Monday, 6 August 2007
Australia’s aspirations to be a world leader in preparing our next generation for active and responsible citizenship would be at risk if the teaching of languages in primary school is sidelined, according to Professor Anne Pauwels at The University of Western Australia.

“Languages need to be an integral part of the primary curriculum,” she said.

Professor Pauwels, Dean of UWA’s Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and Chair of Go8 Deans of Arts,  said a draft charter released by the Australian Primary Principals’ Association had been described as the Association’s ‘strategic, thoughtful and forward-looking statement of (the purposes of primary schooling)’.

“While the draft charter begins with sensible principles and a commendable statement in that it should equip ‘our children…to lead the nation through the 21st century’, it also risks putting Australian primary schooling out of touch with the rest of the world.

“A close look at the Association’s proposal for curriculum areas proposed as core areas of primary education reveal a strong sense that the principles and values of parochialism,  monolingualism and monoculturalism ‘govern’ the blueprint for the education of Australia’s future leaders. This is strongly at odds with Australia’s aspiration to be a world leader and to prepare the next generation of Australians for active and responsible citizenship in a global world.

“Sadly the draft charter relegates languages to the category of ‘supplementary subject’ at a time when the world’s largest and most prominent nations have moved or are moving to making the learning of a second language compulsory in primary education. All European Union countries other than the United Kingdom now require children to take a second language at primary school.” she said

“The United Kingdom is moving to making second language learning an essential part of primary education as is the United States, and most remarkable, is the determination of China to have compulsory second language learning in primary school. Interestingly Finland, which consistently outperforms Australia in achievements of school students throughout the curriculum, does not find the curriculum too crowded to require all students to take three languages throughout schooling,” she said.

Professor Pauwels said the need for young Australians attaining competency in a second language was recognised by General Peter Cosgrove, former head of the Australian Defence Forces when he said: ‘Languages skills and cultural sensitivity will be the new currency of the world order’.

David Graddol, a prominent British scholar wrote in a recent report to the British Council that within 10 to 15 years, English will have become a basic skill around the world and that those who in addition know other languages will have the ‘edge’ while monolingual English speakers will be disadvantaged.

“I sincerely hope that Australians will not belong to the latter group,” Professor Pauwels said.

Recently the Go8 released a policy paper ‘Languages in crisis’ which provides a blueprint for the learning of languages in Australian schools.

Media references

Professor Anne Pauwels 61 8  6488 3870

Simone Hewett / Francesca Robb 61 8  6488 7977
(UWA Public Affairs)    0420 790 097 / 0420 790 098


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