Greek, Italian reinstated at school planning to drop them

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SBS World News Radio: Greek and Italian language subjects will be reinstated at a Melbourne high school following community concern over an earlier decision by the school's council to drop them.


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Northcote High School's initial decision to drop Greek and Italian language classes had sparked a campaign by the group the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria.

Community representatives and parents from both Greek and Italian backgrounds protested over what they deemed a lack of consultation before the decision.

The classes were to be phased out over five years, starting in 2017.

But the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria met with politicians and ministers at both federal and state level, and there will now be no changes for the present.

The group's vice president, Theo Markos, argues there is no need to remove the languages.

"Currently, Northcote High is offering four languages successfully. Italian and Greek, which are strong community languages, are successful programs, both financially -- they're independent -- and also academically. The results that they have received up to now are excellent, with significant numbers. There's over a hundred-plus students studying Greek throughout the high school and over two, maybe even three, hundred studying Italian. So, there is really no need to (cut) languages from four to two languages."

Acting principal Sean Butler had written that offering a European and a character-based Asian language would let the school focus curriculum and "pedagogical development" more precisely.

He said that change could better guarantee the viability of the programs through to Year 12 into the future.

But the Ethnic Communities' Councils of Victoria, representing ethnic and multicultural organisations in the state, supports reinstating the subjects.

Chairman Eddie Micallef says he is pleased consultations have happened but they should have happened before the initial decision to remove Greek and Italian.

"I would have also applauded the fact that the consultation should have taken place before the decision was made, rather than reacting to community concerns that have brought about this consultation process. So I'll say that that's a step in the right direction, but it's disappointing that the consultation wasn't taking place earlier."

The languages program at Northcote High School will offer Year 7 students a choice of four languages as before.

The subjects are offered to students from Year 7 to Year 9, and, from Year 10 onwards, they become elective options.

Consultations with all stakeholders will take place next year as part of the school's planning process for a new strategic plan, beginning in 2019.

Monash University linguistics lecturer Louisa Willoughby says languages like Mandarin are growing and many people study smaller heritage languages at after-hours community schools.

"We can see that some languages like Mandarin are really growing heavily. So the number of schools teaching that has doubled since 1998. Whereas, a lot of the smaller heritage languages, what seems to be happening is that it's not that people aren't studying them full stop, but that they're going to after hours community schools, or the Victorian School of Languages, to study them."

Dr Willoughby says Vietnamese is a popular language at the Year 12 level and yet is only taught in five schools in Victoria.

"One thing that's interesting is that Vietnamese is one of the languages that students take most at Year 12 level -- it ranks about number five or six in terms of student numbers -- but it's only taught in five schools in Victoria, compared to French, for example, is taught in 80 schools and Indonesian is taught in 95 government high schools."

Earlier this year, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia proposed a national languages policy focusing on the opportunity to study a second language.

Chairman Joe Caputo says that it is not just about a policy.

"We want the policy to be followed up by resources so that schools not only would have, if you like, a national framework to work with but, also, they will be given the resources to be able to teach a second language. I mean, in Victoria, the state government of Victoria already believes that every child should be taught a second language, but then, often, schools are not given sufficient resources to be able to do so."

Mr Caputo says he hopes Northcote High's decision does not reflect a trend in high school education.

He says passing the languages on to future generations is important for migrants and communities.

"I hope that it's just, you know, one of those lacks of judgment, because we know -- I mean, those of us that have been involved in multiculturalism for the last several decades -- we know that, by passing the languages to their children, migrants can feel a strong sense of culture and community with second-generation Australians. So it's important that the languages spoken in our schools reflect the languages spoken in our communities."


Period27 Sept 2016

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleGreek, Italian reinstated at school planning to drop them
    PersonsLouisa Willoughby