Obscuring the loss of the only Vietnamese bilingual program in Australia

This campaign asks the Minister and the Victorian Education Department to not abolish the only Vietnamese bilingual program in Australia, a means of providing more equitable long-term pathway options for community languages.

While parents and teachers were adjusting to COVID-19 lockdown, the School Council of Footscray Primary decided to abolish the only Vietnamese bilingual program in the nation, without any community consultation. This is a significant loss to the school community and city of Footscray. Despite community wide support against such a decision, the administration posted obscure facts on their website in defense of their failure to adopt best practices in bilingual education to support the Vietnamese bilingual program.

The program was set up to fail. Footscray Primary and the Department has not taken on responsibility for this and the Vietnamese bilingual program is a scapegoat for this failure.

For as the school chose to begin bilingual education from Grade 2 since 2017 (unlike other Victorian bilingual programs) students were starting from a two-year handicap in proficiency. This can hinder student engagement and lead to behavioural challenges.

The Vietnamese courses mentioned are out-of-school hours course for 1–2 hours per week. The Vietnamese Bilingual program at Footscray Primary is the only fully accredited Vietnamese bilingual immersion program in the nation. Further, VSL and CLS courses place significant burdens on students and parents to access them.

For Italian and Vietnamese the number of people who speak the language at home is somewhat similar. However the number of schools that offer the language is significantly disproportionate. Is the school arguing in favour of a two-tiered system for language education? Are some languages considered second-rate and not worthy of equitable government and community support?

The already low number of schools offering Vietnamese does not provides cover for the abolishing of the only Vietnamese bilingual program in the country.

The administration proposes to offer only 1–2 hour of Vietnamese language instruction instead of the Bilingual Vietnamese program which is up to 12 hours of immersion learning through curriculum. The Language Other Than English (LOTE) alternative mentioned obscures the loss of a full 12 hour curriculum of fully immersive Vietnamese bilingual education, the only program of its kind in Australia.

It is arguably more difficult to find a Vietnamese Art, Music or PE teacher for 1 of the 2 hours of LOTE. In the likely scenario that the school cannot find a Vietnamese language teacher with additional specialisation in Art, Music or Physical Education, students would only get 1 hour LOTE.

We agree wholeheartedly. We think culture through language is even more enriching when combined with a meal of phở. However, this statement infers that only Vietnamese-heritage constituents are supporting this campaign. In fact, the petition’s signatories and comments attest to the broad spectrum of support, not exclusive to the Vietnamese community. For example of the over 1,600 petition supporters who live in Melbourne’s west, over 66% have non-Vietnamese names.

There are two models for delivery of bilingual education, known as 30/70 and 50/50.

30/70 model — Since 2016 the school has opted for this model. This puts pressure on the school budget in having to recruit Vietnamese language teachers as specialist staff. For example if there are two classrooms, the school employs two English (language) classroom teachers whilst also employing additional Vietnamese (language) specialist teachers. Hence there will be a ‘doubling-up’ as there are more than two teachers employed to teach curriculum for two classrooms.

Classroom and specialist staff budgets are determined by student numbers and are equitable across all State schools. Additional bilingual funding does not allow for teacher salaries. In 2017 the school reached its capacity of staff in hiring an additional four Vietnamese specialist teachers. No recruitment efforts were made for 2018 as the budget had been exhausted. Although school staffing scenarios can be complex, in summary the 30/70 model has additional challenges that can hinder the ability to deliver the desired hours of bilingual instruction.

50/50 model — Also known as the ‘paired classroom’ model, this allows for 50% of curriculum in each language. For example if there are two classrooms, the school hires one English (language) and one second language teacher to alternate the teaching of curriculum. This model alleviates pressure on the school budget whilst delivering equal instruction time for both languages. Whilst the school has not previously explored this model for the Vietnamese bilingual program, it will adopt this model in 2021, regardless of language.

We recognise that sourcing teachers for any language programs is a significant challenge, one that all bilingual schools face.

However, the above three statements attest to the disparity of support in language education in the State, as elaborated earlier. This does not necessarily disqualify a language for bilingual education. The school has successfully delivered the Vietnamese bilingual program in previous years. In fact the program won awards in 2007 and 2008.

Bilingual schools hire from a range of sources, including native speaking teachers from local and international networks. The Vietnamese diaspora is a potential teacher pool the school has not previously explored, particularly in the US where there are 10 Vietnamese bilingual schools.

In the decision to terminate the program the school failed to make this offer to those mentioned above. Unlike successful bilingual schools that seek input from a range of stakeholders, the school completely shut out the Vietnamese community in its decision to axe the program.

A timeline of events can be found here.

Call to action

You can email the Minister directly here.

Add your voice to the petition here.

For more info email: parentoffps@gmail.com

We’re a group of parents who want to save the Vietnamese bilingual program at Footscray Primary School