Language is a fundamental resource for all learning and a means by which Australia can achieve outcomes in educational excellence, equity, Indigenous reconciliation and social cohesion.
In an English-medium education and training system, English language skills underpin literacy and numeracy learning and support educational achievement and excellence. Indigenous and migrant students learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) need to develop social and academic English to participate and succeed in Australian schools, access further education and training, gain employment, and enjoy community and civic participation.
Research and practice have long established that the best foundation for children who start school speaking a language other than English is to develop literacy skills and academic language ability in that language. Building on the languages that Indigenous and migrant children bring to school promotes the pride, confidence, wellbeing and cultural connectedness that foster educational engagement, resilience and success. Gaining oral and written communication skills in one’s mother tongue and other languages supports academic literacy and promotes crosscultural understanding. Australian society as a whole benefits culturally and economically when young people can maintain, extend and use their precious cultural and linguistic resources in the wider world. The languages of Australia’s diverse communities are a resource for and gift to the nation that we cannot afford to ignore.
The cultural and linguistic demands of Australia’s regional and international role, our economic and cultural ties, the special place of our Indigenous peoples, our ongoing immigration program and our international refugee obligations should all shape our education and training systems. How we address these cultural and linguistic demands determines whether we reach our full potential, build national prosperity and take our place in the wider world.
These challenges require a coherent and comprehensive national approach to language in education and training. Since the 1970s, Australia has, at various times, achieved world leadership in language in education, notably, the Hawke Government’s 1987 National Policy on Languages. At other times, Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments have retreated from or reversed these policies and undermined these achievements. Over the last decades, Australian Governments have too often ignored the crucial role language plays in learning, devolving all responsibility for this area to States and Territories and fostering national policy complacency, neglect and failure.
Government leadership and commitment is needed to restore Australia’s leading role in language and literacy education and training, and build on past and present best practice and expertise, regardless of jurisdiction or party politics. The overall goal of this national strategy for language in education and training is to foster the national capacity and responsiveness of Australia’s education and training institutions to our multilingual, multicultural society and international community by:
- reinvigorating English language and literacy education for school and adult learners;
- strengthening targeted provision of English language teaching and support to the full range of English as an additional language/dialect learners in all sectors of education;
- leveraging the potential of two-way language learning for Indigenous students through Indigenous languages, EAL/D and bilingual programs;
- implementing a targeted national education and training strategy for young people at risk;
- implementing a coherent, comprehensive, national approach to learning languages of Australian communities across primary, secondary and tertiary education;
- instituting national training and collaborative research strategies to support effective teaching of English language and literacy and languages education in school, VET and higher education sectors
- strengthening whole-of-government reporting, review and policy decision making processes to ensure national language in education issues are adequately considered.
As part of this commitment, implementation of language in education and training policies and programs will be:
- language-based and needs-driven
- informed by research evidence, professional expertise and best practice
- responsive and flexible to local communities and contexts
- genuinely transparent and accountable.