11 Dec 2018

Bill proposes one of 10 'priority' languages be taught in primary schools

7:25 pm on 11 December 2018

A member's bill making second language learning compulsory in primary schools has been drawn from the ballot, but which languages will be given priority is up for debate.

National MP Nikki Kaye supports National MP Amy Adams as she announces she will stand for National Party leader.

National MP Nikki Kaye says it's important that students learn a second language. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill was put forward by National MP Nikki Kaye and would require primary schools to teach one of 10 'priority' languages that have yet to be decided upon.

As the bill stands, school boards would consult with the school community to decided which language of the 10 they would choose - although a primary school is not prevented from offering other languages in addition to the one chosen.

Ms Kaye said it was important that New Zealand students learned a second language.

"For the future of New Zealand both in terms of our diversity but also, socially and economically."

"We know that there are less borders between countries and the concept that many more young New Zealanders could speak a language is a very good thing."

The bill looks likely to pass its first reading early next year as it already has the support of Labour, Greens and Act.

Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he supports students learning a second language but there is still a lot of discussion to be done at the select committee stage.

"We're very short of language teachers - particulary around te reo Māori and some of the languages that we already deliver - so we've got some work to do there. This is going to have to happen over a quite a long period of time, it's not going to something that can happen overnight."

"In terms of whether it should be compulsory, I think there is merit in all kids learning a second language."

New Zealand First have opposed the bill because, it said in a statement, it "believes that forcing languages into the primary school day would be irresponsible at a time when our teachers are already under workload pressures.

The members bill would be the first national strategy for languages in the country which has been welcomed by teachers.

Auckland Languages Strategy Working Group chair Susan Warren said in Auckland alone, there are 160 languages spoken so the hard part is going to be choosing the 10 priority language.

"I think if we try to choose only a few languages, the pressures of economy will always be the first part of the decision, and so sadly, that will always be the languages of trade and the major international languages before community languages."

Ms Warren also wants the bill to provide support for children who already speak a language, a view that is shared by New Zealand Association of Language Teachers president Annabelle Sinclair.

"Currently, we are in a lot of cases, turning billingual or even multilingual children into monolingual students and then wondering why some of those people aren't super engaged with the formal education system."

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