Guiding language education in NSW schools

27 May 2014

University of Sydney research is painting the most complete picture yet of the language education needs of pupils, parents and teachers in New South Wales.

Dr Ruth Fielding and Associate Professor Lesley Harbon of the Faculty of Education and Social Work have examined four bilingual primary schools in Campsie (Korean), Rouse Hill (Mandarin), Scots Head (Indonesian) and Murray Farm (Japanese), where year 1-5 students learned subjects such as geography, music and history through a second language.

"As soon as you step into these classrooms you can see that the children love learning, and are engaging with concepts from a range of key learning areas through the new language," said Dr Fielding.

"Parents and teachers demonstrated how they see their children enjoying and benefitting from language learning in ways they have not seen through other styles of language program that they have experienced before."

Embedding language education within another learning area could be one way for schools to teach languages within a crowded curriculum, she said. Their next phase of research will focus on bilingual teachers' pedagogy, to glean more information about effective language teaching.

Separate and ongoing research led by Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank is exploring language learning in K-12 across NSW government and non-government schools. Maximising Australia's Language Resources is the first study to research the gap between government policy and implementation with its focus on Sydney and Wollongong.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project has to date identified the importance of incentives for HSC language study and the need for more flexibility in the provision of languages.

"We know that teachers, parents and students have positive attitudes to language learning and support it, especially when they have had any experience of learning or growing up with languages. In many primary schools, parents fund languages programs themselves but there is a real need for governments to take it seriously," said Associate Professor Cruickshank.

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