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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2458

Senator REID(10.48) —I think many people were very disappointed to find in the Budget that there were significant cuts to the funding of the English as a second language program. Apparently the cuts amount to just over $30m for a full year and over $14m in the balance of this financial year. I really wonder whether the Government has thought through the significance of making cuts in this area and has a full appreciation of the significance of the English as a second language program. The program has been specifically relevant in the Australian Capital Territory. There are still concerns among teachers at the Woden College of Technical and Further Education and other teachers of English as a second language as to what their own career prospects will be as a consequence of this decision.

I know that the program has been reviewed. The Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts looked at this matter when it was considering the need for a national language policy. It has also been reviewed by the Quality of Education Review Committee. But generally I think the outcomes of the reviews have indicated that it is a valuable program which is relevant to people of non-English speaking backgrounds. Of course, the program covers people from a significant range of ages. Some come to this country as adults with no English and some come here as children and enter our school systems with no English. There are others who are born here and, on the face of it, appear to have the advantage of being exposed to English but who in fact have grown up in a household where some other language is the normal language. They turn up in our schools with little more than what one might call street English or that which they have picked up from playing with other children. They are at a vastly different stage of their education when they commence school to most of the other children who enter the school program. That, of course, is significant to children starting school at that stage. I also believe it is significant for everybody else going into a class.

Australian Capital Territory primary school class sizes are, hopefully, no more than about 30 per class. It is fairly clear this year that, with the additional funding cuts to the Australian Capital Territory education program, many of the classes will rise from 30 to possibly 32 in a class. If the teacher has amongst her 30 or 32 children one or two for whom English is a second language and who are not getting adequate assistance, that has an impact on the rest of the children in that class. The teacher either ignores those for whom English is a second language, in which case they have no hope of ever getting anywhere in our society, or she attempts to devote time to them to see that they have a chance of keeping up in which case the rest of the class gets less attention than they are entitled to. It is not just a question of saying: `Oh, only about 9 per cent of children turn up with this problem'. It affects the whole of the education system. It affects the chance children will have in life, the ability to get on and the ability to fit in to this community. If we are to get our priorities right we would have to say that it is not very smart to cut the program of English as a second language.

We have heard that other programs can be cut back to compensate and that the States will be asked to do this and that. But whatever is done, somewhere the education system will miss out. The fundamental point remains that this Government sought to balance its Budget by cutting into this very vital and significant program which has a great deal of impact on all of the people who particularly need it. I think it is a matter that needs to be reviewed, not with the sort of band-aid measures that have been suggested so far, but as a fundamental right. It is a program that we introduced and we continue to support its objectives. We support the achievements that have been made. We are pleased, indeed, that so many teachers have taken up the challenge and have made themselves expert in the area of teaching English as a second language. I think it is one of the most significant aspects of the education program and I particularly regret that it has been cut out of this year's Budget. I hope that the decision can be reversed at some time.