Outcry over language teacher shortages misleading

13 December 2013

A lack of trained languages teachers is often blamed for undermining federal and state government attempts to increase the numbers of students studying languages at school. But a leading languages educator, Professor Ken Cruickshank, says these arguments are not taking into account existing alternate teacher resources such as community language schools.

220 teachers are set to graduate at the University of Sydney with a Certificate of Language Training this Sunday December 15, joining over 1,000 language teachers in New South Wales (NSW) who have already completed the course.

These graduates will join 2,400 teachers working in over 400 out-of-hours community languages schools in NSW. These dedicated individuals teach over 32,000 students in 56 different languages, which goes against widely held assumptions of a teacher shortage in this field..

"Community languages schools are a hidden treasure," said Professor Ken Cruickshank from the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

"The teachers give their time voluntarily on weeknights and weekends teaching students community language and culture. The classes they run range from pre-school to adults, from complete beginners to native speakers.

"For parents, grandparents and community members, stepping in front of a class of active children for the first time is a real challenge. The certificate course gives them the knowledge and skills they need plus they get to offer each other support . Despite their varied backgrounds, volunteers realise they are dealing with similar issues," said Professor Cruickshank.

The 60-hour Certificate in Languages Teaching is unique in Australia, accrediting teachers to work in community languages schools in NSW. Teachers undertake observations in day schools, are updated on child development, current teaching practices and classroom management and also write books for students in the language they teach. The course is funded by the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Three graduates from this course will discuss their experiences of the program at the 2013 graduation ceremony. Miriam Formosa has been in Australia for seven years and as a primary teacher in day schools, has now qualified as a teacher of Maltese. Augustino Dat is an interpreter and health professional who, as a result of this course, is now a qualified teacher of the Dinka language. Nathalie Mai is a full-time public servant who teaches on weekends in a Vietnamese language school.

"Over half of the teachers in community languages schools already have tertiary qualifications from Australia and overseas," added Professor Cruickshank.

"The course provides a rare stepping stone for many back into the paid workforce and their profession. Without such opportunities, it is such a waste of crucial language and teaching skills."

Media enquires: Ken Cruickshank 0422 492 952, or Aimee Saunders-Phillips 02 9036 5074,