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Tuesday, 12 October 1976

Mr FALCONER (Casey) -I am sure all honourable members were interested to hear the remarks by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) about people crowding into his electorate in order to get decent representation in this Parliament. We all enjoy the sometimes facetious remarks of the honourable member. Perhaps I might just as facetiously point out to him that the reason that people are flocking from the inner suburban electorates like Wills and Melbourne to the outer suburban electorates like Casey and La Trobe is so that they can get even better representation in this Parliament. However I do not expect that the honourable member for Wills will agree with that statement.

I congratulate the Government on seeing fit to increase expenditure on education in a difficult' budgetary year. This Government came to office when the economy was run down. There was little opportunity for real growth in public expenditure in this Budget yet despite the dire predictions of many people who said that this Government would cut expenditure in this Budget in both real terms and absolute terms, it has seen fit to increase expenditure on education. That is a creditable performance in this difficult year.

I want to refer to some of the problems that need to be dealt with in the Victorian education system because there have been some developments in that State which have been out of line, perhaps, with developments in other States. In Victoria we have had a very marked improvement in teacher/pupil ratios in our schools. In the past 4 years, for example, the Victorian Education Department has taken on one extra teacher for every 2 additional pupils so we now have one of the lowest teacher/pupil ratios in the world. It is the lowest in Australia. That certainly is a creditable performance but it is not without its cost. It has meant that in Victoria there has not been the expenditure on the capital side that one would like to see. I believe from my inspections of schools in Victoria as against schools in other States that many of them do not have the same quality of construction as schools in other States. I believe this is the next priority to be dealt with in terms of overall expenditure in the Victorian education system.

I believe that there has to be some effort to resist the industrial demands made from time to time by teacher unions further to decrease this ratio and to spend more money on more teachers who teach for fewer hours per week. I could point to individual schools and particular classes where there are problems and I do not deny that there will be particular areas where we need to improve the teacher/pupil ratio but overall one of the major problems to be dealt with in terms of overall expenditure is this problem of the capital requirements of the Victorian education system.

The Schools Commission in its report this year pointed to that particular problem. One can see that the problem arises because of the type of growth, the pattern of growth, which has occurred in Victoria. While there will be only 8000 additional children in Victorian schools next February the Victorian Department of Educationothers will be in a similar situation- will have to provide 30 000 new places. There seems to be a remarkable discrepancy- 8000 additional children as against 30 000 new places that will have to be provided. However the reason is the rapid expansion that has taken place in the outer suburban areas in particular, such as the suburbs in the Casey electorate, whereas in many of the more established inner or mid-suburban areas there have been declines in school populations leaving them with some surplus space but we cannot chop a couple of classrooms off one school and simply transport them to another which needs additional classes. Because of the imbalances of growth we have had there has been a great strain on the capital resources of the Victorian education system and I hope that when future allocations are made particular attention will be paid to this problem.

I want to turn to a couple of particular aspects of the estimates for the Department of Education in which I have some interest. I refer in particular to the bilingual education program. While it might not appear to honourable members that the bilingual education program has much application to my electorate I would point out that in my electorate there is the Australian headquarters of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the academic arm of the Wycliffe bible translators. This organisation is deeply involved in bilingual education programs not only in Australia but throughout the world. I think it is fair to say that it has played an initiating role in developing bilingual education programs in various parts of the world. The need for bilingual education programs in Australia has been recognised in recent years for the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory in particular but it does have applications in other contexts as well. Of course, the idea behind the bilingual program is that the child who has learnt to speak another tongue- in the case of Australia, a tongue other than English- needs to be taught initially how to read and write in that language before making the jump into the English language. There is great difficulty in making the jump from a spoken language which has no literature immediately into the English language and being able to cope with the English literature involved. If that person can be taught to read and write in his or her own language the emotional and intellectual jump involved in then transferring to the English language is much easier to manage. This is the idea behind the bilingual education programs.

In many cases, as far as Aboriginal communities are concerned, this has meant sending people out to actually put a language on paper in the first instance. Often this has involved moving among tribes in the situation in which they have lived for many years and starting from scratch to develop a literature for a few hundred people who speak that dialect. As a result great advances are being made in the teaching of English in Northern Territory schools. The role which the Summer Institute of Linguistics has played has not been limited to its particular religious attitudes and aims. As a group of people committed to a certain purpose or cause arising out of their religious beliefs they have been more prepared than most other people to commit themselves to spend 2, 3 or 4 years with a particular community in order to commit that language to paper. So it is that many governments throughout the world have seen fit to finance the Summer Institute of Linguistics in its activities in order to provide government agencies with the basic literature on which they can conduct bilingual educational programs.

I can only applaud this move and hope that the good relationships which the Summer Institute of Linguistics has developed with the Department of Education and with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs will continue to grow and develop because there is mutual benefit in a cooperative relationship of this kind. I believe we can do a great deal more to apply the principle of bilingual education to many schools in the community other than the Aboriginal communities of Australia. In schools where there is a high migrant content the idea of a bilingual program has a great deal of merit. It seems to me, from my own inquiries, that in many instances a teacher coming out of a teachers college and who has more than one language- say a person of Greek background who has both Greek and English- is not likely to be posted to a school with a high concentration of Greek migrants. It seems that such teachers are posted anywhere but to a school with a concentration of Greek migrants. I believe there would be great advantages in ensuring that teachers with these skills are put into schools where they can be used to explain to school children in their own language the concepts involved which the education system is trying to impart. This would enable children to make the jump to the English language.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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