Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Alles Gute, Mathias Cormann!

Fiona Mueller

26 March 2021 | Ideas@TheCentre

While not a product of Australian education, former Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, is an exemplar of what our schools should aspire to emulate.

Cormann’s recently announced appointment to leadership of the OECD — home of PISA —is also timely, given its critical work in education.

The new Secretary-General has reached that pinnacle thanks, in part, to his dedication to learning multiple languages and  deep cultural awareness, mainly gained during his formative years in his native Belgium.

Sadly, too few young Australians are endowed with similar proficiencies — despite the presence of intercultural understanding as a general capability within the Australian Curriculum.

Whilst he’s at the helm, the OECD’s PISA tests will introduce, for the first time, a Foreign Language Assessment, from 2025. However, such an assessment threatens to expose Australian students’ poor grounding in this area of the curriculum — possibly dwarfing the existing deficiencies in the traditional domains of reading, mathematics and science.

Excellence in foreign languages should be a no-brainer in modern Australia. Considering the diversity and rate of our immigrant intake, and as a nation that prides itself on its multicultural heritage, foreign language acquisition should be the norm, rather than the exception. But inconsistent government policies, extraordinarily low enrolments, weak curriculum and a critical shortage of qualified teachers have put this goal out of reach for most young Australians.

Cormann’s achievements should inspire a redoubled effort to teach and learn foreign languages, showing genuine commitment to the stated goal of a ‘world-class education system’.. Centuries of evidence – well understood by the high—performing systems around the world – prove the connection between mastery of one’s mother tongue and the study of other languages, not to mention the benefits for overall cognitive development and cultural awareness.

The 2020 Review of the New South Wales Curriculum recommended that “every student commence learning a second language during their primary years” — with priority given to “languages of the region”, including Mandarin and Indonesian. That is a bare minimum if we’re to be globally competent in the supposed ‘Asian Century.’

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