NSW Minister for Education Robert Stokes made this clear in an exclusive interview with In classe last week.
“I’d like to see as many students as possible choosing [to study] languages”, the Liberal MP, who represents Pittwater, said.
Stokes highlighted the importance of creating “informed citizens”, who are capable of understanding global events from different perspectives.
Many have suggested that, to increase the number of language students, it is necessary to make language studies compulsory from primary school.
According to Stokes, it would be a significant challenge to implement such an initiative: there are more than 1.2 million students in the state and, “the existing primary school teacher workforce doesn’t necessarily have the skills to be able to train every student in a foreign language”.
“What we try to do is support community language schools, where we know there is a lot of expertise,” he added.
“That way, we’re able to provide support to tens of thousands of students and adults who want to learn languages.”
On numerous occasions during the interview, Stokes emphasised the importance of the role that community schools play, describing them as “powerful instruments” and adding that the government is already investing $18 million dollars in such institutes, in which around 250 language teachers work.
“We’ve done quite a bit more than what Labor is promising,” Stokes said, referring to the Opposition’s announcement that it would increase funding to community language schools.
“We’re providing around three times what Labor promises – around $210 per student.”
The minister added that other government incentives include the Creative Kids Voucher, which provides households up to $100 per child to invest in activities such as language courses.
Stokes also made an appeal to In classe readers: scholarship programs exist for those who are considering a career in primary school teaching and have language skills.
When questioned about using language assistants from Italy to address the lack of local resources, who could also take part in the initiatives mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 by the NSW Department of Education and the Italian Consulate in Sydney, Stokes was careful not to make any risky promises.
Instead, he said he was willing to “listen and take into account” ideas and proposals which could lead to new opportunities to celebrate and support the study of Italian.
Stokes noted that Italian is an important language which is studied by 12,000 students in NSW and opens opportunities between two countries who have shared commercial and cultural ties for centuries.
“I’m very open to considering any ideas,” the minister concluded.
Now it is up to us as a community to make the next move.
The interview with NSW Minister for Education Robert Stokes will be broadcast on Rete Italia [this] week.