From education to employment

Shortage of teachers contributed to lack of take-up

A shortage of teachers has contributed to the fall in the number of students on language courses from GSCE to PhD.

Further, this has had a “disastrous” effect on the supply of teachers, researchers and lecturers.

In its response to Lord Dearing, the British Academy welcomes the report on language study in schools. They have appealed for greater investment in teachers, arguing that the current shortage had helped to contribute toward the fall in student numbers at every stage of study from GCSE to PhD. The Academy commends Lord Dearing’s call to make language study compulsory during primary and secondary education.

Onora O”Neill, President of the British Academy, said: “Restoring and improving our language teaching is urgent. We need better curricula and exams, teachers to replace those lost, and a reasonable period of mandatory study for all children and young people”.

It has been noted by the academy that Lord Dearing’s recommendations to resolve the crisis are to be kept under review.

And in related news, bilingual learning can prove to be beneficial for second and third generation children of families who speak a language other than English.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that using both languages assists cognitive development and enhances identities as learners.

The research, carried out among children from two Tower Hamlets primary schools in Years 2, 4 and 6, observed children learning their mother tongue in a community language class. The research team went on to work with community language teachers, mainstream teachers and bilingual assistants in order to integrate bilingual activities into the primary school curriculum.

The study found that children who performed highly at mainstream school were found to have a strong background in their first language. They demonstrated a high degree of linguistic awareness and could translate at ease between the two languages.

According to Tower Hamlets” own statistics, pupils attending mother tongue classes were also performing better in Key Stage One and Key Stage Two national curriculum tests than the pupils who were not attending. Alarmingly, the report found that without the development of mother tongue through academic work, many of the children are at risk of losing these skills.

Dr Charmian Kenner of Goldsmiths said: “Children who live their lives bilingually can access the curriculum through both languages. Learning a Mathematical concept in Bengali and English, for example, deepens understanding as ideas are transferred between languages. Or children can compare how metaphors are constructed in a Bengali poem and its English equivalent. The children in our project expressed a strong desire to use their community language in school and teachers were able to tap into their pupils” full range of cultural knowledge”.

A conference will be held on Friday 23rd March 2007 to investigate the implications of the research. Amongst other speakers are Lid King, Director of the National Languages Strategy and Jill Catlow of the Primary National Strategy.

Kimberly Jordan.

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