Victoria is set to become a world leader in the teaching of Languages Other Than English (LOTE) under a new government plan.

Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras has told Neos Kosmos he’s planning to make LOTE compulsory for all Victorian school students from prep to year 10, by 2025. But in order for the program to be successful, he says more language teachers are needed.

“If there’s no teachers, you can’t offer LOTE, so we’re going to offer scholarships to encourage more students to undertake a LOTE course,” Mr Kotsiras said. The proposed scholarships will consist of $20,000 for undergraduates or $50,000 for graduates to return to study a Diploma of Education, in order to bolster teacher numbers. The Minister says he’s confident the plan will pay dividends by attracting professionals to teaching, without looking overseas.

“I think we’ve got the people here, we really have. Forty percent of our population was born overseas or has a parent that was born overseas,” he said. “I think you’ll get people who will put up their hands and say ‘yes, I wish to do this’, because you’ll get some interpreters and translators who have done Arts and might say, ‘I’ll be paid for a year, I’ll go back and do a final year, then go into a school’. So I’m confident that it will work,” he said.

The government has also pledged $1 million to encourage schools to take up LOTE, with the funds to be put towards books and other teaching resources, as well as a $70 increase in funding from $120 to $190 per student. However the Australian Education Union says the goal is unrealistic. “It’s certainly something we should aspire to, but it’s not feasible,” AEU Victorian Branch President Mary Bluett said of the target 2025 implementation date.

“We have over 1300 primary schools in this state, a small minority of which have a qualified LOTE teacher. With the best of intentions … the scholarships will make a start but there’s no way that they will generate 1300 teachers by 2025.” “Speaking the language and teaching are two very, very different things and … I think that while it might be desirable, it might be a bit ‘pie in the sky’,” Ms Bluett said.

Minister Kotsiras further detailed plans to offer support to independent and out-of-hours schools by providing rent assistance. “Some schools are finding it very hard to pay the rent, so we’re going to come up with some protocols that schools have to adhere to, to make it a bit easier for schools to rent a school building,” he said. “To me, it would be nice if we could use a school building, which is a community building, 24 hours a day, rather that it lying idle.”

The Minister says he has assembled a ministerial council of stakeholders including schools, principals, teachers, unions and parents to consult on the program and assist with its implementation. The consultation process will begin next week.