New South Wales public schools will have the option of providing Auslan classes to students from kindergarten to Year 10 from next year.
As part of the NSW Government’s Curriculum Reform agenda NSW Education and Early Learning Minister Sarah Mitchell said the new syllabuses aimed to improve access to Auslan and increase the uptake in students learning languages.
The deaf community has been calling for this inclusion in schools for many years, according to NSW Education Standards Authority’s Paul Martin.
With one in six Australians affected by hearing difficulties and hearing loss, there are an estimated 30,000 Auslan users across the country, according to the Australian Network on Disability.
However, only a very small percentage of the Australian population is severely or profoundly deaf and not all of these people know and use Auslan.
Schools are a great place for this learning to start.
“We wish to make sure every student in New South Wales is catered for appropriately," Mr. Martin said.
Ms. Mitchell described this “groundbreaking” development as a "big step forward" in inclusive education.
“NSW offers one of the most comprehensive school languages curriculum in the world and I am committed to exploring how we can make that even better, including for students with disability,” she said.
“I am pleased to see Auslan included in the curriculum for the first time not only because it is a great step for inclusion and students with disability, but because it gives all students the opportunity to experience a unique part of Australia’s linguistic history."
“Studying a language at school gives students the skills to participate in our linguistically dynamic world, and improves broader communication and literacy skills.”
A key feature of this major piece of reform is the redevelopment of the Classical and Modern Languages syllabuses into frameworks that can cover all languages.
The frameworks will enable schools to teach any language without waiting for a specific language syllabus, broadening the scope of languages that can be taught to include more local community languages.
“We know that there is a high demand for community languages and the new frameworks will integrate school-developed language courses with a high-quality framework, creating a shared understanding about what students are expected to learn,” Ms. Mitchell said.
Across kindergarten to Year 12, NSW schools currently teach 34 modern and classical languages. Auslan will be available to study as a first language or an additional language.
Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is the language of the deaf community of Australia and is descended from British Sign Language (BSL).
Auslan and other signed languages around the world are fully-fledged languages that are visual-gestural in nature. They have a complete set of linguistic structures and are complex and highly nuanced, according to Australian Curriculum.
“Teachers will also be provided with improved language-specific support materials to give students a more consistent experience when studying languages,” Ms. Mitchell said.
“We want to ensure that NSW syllabuses have strong community ownership. I encourage all teachers, parents, students and the community to share their feedback on the syllabuses we are consulting on throughout 2022.”
The public can have their say on the draft languages syllabuses until May 2, 2022.
Australian Curriculum says the use of Auslan for deaf children in Australian schools has been varied and inconsistent.
However, the recognition and improved status of the language in recent years has changed the educational landscape for deaf children. The move from segregated school settings for deaf children to mainstream school environments has influenced community and education sector interest in Auslan in recent years due to increased visibility of Auslan in school communities.
Auslan has been increasingly embraced in many more mainstream school settings where deaf students may be placed.
The availability and increased profile of Auslan as a language of formal study in primary and secondary schools for second language learners has, however, been less rapid or less well supported systemically in most states/territories of Australia.
Historically, schools that have provided some form of teaching and learning in Auslan have offered informal lunchtime or hobby/interest classes rather than formal courses of study included in a school timetable alongside spoken languages and other subjects.
Victoria has been a leading exception in this regard - Auslan has been taught in several schools for many years. Other states have followed suit over time, with Auslan now formally available in several schools in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
However, NSW is the first state to make Auslan classes part of the syllabus.