study programs are being developed by Professor Cruickshank for release next year: one for school principals; the other for advanced skills teachers.