New Zealand First will oppose a National Party bill to strengthen second language learning in schools through Government funding, but a language professor says it needs to be encouraged.
The bill, proposed by National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye, aims to strengthen primary and intermediate schools' access to language learning through additional resources provided by the Government for language specialists and online resources.
"Learning a language has cognitive, cultural and social benefits and these benefits are becoming increasingly important in a globally connected world," the bill says.
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"Under the bill regulations will be made to identify at least 10 priority languages, which will be set following nationwide consultation with communities."
NZ First, a coalition partner of the Government, opposed the bill on Tuesday, saying forcing languages into the primary school day "would be irresponsible at a time when our teachers are already under workload pressures".
"Expanding the primary curriculum is an unnecessary distraction at this time."
Teachers say they're stretched for resources. Primary school teachers and principals voted to reject the Ministry of Education's third pay offer last week because the offer didn't provide solutions to teacher and resource shortages.
The recent teachers' strikes are a "last-ditch effort from a profession with legitimate expectations of fundamental change, relief and reward," wrote former Green MP Catherine Delahunty last month.
'The demotion of languages'
Senior AUT Japanese lecturer, Dallas Nesbitt, agrees that teachers are under immense pressure to live up to such high expectations when they're under-resourced, but she says learning a second language must not be pushed aside as a low priority.
"Of course it's a fair statement," she said of NZ First, "but it is basically what is causing the demotion of languages - that they're being put aside as a hobby or a nice extra when they really add value to careers and the social development of any person.
"We've got so many ethnicities in our country and still we cannot take the stand and say, 'Look, we really have to learn other languages and that they are of value'."
While learning second languages is in the curriculum, the reality is for many schools and students there is not enough resourcing to enable universal access to learn a second language in primary and intermediate, Ms Kaye's bill points out.
"This new bill coming through, if it means there is some word from above that gives some value to the topic then perhaps it will be a great thing," Prof Nesbitt told Newshub.
However, she expressed concern about how the previous National-led government funded second language learning while it was in power. NZ First also noted that former Education Minister Ms Kaye "had nine years in government to promote this bill".
"I'm a little bit upset about the short-term throwing money at things," Prof Nesbitt said, referring to the Ministry of Education's 2014 Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS) programme, whereby schools were given funding for students to learn an Asian language.
The funding was given to schools for three years, with the expectation that schools would then make the learning sustainable, Prof Nesbitt explained. But it turned out to be "short-term money".
"The schools were meant to say, 'Yes, we will make it sustainable', but they would have taught languages before if they could make it sustainable and the Government was only giving short-term money," which Prof Nesbitt says she's "not very happy" about.
She said the attitudes parents harbour towards learning a second language also needs to change, reflecting on a recent event she attended where some parents said there's no point in their child learning a second language when they can already speak English.
"The attitudes coming through there just have to go."
There's a misinterpretation that the only thing you can do with a second language is being a teacher, a diplomat or a translator, said Prof Nesbitt. But she says that's only a tiny piece of the pie.
"It's all about middle management now," she said. "It's all about working in areas of value with the Asian countries. There are so many jobs: these are jobs that are being created and are created by just moving into a company.
"If you take [a job] opportunity and you have the language, you will then immediately be made Asian marketing manager for the company.
"It's a completely different world of jobs that people are not realising and there's plenty out there."
Ms Kaye's Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill is currently in its First Reading.