31 SES 03 B, Aspects of Learning and Measuring Language Skills
Australia is rich in language diversity with over 300 languages spoken and more than one-fifth of Australians speaking a language other than English at home (ABS 2017). There have been over 70 policy-related reports, investigations and substantial enquiries since 1972 (Lo Bianco & Gvozdenko, 2006). All major government declarations on schooling (1988, 1998, 2008) have reaffirmed the centrality of languages study in the curriculum. The 1987 National Policy on Languages was acknowledged internationally as a landmark with its comprehensive recommendations for English, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and a language other than English for all (Lo Bianco, 1987). NSW, Australia’s most populous state, has 65 school syllabuses for 34 different languages counting for tertiary entry. Despite this situation young people in Australia study languages less than in all other OECD countries: around 10% take a language for Year 12 and fewer than 2% are studying a second language, something which is the nor in most European and Asian countries (Eurydice 2008). In NSW only 23 per cent of students study a language other than English in their schooling: only one in six children who start school as bilingual continues to develop their language skills; and only one in 20 children from monolingual English background gains any level of fluency in a second language (Liddicoat et al, 2007). Simply because of this dichotomy, the issues relating to the provision and uptake of languages are much more laid bare; as are ways in which these issues can be addressed.
Our main research question was ‘What are the roles played by SES and minority languages in the provision and uptake of languages in mainstream government, catholic and independent primary and secondary schools?’
The issues of socio-economic disadvantage have been central to findings from large scale studies in the UK and US (Tinsley 2018 & Board;Rhodes & Pufahl 2016). Decreases in participation in languages in the UK beyond the age of 14 are increasingly associated with socio-economic disadvantage, poverty and areas of the country affected by economic deterioration Tinsley & Board 2018). In the US, there are inequities of access in rural and lower SES schools in the US (Rhodes & Pufahl 2016). The issues have been little explored in Australia. We wanted to explore the quantitative data on provision and uptake of languages and the differences between sectors, urban and regional schools, primary and secondary schools.
Minority languages have been the overlay in this system. Shifting from a context of prestige languages for the elite and university entry in the 1960s and the ‘languages for all’ with the growth of comprehensive schooling, a raft of government initiatives in the 1980s saw the rapid growth and support for immigrant minority languages. The situation is now more complex with differences within and between minority groups reflecting growing gaps in the wider society. We wanted to explore how community languages are constructed in this system. To what extent do schools acknowledge, draw on and extend the languages resources in their school communities?
The methodology underpinning this paper draws on work of Extra and Yagmur (2004) who conducted multiple case studies in six European cities. Their slice or ‘tranche’ approach combines large scale quantitative and survey data with local case studies, providing a two-way process whereby local perspectives can highlight the impact of broader issues, and aggregated data can enhance the analysis of local school data. In NSW, Australia’s largest state we collected cross-sectoral school language program data over a five year period (2011-2016). We added to this census and other data. We aimed for individual school data giving details of grade level, numbers in class, language/s studied, student cultural/ language backgrounds, teacher details, time allocated for study and type of course studied. Our two research sites were inner city Sydney (pop. two million) where almost 50 per cent speak a language other than English at home and Wollongong a regional city south of Sydney (pop. 300,000) where 15 per cent speak a language other than English at home. Together, these sites constitute 30 per cent of the state population of 6.5 million. We then conducted languages attitudinal survey of school staff (n=1365, 10.4%). The final stage was a set of 42 individual school case studies involving interviews with students, parents, teachers (languages and non-languages) and school executive along with lesson observations. Our most complete data set was for 2011 and we conducted cross-sectoral analyses for this year. Our analysis relies on two indicators of socio-economic status. SEIFA (Socio-Economic Indices For Areas) is the national census instrument derived from four summary measures combining income, educational attainment, employment and housing expenditure (ABS 2016). This indicator consists of five quintiles from lowest-SES to highest and is mapped onto local government areas (LGAs). We also relied on the ICSEA measure (Index of Community Socio-Economic Advantage) which is based on individual school enrolments. ICSEA variables include socio-economic characteristics of the small areas where students live and rural/ regional/ urban location. The term SES is used for both SEIFA and ICSEA instruments. We used mapping of school programs on to census data for SES and LBOTE. The data from school case studies were transcribed and analysed using nVivo and also content and thematic coding. Interview data for students (n=142), for example was analysed in groups according to school SES, level of schooling, gender and language background.
The paper presents findings from four of the school case studies: two low and two high SES schools/ two primary and two secondary schools. The programs are counted as ‘successful’ by the schools themselves and in student outcomes. The key findings of the study are that provision of and access to languages study varies greatly according to the SES of the school; and that community languages have been marginalised from the mainstream school system and remain in residual programs and out of hours community and complementary schools. The discourse surrounding responsibility for (non)uptake of languages study has been shifted onto students and families. The ‘reasons’ in policy – trade, career, travel, tertiary entry/ academic, heritage/ cultural – have been constructed such as to marginalise and exclude lower SES schools and minority background students. Our findings indicate a more complex situation: since languages do not have a key place in curriculum, the discourse of ‘justifications’ become foregrounded; traditional elitist views of languages lead to their being seen as not relevant for lower-SES learners and their families and minority languages are constructed as problems giving ‘background’ speakers an ‘unfair’ advantage. In the broader context of school segmentation greater pressure is placed on lower-SES primary and secondary schools to achieve government targets in English language literacy and numeracy and thus languages are further marginalised. We argue that structural change in education is required to address these issues. We also argue not for CLIL as an umbrella solution but for a nuanced model which involves negotiation of subject and language practices and outcomes.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2016). http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/2016 Board, K. & Tinsley, T. (2015). Modern Foreign Languages in secondary schools in Wales. Findings from the Language Trends survey 2014/2015, London: CfBT EducationTrust. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. London: Polity Press). Campbell, C., Proctor, H., Sherington, G. (2009). School Choice: How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia. Sydney: Allen and Unwin. Extra, G. and Yagmur, K. (eds) (2004). Urban Multilingualism in Europe: Immigrant Minority Languages at Home and School. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Eurydice (2006), Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at school in Europe, Brussels, Belgium: European Commission. Ianelli, C. (2013). The role of school curriculum in social mobility, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34 (5-6), 907-248 Kogan, I., Gebel, M., & Noelke, C. (2012). Systems and inequalities in educational attainment in Eastern European countries. Studies of Transition States and Societies, 4 (1), 69-83. Liddicoat, A. J., Scarino, A., Curnow, T. J., Kohler, M., Scrimgeour, A., & Morgan, A.-M. (2007). Investigation of the State and Nature of Languages in Australian Schools: RCLCES, University of South Australia: Canberra, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Lo Bianco, J. (1987). National Policy on Languages, Canberra: AGPS. Lo Bianco, J., & Gvozdenko, I. (2006) Collaboration and Innovation in three Provision of Languages. Lo Bianco, J., & Slaughter, Y. (2009). Second languages and Australian schooling.Victoria: ACER. Rhodes, N. (2014). Elementary school foreign language teaching: Lessons learned over three decades (1980-2010). Foreign Language Annals, 47, 1, 115-133. Rhodes, N. & Pufahl, I. (2010). Foreign language teaching in US schools: Results of a national survey. Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Slaughter, Y. (2009) Money and policy make languages go round: Language programs in Australia after NALSAS, Babel, Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association, 43(2), 1-20. Teese, R,. & Polesol, J. (2003). Undemocratic schooling: Equity and quality in mass secondary education in Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Thompson, G., & Harbaugh, A. (2013). A preliminary analysis of teacher perceptions of the effect of NAPLAN on pedagogy and curriculum, Australian Educational Researcher, 40, 290-314. Tinsley, T. & Board, K. (2018). Language Trends 2016/2017: The state of language learning in primary and second schools in England, London: CfBT EducationTrust.
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