Australia is currently developing the first National Curriculum for all schools from primary to Year 12. You are an experienced ESL teacher and are reporting to a national forum on the following questions. Can the English subject curriculum be inclusive of all students? Or should ESL students from immigrant and refugee backgrounds be identified clearly as having separate language needs from native English speaking students? For your report, use examples from the literature and your own experience, if relevant. You might also draw on web-based material or media reports.
Students from immigrant and refugee backgrounds are considered to be students who have arrived from a country other than Australia. The definitions of these two terms, immigrant and refugee, are nicely contained within the words themselves. An “immigrant” is someone who “migrates” and a “refugee” is someone who seeks “refuge”. What differentiates this group is the unique histories and identities of the individuals within in it, and as an adjunct to their histories and identities, their differing motivations for leaving one country for another. Recognising how these students identities have been constructed and engaging with the issue of how these identities will converge with cultural differences found in Australia and the English language provides a framework for considering what their diverse language needs may be. Stuart Hall, a leading British cultural theorist, encapsulated this notion during a speech he made at Hampshire College Massachusetts in 1989. He stated “The logic of identity is the logic of the point of origin from which discourse or history of practice originates. History has to be understood as a continuous dialectic or dialogic relationship between that which is already made up and that which is making the future.” (1989: 19- 20)
With immigrant and refugee students we need to understand “that which is already made up” so as to positively influence “that which is making the future.”
In presenting the context of Victoria to prospective international students, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development web site states that “Nearly half of Victoria’s population was born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas.” (Accessed 2010)
These statistics are reinforced nationally through the Australian Bureau of Statistics report on Migration released in March 2007, which indicate that, “At 30 June 2006 almost one quarter (24%) of the Australian population was born overseas.” (2007: 9)
Specifically in relation to the implications for language use the ABS website reveals that, “The 2001 census indicated 2.8 million people (16% of the population) spoke a language other than English at home.” (Accessed 2010) The most common of these languages in descending order where Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic Mandarin and Vietnamese.
The Australian culture that immigrant and refugee students will be integrated into is easily demonstrated to be one that is already both culturally and linguistically diverse. Historically immigration levels have been remarkably stable, with the report indicating “High levels of immigration to Australia in the years before 1891 resulted in 32% of the population enumerated in the 1891 census as overseas-born.” (2007: 43)
Although it is simple to support Australia as a historically culturally diverse and multilingual country statistically, the constructed cultural identity that immigrant students will encounter may not reflect this reality. There exists in Australia a notion a myth that we exist in a mono-culture, meaning that we are predominantly descended from white British backgrounds and that we are Christian in our beliefs.
Deconstructing this fixed notion of what it means to be Australian is a crucial necessity of all education systems in Australia and particularly so if we are to introduce curriculum at a national level.
Stuart Hall, in his article “Representation: Representations and Signifying Practices” indicates that “language is central to meaning and culture and has always been regarded as the key repository of cultural values and meanings.” (1997: 1) He explains that cultural meanings and therefore linguistic representations are never fixed, they change over time as they respond to an endless range of inputs and processes. He refers to this as the discursive approach. “’Discursive’ has become the general term used to refer to any approach in which meaning, representation and culture are considered to be constitutive.” (1997: 6)
The discursive approach presents a challenge for the National Curriculum in relation to how it meets the language needs of immigrant and refugee students. How will a national curriculum allow for the engagement of these students into a national discourse of identity and how will it influence their personal discourses of identity? More particularly, how will it respond to the influence of the myth of the Australian Mono-Culture?
Stuart Hall notes that “…attempting to fix meaning is exactly why power intervenes in discourse.” (1997: 10) The creation of a National Curriculum is an exercise in the Australian Federal Government using its power to intervene in the discourse that occurs throughout the many thousands of classes in Australia each week. One very positive reason for them to do this is to counter the intervention of power in discourse from those with agendas’ they consider un-desirable.
Leigh Dale discusses these issues of the intervention of power in Australian society by those who benefit from the agenda of the “Myth of the Monoculture” in the article “Mainstreaming Australia”. He notes that, “The re-establishment of the myth of the monoculture means security, certainty, comfort for that minority who successfully claim exclusive possession of the national story…” (1997: 17)
Leigh Dale was writing about a period of Australian history in the mid 1990’s, when political groups lead by John Howard and Pauline Hanson successfully manipulated the national discourse or the national story, such that it benefited them and those who looked like them. John Howard knew how to manipulate language to influence discourse. An example being the program I ran at the time in Townsville, called LEAP (Landcare Environment Action Program). This was defunded, and then re-labeled as a “Work for the Dole” program. The negative labeling of unemployed young people was very deliberate. In similar ways, groups “other” to John Howard and Pauline Hanson’s mainstream, were systematically positioned as lazy, parasitic, un-Australian and threatening. Very much within this “other” were immigrants and refugees.
If it is agreed that language is the privileged media through which meaning is represented in culture, and if it is agreed that culture develops through discourse, then from this theoretical background I find it essential that the National Curriculum must be fully inclusive of immigrant and refugee students. Their voices must be heard as a part of the national story. Achieving this is surly harder if the government positions them as separate within its national structure.
My position on this issue is very clear. I support full integration and am very much against anything that essentialises the differences within our community, particularly if it creates a hegemonic power from advantaging one group over another. I also believe that full integration provides the only real opportunity for interculturalism and that students from all backgrounds are highly valuable resources in the classroom. I hold this view for theoretical reasons that I have discovered in the readings, in conjunction with my experiences working with disadvantaged youth, migrants and especially young people from indigenous backgrounds throughout John Howard’s terms as prime minister.
I attended Caulfield Grammar Wheelers Hill for my secondary schooling and experienced immigrant students from privileged backgrounds in Asia. I remember these students being very quiet and having issues with expression when required to talk in class.
A highly relevant research paper was presented at the American Accounting Association Mid Atlantic Regional Meeting held in March 1998, titled,” BARRIERS TO LEARNING EXPERIENCED BY ASIAN STUDENTS IN AMERICAN ACCOUNTING CLASSES”. The authors indicate the difficulties Asian students encounter despite their education in the English language. These difficulties arising as much from a cultural difference in the educational experience as from their lack of proficiency with the language. “We learned that significant differences exist between American and Asian college classrooms-especially when…the curriculum stresses communication and interaction skills. These differences, in conjunction with differences in cognitive and linguistic patterns, constitute formidable barriers that initially prevent successful participation in the American accounting classroom (Beaven, Calderisi, Tantral, 1998)
My observation of Asian students at Caulfield Grammar equates exactly with this description of the barriers faced by Asian accounting students in the US. The authors describe the resultant feelings that commonly develop in these students,” Our Asian informants told us their first year in accounting classes was akin to being in a swamp of misery. In their native lands they had excelled in their studies, their self-concept and self-esteem reflecting this excellence. Yet in their introductory American accounting classes, they found themselves unable to articulate what they knew and felt miserable, often becoming depressed. No matter how hard they worked, they often achieved only marginal understanding and felt doomed to failure.” (Beaven et all, 1998)
Based on my reading of the literature and my experiences working with students from other cultures, I believe that all students, no matter what their language ability, previous experience of education, socio- economic background or intellectual capacity, will experience some barriers to education when studying in an Australian context. I observed that even the very high functioning students with extensive formal English instruction and wealthy backgrounds such as those at Caulfield Grammar experienced these barriers. My suggestion is that the language needs of these students centre around successfully engaging with the educational discourse. They are issues around learning the manners and expectations of another culture. Learning the language is about learning how the language is used in context, by students and by teachers. To learn this, they must be in a genuine classroom and positioned as belonging. My readings into the consideration of an alternative curriculum for what is often referred to as EAL students (English as an Additional Language) are influenced by this approach. Not only do I believe that it is philosophically sound, I believe that in practice an integrated curriculum is the most effective method of teaching, not only for the EAL students, but for all students in the class. Any system that separates EAL students from others, runs the risk of perpetuating the barriers that caused the apparent need for them to be separated.
At the other end of the scale are the students that present the greatest fear for teachers and the greatest challenge to the practice of fully integrating students of all language levels into the classroom. How do you work with a student who has seemingly no ability in the English language at all? Indeed often no experience of literacy or education in their own cultures? Can we expect the National Curriculum to be inclusive of these students and can we expect teachers to meet their needs in addition to a normal workload?
By returning to the ABS report we can see that students from backgrounds that indicate they are likely to experience disrupted schooling and a lack of instruction in the English language are increasingly represented, “Between 1996 and 2006, of the 50 most common countries of birth, persons born in Sudan recorded the largest average increase (27% per year), followed by persons born in Afghanistan (13%) and Iraq (10%). (2007: 44)
Young people arriving with histories of violence, poverty, personal tragedy and deprivation present challenges for the whole community and not just for schoolteachers. These students most significant language learning needs have as much to do with resolving issues related to their personal circumstances as with learning grammar and vocabulary. Immigrant and refugee students are not alone in the way social issues present the largest barriers to their education. I believe that issues related to poverty and deprivation create the greatest barriers to education in all areas and for all students. The issue is discussed in the article “No Child Left Behind: Misguided Approach to School Accountability
for English Language Learners” (Crawford, 2004) They state that, “Like in other areas of education poverty is probably the worst factor. As in other developmental processes, numerous hereditary and environmental factors are involved in learning a language. Among the most important is socioeconomic status; children from high-poverty, less educated backgrounds tend to need more time to acquire English (Hakuta, Butler, and Witt, 2000).” (2004: 4)
I currently work in a community high school in Melbourne’s inner west with students that have been unsuccessful in school due almost entirely to issues related to low socio-economic status. On occasion we have students enrolled who come from refugee backgrounds. My personal experience as the English teacher at the school is that the needs of these students are very similar to the needs of the class generally. I may adapt materials and adjust my expectations but overall these refugee students tend to present less challenges than other students because they tend to be more motivated to learn and their behavior tends to present less issues than other students who are more familiar with the environment.
Being able to successfully address issues related to students living in poverty is as crucial an issue in my school as it is with refugee students. Crawford sites research that reveals “.a group of bilingual students in Arizona needed, on average, 3.3 years to acquire “native-like” oral proficiency in English. But the pace of acquisition varied widely, from one year to 6.5 years (Pray and MacSwan, 2002).” (2004: 4) Crawford considered that the main determinant of the rate of English language acquisition was the student’s relative socio-economic status.
I believe that not only is the largest language need for EAL students addressing social issues related to low socio-economic status, but that this is an issue common to students from all backgrounds regardless of their language ability. Community integration, respectful and integrated classrooms, building relationships with the family, interaction with outside agencies, extra support as required and a flexible and relevant curriculum are the methods a teacher uses to address social issues for all students. Rather than separation and labeling as difficult, EAL students can and should have their social issues addressed in the same ways as other students. The fact that students from refugee and migrant backgrounds often have complex social issues that pose barriers to language learning is no reason to separate them from mainstream education. The opposite is true. The best method of addressing their issues is by assisting the fullest possible participation in their new community.
The proposed National Curriculum is acknowledged to be similar in nature to the VELS (Victorian Essential Learning Standards) so it is instructive to investigate how EAL students are catered for in this state.
In a video presentation on the Department of Education and Early childhood development website, the Minister Bronwyn Pike, presents Victoria’s three stage approach to the educational needs of EAL students. ( 2007 :accessed 2010)
These stages are; Phase 1: Intensive English Language classes. Phase
2: Transition or bridging programs and Phase Three: Index funding.
The first phase runs for between six and twelve months depending on
the specific language needs of the student.
These intensive language programs are run in specialist language
centers or other facilities that are normally not housed within
schools. The purpose of this phase is to provide students with
sufficient language and cultural skills to be able to begin functioning
in a classroom and a school environment. This is the only phase
where students are not integrated into a school. This stage seems
essential if the student is not to be set up to fail in the classroom. And
should avoid teachers being given the very difficult task of catering to
a student sufficient basic skills.
The second stage, transition or bridging programs are conducted in differing ways to reflect the needs of varying student groups. One example of this is the program run by the Geelong Language Centre which is discussed on the film by the principal, Peter Macer. He explains that all students are enrolled at North Geelong Secondary College. They attend assembly each day and become a part of a form group. Initially students attend the new arrivals centre which has a time table that mirrors that of the rest of the school. As soon as the teachers feel the students are capable, they are integrated into the normal timetable, especially in elective classes like art, music PE and cooking. When individual students are ready they are gradually entered into the mainstream program. Once in the program support is continued for the students using different strategies as required. He states that “They (the teachers) do team teaching. Sometimes we have withdrawal, sometimes we have some of our aides who come in and just do support around the classroom.” (2007: accessed 2010)
The third phase of support, index funding, is financial support that follows the student on a case by case basis for up to five years. This money may pay for additional support for aides or programs that should assist the language development of the student.
The short film goes on to discuss three other language schools around Melbourne, all with similar integration programs. The language used to describe their programs is very similar and very much in agreement with notions of inclusion, of dealing with issues students have outside of the classroom and of celebrating the cultural differences that students bring with them. Peter Macer for instance states that “A good ESL program has to…involve three layers. You have to look at in the classroom, you have to look beyond the classroom and you also have to look beyond the school.” (2007: accessed 2010)
Enza Calabro from the Noble Park Language School states that “If somebody comes from another country you can’t just forget about their culture and teach them, you’ve got to start from where they are and value what they bring to school.” (2007 :accessed 2010)
The stages when students are considered capable of moving from one phase to the next with a resulting withdrawal of support must be very difficult decisions to make. Jenny Miller in her article, ”Identity and Language Use: The politics of Speaking ESL in Schools”, indicates the way students whose first language is other than English can suffer a level of intimidation and fear within school that can render them silent. She states that, “Students from subordinate groups are silenced because the are unable to represent themselves or to negotiate their identities through their first languages at school.” (2004: 293)
The first phase must provide sufficient language skills to allow students to begin being comfortable negotiating their identities through English within the school. The following phases must continue to support the students in this process with particular emphasis on their value and legitimacy within the classroom.
Throughout the video it appears that the language schools are universally determined to assist the full integration of students into all aspects of mainstream schooling, with one notable exception. Students are systematically segregated within the English curriculum.
Ruth Vear form the Marroondah Secondary College describes their English program. “We have two mainstreams of ESL. We have mainstream ESL which are specialist classes from year seven through to year twelve and students are withdrawn from English and the go and receive English as a second language. Our second program is what we call bridging program and that’s designed for students who’ve come from refugee backgrounds who haven’t had the same level of education as our local ESL’s and so we try and bridge that gap between what they know and getting them ready to go into a mainstream class.” (2007: accessed 2010)
Why is it that inclusion and integration are universally recognised as essential in addressing the educational needs of migrant and refugee students, but in the most crucial of areas, English studies, we decide to abandon this principle in favour of segregation?
The obvious answer is that streaming the English curriculum meets the varying needs of EAL students. The VELS has a parallel strand of ESL which can be assessed concurrently with English Standards. A process is described where students can be supported through the ESL strands until the assessment in the English strands becomes more relevant. This is how the relationship is described in the ESL companion. “As ESL students move through the ESL standards, the English standards are likely to become more appropriate for describing their English language learning. When the learning of ESL students starts to approximate the levels of the English standards of their peers, the English standards should be used instead of the ESL standards. However students are still likely to require ESL support after they have progressed to the English standards.” (2008: accessed 2010)
I think that it is important to notice that this approach to ESL education does not in any way preclude the students from being in the same English class as other students. Neither does it suggest that ESL students are required to undertake curriculum that is different to that of students studying the mainstream English standards. In fact is made clear that the goal of the ESL curriculum is to progress students to a level where they are assessed in regard to mainstream English standards. Further, the Phase 2 and 3 support for ESL students offered by the government does not specify that students must be segregated into other classes. The decision to segregate students into separate ESL classes is entirely the schools.
Other than for the purpose of providing extra support for EAL students, the other reason that schools may choose to stream students into separate English classes is to prepare them for the separate ESL year 11 and 12 VCE subject. Currently in Victoria, students are able to study ESL as a parallel subject to English and use it to gain an Enter score for University. With this as a pathway to university it does make sense to stream EAL students in this direction. In my opinion though, the existence of this subject in years 11 and 12 is extremely problematic. It essentialises the difference between students who are capable in the English language and those that are not, for the entirety of their school life. It means that students in mainstream English classes miss out on the opportunity to engage with students from other cultures, and it provides an accreditation that is valued lower than achievement in mainstream English Curriculum. The evidence for this last point is found on the Melbourne University website where they indicate that the minimum entry score for ESL has risen to 30 where as for VCE English the minimum entry score remains at 25. (Accessed 2010)“
My view that their should not be a parallel strand of EAL English curriculum at year 11 and 12 level is not supported by the NCB, although I find their representations on the issue contradictory.
In their response paper to the NCB the ACTA indicate in one paper that “We believe that it is possible to develop a truly inclusive curriculum within the general principles espoused by the NCB.” (2010)
But in another they refer to a parallel course.. .“…the EAL (or “EALD”) course should have the status and credentials to allow successful students to gain university admission without having to complete additional units from any other course. In particular, it should not be necessary for students to supplement the EAL (or “EALD”) course with the English course in order to gain university entrance. The English and EAL (or “EALD”) courses should be different courses but of equal status” (2010: 9)
For the numerous reasons that I have detailed I believe that it is not desirable to have a separate year 11 and 12 EAL course. From the example I present from the Melbourne University website I believe that it is unrealistic in a modern education market place to expect that an ESL or EAL year 11 and 12 course will hold the same currency as mainstream English.
I believe that the case for integrating refugee and migrant students into the same English classes as their peers as soon and as often as possible is very compelling. I believe that full integration has a range of benefits for both the EAL students as well as the students already in the class.
In the text “Striving for the third Place: Intercultural Competence through language Education” Crozet et al present the challenge that a deeper level of intercultural exchange and experience is achievable if multi-lingualism is embraced alongside multi-culturalism. Not to suggest that students must learn complete new languages, but simply that just as our cultural meaning is stored in our language, so too for other cultures. So to attain the stated aims of the NCB, to “adapt, create and communicate effectively.. in a “global environment” as intended within the English curriculum, (2009) students must engage with the languages of other cultures. Crozet et al call this process the achievement of a third place, and that “The ability to find this third place is at the core of intercultural competence.” (1999: 5) Having students from many cultures within the same English class is a great advantage for all students in developing cultural competence and attaining the stated aim for that subject by the NCB.
Although I strongly advocate for a fully integrated English curriculum that can meet the needs of students with a diversity of language and social needs, it is crucial to investigate the limitations posed by centralised pedagogical control generally and specifically issues that arise from the proposed NCB. The rigidity of a fixed curriculum directly affects the ability of a teacher to address the specific language needs of migrant and immigrant students.
A powerful example of the government weighing into the discourse of language teaching in schools is that of recent events in Singapore. Kramer-Dahl discuss that within Singapore a “discourse of crisis” was set in motion in relation to “..the sorry state of the nation’s English grammar and of grammar teaching in schools..” (2003: 160) Widely represented in the media with many prominent people being given a voice in the discourse, their contention was that standards of grammar had moved away from “proper” or “standard” English, and that the practice of Singlish was widespread and encouraged in schools. The solution was to establish a new English syllabus, with a “grammar course for teachers and “the more rigorous grammar teaching” prescribed in the new English-language syllabus had by then become “pre-emptive moves” in the ministry’s “action plan,” both established to “arrest” the spread of Singlish and “to prevent the erosion of Standard English” (“Moves to Prevent,”199d – sited in Kramar-Dahl:2003: 178)
This is a clear example of a government using it’s power to establish it’s desired meaning within the cultural discourse. Kramer-Dahl goes on to describe a myriad of negative implications that occur from this type of intervention.
Despite overtures to multiculturalism in its stated aims, the English curriculum proposed by the NCB continually refers to a “Standard Australian English” or SAE. (2009: 4)
In its’ aims the NCB makes two relevant points.
To “learn Standard Australian English to help sustain and advance social cohesion in our linguistically and culturally complex country”
and to “respect the varieties of English and their influence on Standard Australian English.” (2009: 4)
The first point is concerning in that it suggests that Australian “social cohesion” is “sustained” and “advanced” by fostering monolingualism through English education. This to me sounds suspiciously like a representation of Australia similar to that represented through the “Myth of the Monoculture”. Just like in Singapore there seems to exist a notion that any gravitation away from a “Standard English” will result in a loss of social cohesion, a loss of standing in the world, a decreased ability to trade with other countries, a decreased ability to sell ourselves as English educators, and generally a loss of our cultural heritage as white, middle class and British. Although students will be encouraged to “respect the varieties of English” they must “learn standard English”.
As in Singapore, the implications for students from refugee and migrant backgrounds, and for all students from a “third space” perspective, are substantially detrimental. A hegemonic power is created whereby students who are not considered to have the SAE accent or grammar are essentialised as linguistically deficient. This may be supported through assessment tasks, especially year 11 and 12 certificates and the NAPLAN testing that will be deliberately biased in favor of those within the hegemonic language group. Non-native SAE students will be restricted when entering into the cultural discourse. Participation in which is predicated upon them first attaining native like SAE proficiency. This limits the opportunity for genuine interculturalism and interlingualism.
Resistance will develop against the SAE. Students who feel they are not welcomed or recognised or prejudiced against will deliberately celebrate their own accents and dialects as a strategy of defiance against the hegemony.
The worst effect is that our cultural identity is falsified to become one that does not recognise the vast and historical extent of Australian cultural and linguistic diversity.
All this must be understood however within an Australian democratic environment rather than a Singaporean totalitarian one. Race riots won’t break out and ghetto’s won’t form on the basis of a few words from the NCB. Our great advantage is our ability to interpret curriculum initiatives to meet the diverse needs of the students in our care. In my identity as an Australian and an English teacher, I feel completely confident that if Julia Gillard provides me with a curriculum that resembles a station wagon, I can cut it into a Ute, if that bests fits the needs of my students. The freedom and ability to do this is what informs my entire argument for full integration.
There are two things that I would seek from the NCB in order to best meet the diverse language needs of refugee and migrant students within a fully integrated English program.
First, remove references to Standard Australian English, and instead refer to something like a “valued and diverse English inclusive of all dialects and accents”.
Secondly, ensure that the curriculum is sufficiently flexible such that teachers are able to adapt it to the specific needs of their students.
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