Saturday, 6 August 2016

LOTE Pressures

The introduction of LOTE ( which goes back to the mid-1980s with the old Frameworks books) is laudable but has been badly implemented across the system since then. (30 years!) For a start there seemed to be no strategy as far as language preferences or efforts to effectively recruit a pool of capable LOTE teachers. Right from the start there was a preference for delivering LOTE online ( those of us who are 'ancient' remember the satellite dishes that popped up on our school roofs in the early 90s) and training seemed to be haphazard. 
There is a preference now for Asian languages which has been more or less DET policy over the last few years as has an unrealistic compulsory LOTE instruction policy. ( Politicians and central office bean-counters love setting these unrealistic one-size fits all dictates )  As far as Glen Park is concerned I found the early satellite programs to be uninspiring and it was always difficult to recruit a teacher who would work  on a small time fraction. ( Between 1997-2005 we had 4 different teachers and we started 2 different languages, Chinese and Italian which was determined by the availability of teachers not a preference of the school.) staff we employed either moved on to jobs with a bigger time fraction or retired. 
We didn't employ a fractional staff member for the last 10 years preferring to spend money on building up our resources. We didn't receive the Polycom video conferencing equipment ( a truely stupid decision, one-teacher rural schools should have been the first to get video conferencing equipment! ) so we couldn't run an online program. We trialled using iPad language apps but couldn't find an app which did everything we wanted. Luckily we have employed (1.5 hours per year) an excellent teacher ( who teaches Japanese) who already works part time at a number of schools teaching LOTE, Initially as a one term taster ( our students go to a range of secondary schools and therefore have access to a range of languages so we can't focus on a single language which would make it a lot easier for us.) but I have extended it because the kids enjoy it. 
We have also been lucky to have a student teacher volunteer to teach Italian with us. So we are really treated this year. But.....I have no doubt that this could change and I'll be back to where I was before! 

This story is interesting. You would think the prevelance of Greek and Italian speakers in Melbourne's north would make the teaching of these languages much easier than it is for me in the bush. I hope it isn't a case of a state school trying to 'gentrify' itself. There have been a lot of examples of this reported in the press ( the are a few state schools in Ballarat who have these pretensions) lately. Maybe it is more about staff availability ( although this wouldn't be a problem in Northcote!) or a desire for the school to adhere to DETs Asian language policy.

From today's Age

A diplomatic stoush has erupted after a school in Melbourne's inner north axed the teaching of Greek and Italian – the languages commonly spoken in its community.

Parents have accused Northcote High School of trying to rebadge itself as an elite state school after it announced it would phase out the languages, but retain French and Chinese.

The Greek and Italian consuls-general have now intervened, urging the school to reconsider its decision.  

In an unusual move, the officials are organising meetings with Education Minister James Merlino to express their concerns about the curriculum changes.

Matthew Absalom, a parent at the school who works at the University of Melbourne's Italian studies program, said the decision made no sense.

"It's preposterous that Italian should be phased out in the inner north," he said.

He said there was no case for discontinuing the languages based on students' performance.

The school has achieved impressive language results in the VCE, with three students receiving study scores above 40 (out of a possible 50) in Italian last year.

Despite its transformation from a working class migrant suburb to a trendy hub of live music, cafes and expensive houses, Northcote is still home to many residents with Greek and Italian roots.

Around 15 per cent of its residents speak Greek and Italian, the two most commonly spoken languages in Darebin after English.

Students at the nearby Merri Creek, Northcote, Brunswick East and Brunswick South Primary Schools all learn Italian.  

Mr Absalom said parents were not consulted about the controversial changes, which appeared to be part of a broader push to transform Northcote High into an elite government school.

"Schools that want to project an image of privilege tend to favour certain languages and Italian and Greek are not typically among them."  The languages will no longer be offered to Year 7 students from next year.

Consul general of Italy Marco Maria Cerbo said he was concerned about the loss of opportunities for students.

"The school is in an area where a lot of people speak the language or deal with people from Italian backgrounds," he said.

"This decision was unexpected, particularly because the Italian program was so successful."

The Greek consul for Educational Affairs, Georgia Nikolaidou, said the decision to walk away from the languages was "flawed".

But principal Kate Morris said the school wanted to focus on Chinese and French. 

"We are hearing the community feedback about our recent decision to phase out Greek and Italian languages so we can focus on Chinese and French – and we will be undertaking further consultation with our school community," she said. 

The situation highlights broader concerns about the lack of continuity between the languages taught at primary and secondary schools.

The Education Department has been trying to address the issue by creating language networks, where clusters of schools offer the same language.

Students can also take up a large range of languages at the Victorian School of Languages and community language schools.

But continuity is not the "be and end all", according to Modern Language Teachers' Association of Victoria president Andrew Ferguson.

"The reality is, and will continue to be, that for various reasons students may not be able to continue a language from primary to secondary school," he said.

He said that even if students had to pick up a new language in high school, the language skills they learnt in primary school would be useful.

"They will take a broad range of transferable inter-cultural, language learning, literacy and thinking skills with them when starting a new language," he said.

An Education Department spokesman said the department was helping the school with its consultation.

Victoria has the highest proportion of students learning a language, other than English, in Australia. 

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