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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The Bilingual Schools Program in New South Wales

Special report

From next year, four New South Wales primary schools will take part in the State's new Bilingual Schools Program, under which a range of subject areas will be conducted in Mandarin, Korean, Japanese or Indonesian. The program will be offered as an option alongside the traditional curriculum.

The initiative has been prompted by the need to increase the number of students achieving fluency in priority Asian languages. It reflects Asia's importance to Australia's future economic and social prosperity and the likelihood that many Australian workers will need to be comfortable in the use of an Asian language. The program is also a response to the increasing number of parents wanting to send their children to a primary school offering a strong Asian language program.

In 2010, the participating schools will be Rouse Hill Public and Murray Farm Public in Sydney's northwest, Scotts Head Public on the North Coast, and Campsie Public in Sydney's inner-west. Each of these schools met a range of criteria required for participation in the program. These qualities included a demonstrated capacity and commitment to implement a language program; a commitment to the bilingual program across the school staff and the school community; and established relationships, or commitment to establishing relationships, with the Asian community in Australia or with businesses and schools in Asia.

The program is expected to give primary students a head start on language studies in later years, improve their understanding of other cultures and, in the longer term, increase their job opportunities. It builds on a broad body of research which indicates that bilingual education stimulates intellectual development, generates greater flexibility in thinking, gives learners a better understanding of their first language, and develops listening skills.

For an hour and a half each day participating students will be taught the Asian language in combination with the content of subject areas such as Human Society and its Environment; Personal Development, Health and Physical Education; Creative Arts; and Science and Technology. During this time a specialist language teacher will team-teach with the usual class teacher. The specialist teacher will also be supported for some of this period by a trained volunteer, who will be either an international post-graduate teaching student or a member of the native speaker community of that language. This approach aims to ensure a real and sustained language learning environment, while maintaining a manageable and successful primary education program for students.

Research evidence indicates that children have a better chance of developing bilingual fluency at an early age, when language is acquired more quickly, naturally and effectively. For this reason, each program will begin from Kindergarten and Year 1. The program is expected to expand each year into successively higher primary school grades, and to continue up to Year 6 by 2015. It is also expected that students will be able to follow through their language learning into the secondary years. All four bilingual schools have established links with their local high schools, which will offer continued study of each respective language.

Support for participating schools

The NSW Department of Education and Training's Curriculum K–12 Directorate will train the specialist teachers taking part in the program, and will assist the participating schools to attract, train and support the native speaker volunteers.

Further assistance will include support for liaison with parents and the community, professional development for school staff, and the preparation of appropriate teaching and learning programs. Professional development for school staff will cover the topics of Languages and Literacy, Bilingualism, Programming for the Languages Classroom, and Resourcing. The possibility of developing sister-school programs with schools in the target countries will also be explored.

Following the initial rollout at the four schools, an evaluation of the program will be conducted to explore possible avenues for improvement. The evaluation will also provide evidence that may be useful to other schools that are considering the potential benefits of such a program in relation to their own school communities.

Wider support for Asian languages education in NSW

The Bilingual Schools Program is administered by the Languages Unit of the Department of Education and Training. The Unit supports teachers of the 35 languages that are taught in NSW schools, including those who teach community languages, languages for second language learners, and Aboriginal languages. The Unit works with communities to establish languages programs relevant to community needs, and to develop innovative modes of delivery including online and distance delivery of languages for students in Years K–12.

The NSW Department of Education and Training will also be implementing a range of other initiatives to increase the number of students studying Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean in NSW. These initiatives will be funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations through the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP).

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Primary education
New South Wales (NSW)
Education policy
Educational planning
Language and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)