The study into the working conditions and career aspirations of more than 900 volunteer teachers in the government-funded NSW Community Languages Schools Program has been undertaken by the Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education (SICLE), launched at the University of Sydney.
In NSW, 2,900 community language teachers volunteer their time each week to teach 36,000 students 54 non-English languages – from Arabic to Vietnamese – outside school hours, playing a key role in keeping their heritage and language alive.
“The picture emerging is one of women who, after raising families, step into this teaching as a pathway into further study or paid employment,” said SICLE Director Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank from the University’s School of Education and Social Work.
The study revealed most volunteer teachers are women (87%) and are born overseas (96%), though most have been in Australia for more than 10 years (59.5%).
Though many of the volunteer teachers already had tertiary qualifications (87%), formal qualifications in education (44.3%) and/or international teaching experience (54.9%), only 3% reported they being accredited to teach in mainstream schools.
“The key finding of this study is the block this highly qualified group of teachers face once they begin teaching in community languages schools,” Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank said.
The main barriers to employment and further study were lack of accessible information about qualifications, need for increased proficiency in English and courses to upgrade their qualifications.
"The overwhelming majority of volunteer teachers surveyed indicated they wanted to become accredited mainstream school teachers," said Associate Professor Cruickshank.
“Many of these teachers would, with advice and guidance, be able to gain accreditation; others, with upgrading, would also be eligible," he said.
“Overseas-trained teachers are often seen as a problem group in Australia but, based on the domestic costs of educating graduates, we calculate an economic benefit of their qualifications of around $182 million.”
The University launched the SICLE institute on 10 September and announced it last year, in partnership with the NSW State Government.
Speaking at the launch of SICLE, Minister for Finance Victor Dominello addressed the importance of the initiative.
This is a significant initiative which will support linguistic diversity and educational opportunity through research, teaching and professional learning programs in schools and community organisations in New South Wales.
“There are currently 62 languages being taught in Community Language Schools. The number of language programs available in NSW reflects the state’s cultural diversity and the importance that we as a Government place on providing students with opportunities to maintain and extend skills in their language background.”
In order to continue lifting NSW’s capacity for leading community languages education and support community language teachers, SICLE plans to:
Provide professional learning courses for volunteer community language teachers
Work with a commercial supplier to provide new learning management tools for more than 300 NSW community language schools
Host a repository of online teaching resources to support the more than 50 languages currently taught in these schools
Provide additional advice to the NSW Community Languages Schools Board and New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) so they can better support volunteer teachers who wish to apply for accreditation.
University of Sydney Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton highlighted the University’s proud history of supporting communities from language backgrounds other than English.
The University of Sydney was the first to provide teacher education for community language teachers in NSW in 1975 and the first to provide professional development for teachers in NSW community languages schools.
“We look forward to continuing our strong record of excellence in community languages education,” Professor Garton said.