Australia

NSW language schools get funding boost to help child development

One of Australia's most multicultural states has made a multi-million dollar investment in community language classes.

The New South Government has invested in a $7.5 million deal with The University of Sydney to establish a research institute for community language education.

It is part of its $11 million pledge towards community language schools that was announced in May.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who attended an Armenian language school as a child, told SBS World News she hoped the partnership would increase opportunities for the students in later life.

"The benefits of learning a second language or learning the language of your parents is a fantastic opportunity for all children and I'm really looking forward to expanding that opportunity, but also giving it professional oversight," Ms Berejiklian said.

"It's wonderful to think that students will be gaining some kind of credit for the language studies they're doing - whether it's through the HSC or whether it's just to be able to say they did it through the auspices of Sydney University."

What will the money go towards?

The research institute has been named the Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education.

Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank, from the University of Sydney's School of Education, explained it would have a number of priorities.

"We're interested in three basic initiatives. The first one, we're going to find out from the schools what they're doing, how they're teaching, what their needs are and we can get an idea of what to do then," he said.

"We're going to develop syllabuses with the Department of Education for the schools that haven't got them. We're going to develop resources, both online and hard copy, to support the teachers."

There is also a long-term goal for teachers to gain a pathway to accreditation.

NSW Community Language Schools Federation president Michael Christodoulou told SBS that could come via either a Bachelor's or Master's degree.

"A lot of our teachers are overseas-trained teacher, and unfortunately they needed to be upskilled within the Australian education system. So therefore most of the funding will go towards that," Mr Christodoulou said.

"There are long-term benefits for NSW and indeed Australia because children learning languages later on in their life, in their careers, they'll be able to use their language and, of course, economic benefits."

Tens of thousands to benefit

About 34,000 students across New South Wales study a second language out of school hours.

They are taught by 2,700 teachers and 260 languages are spoken state-wide with 58 taught in community classes.

That includes the Feng Hua Chinese School with four campuses across Sydney and 1,000 students.

Caroline Yi Xu, who has been the school principal for 19 years, told SBS World News the development was a significant one.

"I think that this is a great decision to make because the students in community language schools can be the great cultural bridge between Australia and other countries," she said.

"So this is a really great job for the community language school(s)."

Western Sydney's St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School deputy director Milla Krivozhnya agrees.

"The announcement is absolutely awesome. It just takes the community languages education to an absolutely different level," Ms Krivozhnya said.

"Extra resources in general, yes, and just taking the education to a further level where they can just take this to HSC and universities."

The Feng Hua Chinese School in Sydney teaches 1,000 students across four campuses. (SBS/Omar Dabbagh)
SBS/Omar Dabbagh

Her daughter, 12-year-old Alisa Krivozhnya, said the importance of the announcement had not been lost on her.

"It means a lot. I'm very proud of my teachers and my principal and my whole school," she said.

"It's amazing, I found so many friends, extra-curricular activities, there are so many different various subjects and I just love to learn the Russian language."

Only 7.5 per cent of students study language for the HSC in NSW.

That is less a third of the numbers in Victoria at 21.7 per cent and even less study language at university.

Mr Cruickshank said the announcement aimed to change that.

"What happens at the moment, we know that 20 per cent of kids in NSW go to school bilingual," he said.

"But often by the time they get to year 12 they're monolingual in English and this is such a wastage of resources.

"A lot of people say it's just for jobs, career, travel, but in actual fact we know now from the research that languages increase cognitive skills."