Foreign Language Teachers in Demand


WHAT'S "smoke and mirrors" in Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi or Indonesian? Too few Australian adults, students or teachers would know. And that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, without smarter education policies and better allocation of resources.

According to the Asia Education Foundation, doubling the number of students studying an Asian or other foreign language would cost about $100 million a year. Added to the billions of dollars needed to double the number of Australian universities in the world's top 100, the ambitious goals of the Asian Century white paper begin to look elusive.

Rather than waiting until the federal and state treasuries find the money for the Gonski reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, education authorities could make a start by capitalising on existing resources. As the Productivity Commission's School Workforce report pointed out in June, NSW and Queensland alone have tens of thousands of qualified primary teachers who are unable to find jobs. At the same time, foreign language teachers are in such strong demand that schools struggle to retain them and sometimes have to seek replacements interstate.

Retraining graduates, redirecting applicants to teaching courses in areas of shortage, better targeted HECS incentives and a wider use of scholarships are essential. As parents know, the fall-off in language study among students in years 11 and 12, which sometimes occurs because some students feel unable to compete with classmates from Asian-language-speaking backgrounds, also needs to be addressed. Teacher exchanges with Asian schools, encouraging the immigration of skilled teachers and universities engaging outside instructors to teach Asian languages would also kick-start proficiency.

University of Technology, Sydney vice-chancellor Ross Milbourne was not exaggerating when he said about $10 billion a year would be needed to bring another five universities into the world top 100 alongside Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, Western Australia and ANU. Given funding constraints, such a process would require a rationalisation of research funding away from some institutions towards more research-intensive universities. It also would require political courage.


A CREDIBLE white paper needs funds and an action plan.

Kevin Morgan