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Senseis’ Voices


National Conference of the Federation of Australia-Japan Societies Education Session

National Conference of the Federation of Australia-Japan Societies – Education Session

 The National Conference of the Federation of Australia-Japan Societies (AJS) was held on October 19-20, 2018 in Sydney, hosted by AJS-NSW, with the theme Australia and Japan: Deeper understanding, New dimensions.

The conference delved into many facets of the Australia-Japan relationship including innovation, business success stories, sport, tourism, sister cities, pop culture, Japanese arts, and education.

In this edition of Senseis’ Voices, the presenters, panellists and Mrs Dianne Fitzpatrick, President of AJS-ACT report on the information and comments shared during the education session.

Overview of the Education Session

  1. How the Japan Foundation can assist in educational programs

Mr Yoshihiro Wada, Director, The Japan Foundation, Sydney

Mr Wada presented data showing trends in Japanese language education over the last 40 years in Australia. He also introduced some of the programs offered by The Japan Foundation, Sydney to teachers of Japanese. The Japan Foundation celebrates 40 years in Australia in 2018. Mr Wada thanked everyone for their past, current and on-going support.

  1. State of Japanese language teaching in NSW; the new K-10 syllabus and outcomes

Ms Lyn Sully, Inspector, Languages, Curriculum Standards, NSW Education Standards Authority

Ms Sully introduced the new NSW Japanese K-10 syllabus. It includes agreed upon Australian Curriculum content and content that clarifies the scope, breadth and depth of learning, and it is inclusive of the learning needs of all students.

(See link at the end of this article for NSW Syllabus)

  1. Panel Discussion

The panel discussion was led by Mrs Dianne Fitzpatrick, Japanese teacher and President of AJS-ACT. The panellists were Dr Rowena Ward (tertiary), Ms Yukiko Watanabe (secondary), Ms Sue Palmer (primary) and Ms Lyn Sully, NSW Education Standards Authority.


Panellists’ Summary

  1. Dr Rowena Ward, Senior Lecturer in Japanese, University of Wollongong

Numbers of Japanese language learners at the tertiary level show a general increase but numbers continue to fluctuate year by year. Most students tend to be concentrated at the beginner level and few students continue to the advanced level of language study. This trend has long-term implications for Japanese language teaching and for the number of Japanese speaking graduates moving into the workplace. The low number of students at the advanced level also has implications for universities’ commitment to face-to-face teaching hours at this level. The number of students going to Japan on exchange is increasing but many are only going for short-periods which do not always lead to the best outcomes in terms of language acquisition.

  1. Ms Yukiko Watanabe, Kambala School, NSW

Although Japanese learners at school consist of the largest number of all language learners in Australia, it is a concern that learners at senior levels are not showing an increase. Advocacy for languages is important and necessary to make them as visible as possible to the school community and beyond. Learning languages equip students with essential skills for life, not only linguistic skills but also an understanding of the culture which shapes oneself and the community around them. In other words, languages are not merely a subject, but they are indispensable from our life.

  1. Ms Sue Palmer, Balgowlah Heights Primary School, NSW

Through learning languages, students are able to gain a greater knowledge and deeper understanding not only of others but of their own identity. Languages should be taught at the primary level.  Younger students innately learn languages faster and engage in the process of learning without fear or prejudice, developing an interest in, respect and compassion for people of other cultures and communities.

Unfortunately, primary schools in NSW do not currently have mandated hours for teaching languages.  It is hoped that this will change in the future as has been the case in other states such as Victoria and Western Australia by seriously advocating the importance and benefits of language learning to the wider community.


Report from the National Conference of the Federation of Australia-Japan Societies

Mrs Dianne Fitzpatrick, President of AJS-ACT and Japanese high school teacher

Ms Lyn Sully led the discussion with a presentation of some of the aspects and thinking behind the development and implementation of the Languages Curriculum for K-12.

Japanese language is taught from K-10, and in years 11-12 there are 5 different courses which can be undertaken for study:

  • Japanese Beginners
  • Japanese Continuers
  • Japanese Extension
  • Japanese in Context
  • Japanese and Literature

Since 2015, the number of students completing Year 10 Japanese in NSW has declined from 3058 in 2015 to 2822 in 2018. Numbers of students sitting the HSC in each of the above courses were:

  • Japanese Beginners – 726
  • Japanese Continuers – 683
  • Japanese Extension 160
  • Japanese in Context – 30
  • Japanese and Literature-10

(See link at the end of this article for more information about the HSC)

Ms Sully explained some details of the new Curriculum, which included the communicating strand and the understanding strand, which combine the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the language in a much more holistic manner.  The new curriculum seeks to embed the values and attitudes of enjoyment of a language, an appreciation of the students’ own heritage, culture and identity and respect for the culture, beliefs and values of others through language learning. The cross-curriculum priorities remain the histories and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, our engagement with Asia and sustainability. Interwoven in the Curriculum are the general capabilities of: critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding, information and communication technology capability, intercultural understanding, literacy, numeracy and personal and social capability. The timeline for the Curriculum to be completed from K-10 is 2020.

While it will be exciting to see this curriculum rolled out across the sectors, it has not delivered the one thing that I am certain Primary School teachers have been crying out to be addressed for years, which is to mandate hours for language learning in the primary school. Too many Japanese teachers in primary school throughout NSW have their language learning seen as an add-on to an already overcrowded curriculum. As a result, languages are not given priority and therefore the hours given for learning can be as little as 30 mins per week per class. This is despite the government’s rhetoric about prioritising the learning of languages, in particular Asian languages (Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Korean). While there are suggested hours, there are no mandated hours, which leaves professionally trained language educators in the primary sector frustrated and left to the mercy of the school as to how many hours are allocated for learning a language such as Japanese. As a result, often language programs don’t have the impact which is necessary to fulfil curriculum expectations.  Ms Palmer spoke passionately about her teaching in the primary sector and her creativity in allowing the students to experience learning language through culture, but equally expressed her frustration at the lack of time and the interruptions to language programs in this sector.

It is important to thank the individual teachers who represent the different sectors on the panel for their dedication and passion for teaching Japanese over many years. In the high school, there was concern about the difficulties of teaching different courses in the classroom. Given the curriculum in NSW, Ms Yukiko Watanabe spoke about classrooms with 3 to 4 different courses of Japanese being taught in the one classroom. These are the difficulties teachers face in having to offer the opportunity for students to learn Japanese, which then results in a classroom with competing demands of the teacher. Support in schools for these scenarios is often lacking. Effective pedagogy needs time and support. I wonder about mainstream teachers teaching 3 to 4 courses of English or Maths or Science in the same classroom?

In high school settings there is usually only one Japanese teacher and sometimes Japanese is the only Asian language at the school. In these circumstances it is up to this teacher to promote the learning of this language throughout the school and the wider community in order to get the numbers required to teach into the senior years. For some this equates to a constant battle of the ‘numbers game’ in order to keep the language in the school and keep their own position. One of our panel members had just given up the fight for keeping Japanese in her school and had to watch as the axe fell on this program, resulting in her having to look for a new position teaching Japanese.

The Australian Curriculum has the structure of K-10 continuous program or 7-10. What happens in schools which have a K-10 program and yet there is an intake in Year 7 in the high school? Often languages programs are affected by sports days, camps, excursions, music lessons etc. How can languages be given priority and not be seen as a subject of lesser value?

How do schools decide on what language to offer? Principals are faced with recruiting a ‘good’ language teacher, and the success of language programs is dependent on the teacher running the program. With competing languages and the lack of trained language teachers, I have seen in particularly the primary and secondary sector, due to a vacuum of language teachers, Japanese programs have folded. Governments have to invest more into the training and promotion of training language teachers in the University sector.

University brings with it the complex issue for students about what to study.  If I study this or that, will it provide me with a career which will not be obsolete in possibly 3 or 4 years? One of the government’s educational priority is languages, however, the reality on campuses is silo departments who struggle to get numbers and funding into their areas of expertise.  Often there is one Japanese lecturer left to promote their subject and the value of learning languages in an even bigger arena of subject selection, career promotion, larger faculties and funding constraints.

Dr Rowena Ward spoke about the decline of Japanese uptake at Wollongong University and the struggle to keep prospective students continuing to study Japanese throughout their university degree.  High schools and university departments silo subjects in a way that does not promote cross curricular or collaborative initiatives. Promoting the study of Japanese has been left to the teachers of Japanese, which often equates to a lone voice fighting to keep the language program, which should be a natural priority within academic circles. Languages should be an integral part of courses taken at a university level. However we still have many university offerings which do not have the flexibility to incorporate learning a language into their course structures. Universities in Australia have to continue to support the language (Japanese) department within universities. As leaders in education we need to look for ways to integrate languages into collaborative projects, have flexible learning pathways and expose our students to more global experiences in a world without borders.

In summary, governments have to provide funding to put language learning at the forefront in educational settings. Communities need to make their voices heard when it comes to supporting all three educational sectors represented here at the conference, as they are stakeholders in the educational outcomes for their students. Principals need to become Asia literate and shift their focus to educating global citizens with language skills to promote peace and understanding. The sectors represented on this panel will benefit from the new Australian curriculum, which in turn will help local curriculum offerings. However, we need to mandate, we need to stand up for the value of language learning by letting the Australian public know that learning languages is equally as important as learning any other subject in an educational setting.

Contributed: November 2018

Photo: whale | Haline Ly

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