Parents and students of Coburg West Primary School’s (CWPS) Greek language programme had the rug pulled from under their feet during the mid-semester break when they received an email from CWPS principal Mark Colagrande announcing that Greek lessons would be cut from the school’s program next year in favour of Italian.

Mr Colagrande’s decision came following the school’s independently-conducted Specialist Review Process that showed a lack of support for both the LOTE Greek and LOTE Italian programmes by, mainly teachers (only seven per cent support by staff), and also parents (only 40 per cent support). Despite not differentiating language of preference in the survey nor engaging in consultations with the parents, the school decided to cut Greek lessons leaving students of the language in a state of limbo.

There was criticism of the survey by parents and the community. They pointed to various flaws in the wording of questions and the way in which it was conducted. There was no consultation process with parents before the announcement that Greek would be slashed and critics pointed to insidious methods.

Following a lengthy battle, spearheaded by the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) and parents of Coburg West primary school, the Greek language programme will not be terminated as had been announced.

“Our actions have ensured that the programme will continue its long and proud 30 plus year tradition of teaching Greek language and culture to all students of the school well into the future,” GCM Vice President Theo Markou said following his meeting with Greek Australian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos at Victoria’s Parliament House at 5.30pm on Thursday when it was announced that the programme would continue.

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Minister Mikakos announced that the Education Minister and Deputy Premier James Merlino had formally informed her that the Education Department will fund the school to ensure the longevity of the programme for years to come.

“Recently, parents and supporters of Coburg West Primary School informed me that their school’s Greek program was going to end this year. After I met with the Education Minister, James Merlino the Department of Education will support the school to enable it to continue its Greek language program,” Ms Mikakos said, expressing her appreciation to Mr Merlino for enabling the program to continue.

“I thank the parents and their supporters who have been determined in their endeavours to save the Greek language offered at this school. I now encourage parents to enrol their children in the Greek program so that we continue to retain our wonderful language at this school well into the future.”

School parents present included Kate Hill, Andrew Markakis, John Fotias and Scott Vithoulkas who expressed their satisfaction with the decision. Mr Markos told Neos Kosmos that up until last week parents were telling him that they were planning to pull their children out of the school, which a number of them had chosen as it is one of the few that continues to offer Greek language lessons.

“But this is a victory not just for Greek students, but also for choice,” Mr Markos said, a sentiment that Ms Mikakos agrees with, adding that it was important that parents to support language teaching and to consider standing for their local school councils to ensure the continuation of such programs.

Mr Markos could not be happier. “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. We knew that ours, was a just cause and that eventually we would be vindicated. A hundred and twenty children of various ethnic backgrounds can now continue to study Greek at their local Victorian public primary school. We cannot afford to lose even one of them! Parents need to be commended and congratulated for all the hard work they have put into this campaign! This is living proof that multiculturalism and multilingualism are alive in the state of Victoria. Thank you Minister Merlino and thank you Minister Mikakos!”

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Unlike last year, when the school had also threatened to end Greek lessons before backtracking on its decision, the resolution is now final and Mr Merlino pledged that Greek will be offered at the school for as long as students are willing to learn it.

In the case of CWPS, there are 120 kids willing to learn about the language and culture and money has been found to allow for this.

Mr Colagrande issued an announcement informing parents that following discussions with personnel from both regional and central offices of the Department of Education and Training (DET) he had been “advocating for funds” to assist in the transitioning of Greek outside of school hours.

“I am very pleased to inform you all, that DET has confirmed they will provide funding to our school, enabling us to continue the Greek language programme within school hours,” Mr Colagrande wrote in his statement.

Now it is up to CWPS to correctly and in good faith utilise the funds and embrace the programme. It is concerning that only seven per cent of the teachers support it, according to the results of the survey.

Neos Kosmos has tried repeatedly to get in touch with Mr Colagrande in order to discuss the language programme, the lack of support shown towards it by the very staff members obliged to commit to it and funding issues but due to his meetings (this week) and personal leave last month Mr Colagrande had not responded to our request for an interview or returned our calls until Friday morning when a staff member told us that he would not be making a media comment.

At this time, Neos Kosmos is waiting for a response from the Department of Education regarding the Greek program at Coburg West and the reasons for its proposed axing that initially had to do with lack of interest but ended up being linked to a lack of funding. Furthermore, we are concerned that only seven per cent of staff members support the program which could affect the quality of teaching.