June 21, 2016 Nic Rothquel

RANT TIME: Parlez vous Francais?

It’s time for a bit of a rant. But hopefully a constructive rant.

There are a number of flaws in our education system. I think we all know this. But I refuse to be someone who complains about things without offering a solution. So I want to address one fundamental issue that I believe we can amend quickly and easily with minimal impact on budgets, staffing or infrastructure change.

I was talking to a student this afternoon who was in year 5 at a high performing public school and I asked her what language she studied at school. She stared at me blankly. Her mum jumped in and told me they don’t study languages at her school. I couldn’t believe it. I was genuinely annoyed. How was it that such an essential skill can be ignored?

I have said for the last few years that if I could change just one thing about the HSC, it would be that languages become compulsory through to the end of year 12. To me, it is one of the few subjects that would have real-world relevance, and unlike other subjects like music or art, it is not dependant upon natural ability but can be developed with hard-work and determination.

We must be one of the few countries in the world that fail to emphasise foreign languages in the education system. In Hong Kong, students start learning English in Kindergarten and continue through to the end of school. The same goes for Japan and many European countries. In the USA, 93% of schools include Spanish in the curriculum. But in NSW, less than 10% of HSC students take a language – and a large number of these will be their native tongue at an advanced level.

I am not surprised to also see that those countries that promote bilingual education are also the highest performing academic countries in the world. Studies have shown for years that adapting to a second language activates the brain in unique ways and perhaps the lack of this in Australia contributes to our less-than-average international ranking.

It just isn’t good enough. We can’t operate our schools under the illusion that English will be the only language of importance in the future. Studying languages should be compulsory; I don’t even care what languages they are – Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese – just something. It educates students about the world, creates a sense of curiosity and boldness and will ultimately equip students with a skill that will far outlast the Pythagoras theorem.

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