The Pharos working party, established in 2021 to defend the teaching of Modern Greek in Victorian (MGTAV) schools has called on the Victorian government to ensure that there will be no further deterioration of Greek language teaching and presence in schools.

‘Pharos’ is named after the research undertaken for MGTAV by Professor Emeritus Joseph Lo Bianco AM, since 2017, published in the volume entitled Pharos, The Vitality and Presence of Modern Greek in Contemporary Australia, by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

“Pharos is an organisation that consists of a working party of nine major Greek community bodies and associations,” Professor Lo Bianco told Neos Kosmos.

“We were taking a lot of action at the community level, at the research and university level. So we’re not just depending on government, we’re doing a great deal as ourselves.”

Pharos includes the Modern Greek Teachers’ Association of Victoria, La Trobe University Modern Greek Studies, the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne Victoria, the Archdiocesan District of Northcote (representing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia), Community Languages Victoria, the Association of Greek Language Schools Victoria, the National Union of Greek Australian Students Victoria, the Greek-Australian Society, and PRONIA, alongside many other dedicated individuals, all of which demonstrate the representative and

broad cross-section of the entire Greek Australian community.

Highlighting the urgency of tackling the issue of the declining quality of Greek language teaching in Victoria, Prof. Lo Bianco has urged the government “to guarantee that no current programs will be closed”.

“Pharos has met regularly to review the research, and has prepared a detailed strategy plan, including the appeal to the Minister for Education for action. But we also feel like we want the government to stop any further decline in language programs,” he stressed.

The appeal to the Minister notes that many hundreds of individuals, representing a vast cross section of one of Australia’s largest ethnic community’s is backing this call.

When contacted by Neos Kosmos regarding the Pharos submission, an Education Department spokesperson stated that “Greek is one of the most popular languages offered in Victorian schools, and we will continue to work hard to make world-class Greek language programs available to students across the state.”

Professor Lo Bianco argued however that more needs to be done, “so to put a floor down, now we go to build a high ceiling, but we want the government to help us put a floor down so that it doesn’t go below the number of programs. But we want the ceiling to be as high as possible. And we’re building that through the community.”

Professor Lo Bianco also argued that the research has exposed the precarious nature of some of the programs of Greek teaching.

“I am overawed by the dedication of the community to support their language and make it available to all Australians. This is the essence of the multicultural ideal that we all espouse for Australia, and I hope the support for Greek Australians is forthcoming,” he stressed.

Prof. Lo Bianco went on to tell Neos Kosmos that it is not the first time Pharos has pushed for change and rang the alarm bells regarding the state of Greek language teaching in Victoria.

“We’ve reported on our work a few times, but things come out of people’s minds… then there might not be any action for a bit of time, and then suddenly, another program is in jeopardy. And when you look at the overall situation, it looks terrible. So we have to take action now! And we need public support. We need the whole community, not just the Greek community, but especially the Greek community to help us. We’ve been doing so much work now for years, a lot of volunteer work from people giving their own time, but we feel like it’s about time that the government also helped, you know, the language is in a pretty bad way in public in public schools; even in some Greek Community schools.”

President of the Modern Greek Teachers’ Association of Victoria (MGTAV) Ms Anita Ladas has requested five urgent points of action from the State Minister for Education.

“The community has stepped up to do the hard work of research and coordination. Now we would request a response from the government to keep alive the language of one of Victoria’s largest and most active community’s in our schools,” said Ms Ladas.

The plan includes support research that tracks the destination of students currently enrolled in Modern Greek and to establish Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) training for MGTAV members.

Professor Lo Bianco with members of MGTAV. Photo: Supplied

“We aim to provide 10 scholarships per annum for tertiary Modern Greek studies,” Ms Ladas added. “Support schools which presently offer Greek and aim to increase the contact time they make available to meet the Department of Education’s recommended 150 minutes per week; and, assist the Pharos activity by funding a part time salary for two years to assist in the full implementation of all recommendations.”

Dr Stephie Nikoloudis, Coordinator of Greek Studies at La Trobe University highlighted that the teaching of Greek in Melbourne can be dated to more than 100 years ago, sustained by community effort and sacrifice.

“Recent funding in languages education has not benefitted Greek,” she said, explaining that this is precipitating a steady decline in the number of programs offered.

“The number of Modern Greek teachers in training and the number of students enrolled is reducing. With some backing now our working party can retrieve this situation, and we are determined to do so.”

“The original migrant community is aging. Many trailblazers have passed, but the legacy within the wider community of Greek Australians across different generations is enormous. It’s a very, very large community, which has made a huge contribution to Australian life.”

When asked by Neos Kosmos what steps the state government is planning to take to help protect and improve Greek language teaching, given that Greek language is pivotal to the deeper understanding of a multitude of sciences, philosophy, law, politics, not to mention other languages, the Department of Education and Training (DET) argued that the state government has been working consciously to help preserve the continuation of Modern Greek language in Victorian schools.

“In 2020, more than 2541 students studied Greek in Victorian government primary schools, secondary schools and the Victorian School of Languages, making it the 12th most studied language. In addition, more than 5200 students studied Greek at funded and accredited Community Language Schools in 2020. Three early childhood services are also currently delivering a Greek language program,” the DET spokesperson said.

Attributing the number to students’ choice, DET further explained that Victorian students from kindergarten to Year 12 can study a language and choose from over 70 languages offered in kindergartens, government primary and secondary schools, the Victorian School of Languages and community language schools.

“We are working closely with universities to monitor the pipeline of teachers in languages and will continue to promote the teaching of Greek language in Victorian schools,” the DET spokesperson said.

Neos Kosmos will be following up the story in the weeks to come.