I had just finished a meeting on Zoom with parents of Lalor North Primary School and officials of the Ministry of Education regarding the future of that School’s Greek program, when Maria Kampyli from Neos Kosmos emailed me seeking my views on the future of the Greek language . “Theo, is it crunch time for the Greek language in Australia?”
The lyrics of one my favorite songs, sang by Nikos Papazoglou and written by Manolis Rasoulis, immediately came to mind… «Όλα τριγύρω αλλάζουνε κι όλα τα ίδια μένουν…»
It was a song that I first heard on one 3CR’s Greek programs back in the early eighties , which was then run by a group of young Greek Australians who were connecting with their roots by playing Greek contemporary music, discussing both Greek and Australian politics and in general questioning and challenging the Greek Australian media status quo of the ’80s.
A few years prior, and more specifically, in 1980, as a Year 12 student at the time, I was one of many who participated in protests headed then by the Modern Greek Students Association (MGSA) opposing cuts and changes proposed to the teaching of Modern Greek across university campuses in Melbourne. Forty years later, the same song still resonates and history repeats itself.
We supposedly live in a multicultural state – sure – but one thing which is certain is that our education system, is clearly monolingual – and yet they tell you that education must be a reflection of the society it serves.
“Languages are dead and no longer important in Australia’s education system,” is what we were told during a meeting with the Principal of Northcote High back in 2017, when a small group of parents and the Greek Community of Melbourne fought to retain the Greek language program at that school. We won that battle just like we won the battle at Wales St Primary in 2011, Strathmore Secondary College in 2018, Coburg West in 2019 and finally at Latrobe University in 2020. Lalor North is our current challenge… Never rest on your laurels…
Yes, we have been victorious on numerous fronts, but have we won the war? Guess what – we’ve got a long way to go.
Especially when it looks like the views expressed by Northcote’s principal in 2017 seems not to be the exception but rather the rule.
How can we alert and convince those in charge of education at all levels, that the teaching of community languages should be an integral part of the curriculum? That they must be supported, regardless of where they are taught, be it public, community or even in a private setting.
It is a right, not a privilege.
We as a community or as parents of children studying Greek must accept responsibility and recognise the need to play a pivotal and leading role in promoting, encouraging the teaching of our language and culture.
We need to make the most of what tools we have available, be it theatre, music, films, lectures, dancing etc.
Let’s ensure that our teaching methods are not outdated, but appropriate for our children.
Let’s create parent committees in public schools that teach community languages and promote the advantages and benefits that a child has by learning another language, whatever that maybe ,but especially when it’s that of their ancestors.
We need to encourage our children to take up Greek at secondary level, not just so as to achieve a high mark. Nor should we discourage them from taking it, believing that they can do better by picking some other subject.
Education is also about learning about oneself and character development. One of Victoria’s most well-known public schools rightly points out in its mission statement that “Education is much more than just good marks”.
One’s education needs to embrace all learning areas in a way that provides a healthy balance ,and encourages innovation in their thinking. Languages do just that!
So in order to win the war, we need to be vigilant and in the words of Odysseas Elytis, the Nobel Prize Winning Greek Poet, «Για να γυρίσει ο ήλιος θέλει δουλειά πολλή».
Work by all of us and not just the few. From parents who send their children to schools that have Greek programs, who must take an active part in school life, from students in universities where Greek is taught, and from communities and other interested parties that need to lobby, advocate and firmly push respective governments to practice what they preach.
Really, what’s the big deal if Greek is amongst the languages recognised by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) ,when the financial subsidy received by the language sector is meagre, the teaching hours minimal and unrealistic if Greek or any other community languages are to be taught effectively.
And please, let’s ensure that funding provided from time to time by Governments wanting to promote and highlight Greek aspects of our multicultural Australian identity, whether it is derived from state or federal level, or even Greece, is put to good use. And what could be better education!
Sure, the Evzones visits to Oz are great…
But hey, been there, done that… if you get my drift.
Theo Markos is Education Convenor and Vice President in the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria.