Money and Policy Make Languages Go Round: Language Programs in Australia after NALSAS

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article considers telling differences that have emerged in participation rates in languages other than English study in the States of Victoria and New South Wales since the introduction and completion of the NALSAS program. It explores the role that language planning, policy and funding, both at a State and Federal level, have played in this outcome. The prominent focus of the paper is the Government education systems in Victoria and NSW, but findings from the Catholic and Independent systems are also utilised. The article argues that Federal language planning and policy must take into account the complex and varying local linguistic ecologies of each State and Territory in Australia, while language-in-education planning and policy at the State level must be seriously challenged to provide adequate support and funding for language programs.

Key Words

Language policy and planning, languages other than English, second language education, NALSAS

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Introduction

Explicit language policy at the Federal level in Australia has moved through a number of distinctive stages, reflecting the varying needs of Australia's language demography, as well as the often competing agendas of Governments and lobby groups. In 1987, the National Policy on Languages (Lo Bianco, 1987) attempted to establish a range of principles that could address the needs of Australians with and without an English speaking background, across a range of social, educational and home contexts. However, the subsequent policy, Australia "s Language--The Australian Language and Literacy Policy (Dawkins, 1992) was reductionist in nature, drawing a greater focus to the (English) literacy needs of Australians (see Moore, 1995) and was followed by a series of literacy focused papers and policies, such as Literacy for Aft: The challenge for Australian schools (DEETYA, 1998).

Throughout this period of policy development, Asian lobbyists were also pushing strongly for the specific support of Asian languages and studies in schools (Slaughter, 2008, pp. 35-43) and finally succeeded in their efforts when the National Asian Languages and Studies Strategy in Australia Schools (NALSAS) program was introduced into the Australian education system in 1994. The program provided more than $200 million in funding over the course of eight years and aimed to, and achieved, an increase in the participation rate in the study of Asian languages and Asian studies across all States and Territories in Australia (Wyatt, Manefield, Carbines, & Robb, 2002a, 2002b).

The NALSAS program, ambitious and longterm in comparison to many other Federal initiatives, was unprecedented. Mackenzie (2001) considers the NALSAS policy as one of entrepreneurial policymaking (see also Henderson, 2003). While for supporters of Asian languages and studies it signalled the coming to fruition of many years of lobbying, from a language learning perspective, the NALSAS program was widely criticised for a number of reasons, including,

* economic rationalism as a basis for policy

* the lack of support for other languages

* an inadequate teacher supply

* the lack of reference to Asian language communities in Australia

* the belief that foreign and domestic cultural interests can be separated and the sidelining of social and cultural arguments

* the lack of public consultation behind the policy (see, for example, Clyne, 1997; Hill &Thomas, 1998; Liddicoat, 1996; Lo Bianco, 2000, 2002; Milner, 1999; Orton, 1995; Reeves, 1992; Williamson-Fien, 1994).

Although the policy was both criticised and welcomed within language and education disciplines, the NALSAS program has undoubtedly provided a much-needed financial and image-related boost for Asian languages study. It is imperative that we now consider the effectiveness of the NALSAS program as a policy and its impact on language study more broadly. …