At Stonnington Primary School, their Greek class only goes for 50 minutes a week.
Amazingly, Greek is the primary language that the school teaches outside of English, an anomaly for a primarily non-Greek student base, but with less than an hour given each week, there is no way a young student will be able to have a strong grasp of the language when they finish primary school.
This is something the Greek Teachers Association of Victoria wants to see changed; to give all LOTE programs, not just Greek, the time of day to really make a student interested and want to continue learning when they hit high school.
At their annual conference on Tuesday, almost 100 Victorian Greek teachers agreed to send a letter to the Department of Education to ask that more gets done to increase class times and create better pathways for students to retain the language they were taught at primary school at high school level.
Currently, the Victorian Government doesn’t enforce a minimum time for LOTE to be taught at primary school level, but encourages schools to offer more than 150 minutes a week of language programs.
A study in 2003 by Melbourne University’s Yvette Slaughter and John Hajeck found that “only 4.1 per cent of government primary schools ran LOTE programs for 150 minutes or more, and these were largely schools running bilingual programs”.
Ten years on and things aren’t looking much better.
At primary school level, participation rates fell from 88.7 to 69.4 per cent between 1999 and 2010, with 397 government schools discontinuing their languages programs altogether.
Greek Teachers Association of Victoria vice president, John Milides, wants to see a drastic overhaul of the language program at schools, and hopes that increasing class hours will create better retention rates.
“The current state of teaching LOTE in primary schools and secondary schools, although it has a vision, it’s not supported by the allocated time to teach,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“We don’t think that provides the groundwork for teachers to produce a very successful program.”
The lack of time dedicated to teaching a language at state schools is an increasing worry for teachers, who believe their class programs can’t progress at a good enough pace and unfortunately leaves many children disinterested in the language.
For students given less than 50 minutes a week on a language and not given any homework throughout the week, learning the fundamentals would take months, if not years. At grade six, many would still only hold a beginners level of the language, and would most likely not feel comfortable taking up the language at an intermediate level if it was offered at high school.
The sad fact is, many children aren’t able to continue their language studies when they progress to high school because their school doesn’t offer the same language their primary school offered.
It is up to the principle of each school what language they teach.
Even for affiliated primary and secondary schools, languages aren’t the same.
At Lalor North Primary school, the only bilingual primary school in the state, they are taught Greek up till grade six.
At the affiliated Lalor North College which isn’t bilingual, the school’s chosen language is Italian, meaning those wanting to continue with Greek will have to seek another school or take up after school classes.
“In primary schools where Greek is being taught, there should be pathways,” Mr Milides says.
“The Government needs to look at that, not just blame the parents.”
It’s something the Government regrets, and agrees there isn’t much it can do other than offering incentives for schools to localise their languages.
The final say on what language the school chooses is still up to the principal.
The Government is currently working on a long term plan that will see major changes to the way language is taught at schools.
By 2015, all Victorian schools will be required to offer a LOTE program from prep. Already the government has written to schools that don’t have a language program in place to start getting ready for the introduction.
Education Minister, Martin Dixon says the plan will reverse some of the damage done with language programs.
“We have turned around a decline in schools offering languages with an ambitious plan for every Victorian student to learn a language from Prep until at least Year 10 by 2025, starting with Prep in 2015,” he said to Neos Kosmos in a statement.
“We are on track to meet our targets.”
The plan is designed to see students develop key milestones in their language proficiency up till year 10. By 2025, students are expected to obtain Certificate of Language Proficiency at Year 10, and the government hopes to have at least 25 per cent of students in VCE studying a language other than English.
It says it is already supporting schools to sponsor overseas language assistants and teachers to fill teacher shortages.
In regional areas where language programs are harder to staff and maintain, the Government is working on making sharing information easier and introducing teleconferencing to aid in teaching the syllabus.
Yet the neglected state that LOTE programs have been left in will take years if not decades to improve and start producing useful programs for students.
The national curriculum’s language program is only just being finalised, and will be ready for implementation by next year.
It will initially offer only 11 languages: Arabic, Vietnamese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Chinese and Greek.
There is still a bit of scepticism around the changes.
“If the program isn’t working and they’re not producing bilingual speakers then that should be abandoned,” Mr Milides says.
The association has been more active of late and has launched a new dialogue with the government to help foster a brighter future for Greek.
The association met with four members of parliament last year to discuss problems that all language teachers are facing, with budgets tightening and the lack of pathways available.
At the annual conference, Mr Milides asked for more collaborative support from the teachers to create a better dialogue with the Government.
“I proposed to all the teacher that we should become more organised as a group, and we should be more proactive in entering into dialogue with the authorities regarding the future of our language,” he says.
That increased dialogue has already seen results, with the Government introducing two scholarships this year to support students to undertake teaching degrees focused on Greek language and has increased funding since 2011 to provide funding to 38 accredited schools offering language classes in Greek to 5,875 students in 2013.
The annual conference on Tuesday entitled “Teaching Modern Greek: Successes and Prospects” saw 14 different presentations of how to better teach Greek in schools and ways to encourage participation.
The Department of Education was also invited, with Vic Papas and Scott Ware of the Languages Unit in the Learning and Teaching Division giving their vision on the future of Greek and languages in the State.