The English-Greek bilingual program in Lalor North Primary School is now in its 33rd year.
The significance of such a program in a state school becomes even more profound while the national campaign by Greek communities is intensifying with the aim of securing the inclusion of the Greek language in the national curriculum. The curriculum is currently being developed by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA).
Lalor North Primary School presents the only Greek bilingual program in Victoria and it was founded by teacher Dimitris Politis. After Mr Politis’ retirement three years ago, Ana Koutsouroupas took over as the co-ordinator of the program.
It’s a partial immersion program where the Greek language is taught using the Victorian curriculum from prep until Year 6.
For example, children are taught maths in Greek from prep until Year 2 and in English thereafter. Mrs Koutsouroupa clarified that this shouldn’t discourage anyone thinking that it might be more difficult. “After all maths are the same no matter in which language you’re taught,” she said.
The program can be identified as intensive Greek language teaching with 13 hours dedicated per week from prep to Year 2 and 8 hours a week from Year 2 – Year 6. Children become competent in Greek reading and writing even by Year 2.
There are currently 52 students attending the English-Greek bilingual program compared to almost 100 ten years ago, which according to Mrs Koutsouroupa can be attributed to demographic reasons as many Greeks have left the area. Mrs Koutsouroupa does also underscore the “lack of interest on the part of many second generation Greek Australians to push their kids towards the Greek language”; coupled with a erroneous belief that children get confused when they are exposed to two languages once they start talking.
“Children who are bilingual become lateral thinkers,” Mrs Koutsouroupa emphasised also echoing the findings of many studies which highlight the benefits of bilingualism.
Bilingualism was one of the attractions for mother Chris Filippou who sends her son Anastasis and her daughter Maria to Lalor North Primary School. “The more they learn the better it is for them,” Mrs Filippou said. The preservation of the Greek language and culture is of paramount importance for her. “I remember with pride when my grandmother could communicate with her great grand children in Greek.”
“I find it very sad when grandparents are struggling to communicate in English with their grandchildren,” Mrs Filippou added.
The emphasis on Greek traditions and culture is multi-faceted in the bilingual program of Lalor North Primary school from an hour of Greek dancing each week to other Greek school celebrations and activities. Although a possible exclusion of Greek from the national curriculum may not have a direct effect on the program, as Mrs Koutsouroupa explained, nobody is clear on what the exact implications will be if it does not become part of the ACARA sanctioned National Curriculum.
Neos Kosmos is running a petition to have Modern Greek included into the National Curriculum go to page 5.