On Monday, 2 March, the VSL celebrated its top-scoring students in the 2014 VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) exams.
More than 180 of the 1600 VCE students enrolled at the VSL received scores of more than 40, putting them in the ‘exceptional’ category. Twenty-four students topped the state in their language. Six students received a perfect score of 50. Miraculously, some even reported that they would now miss sacrificing their Saturday mornings or weeknights to language learning.
The audience of students, families, teachers, educational and community organisations, and members of Victoria’s consular corps from 15 countries, ranging from Korea to France and Turkey, gathered at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Victorian Premier, Colin Brooks, said the Government was proud to support the VSL at a time when languages, more than ever, were in demand.
Mr Brooks also paid tribute to the role of VSL in pioneering curriculum development. The VSL has developed a suite of online materials on behalf of Educational Services Australia for use in all Australian schools. And from 2015 and 2016, it will offer Karen and Chin Hakha (Burma/Myanmar) as accredited VCE subjects.
The way ahead for the VSL
Principal Frank Merlino said the VSL’s 80-year track record had been critical in ensuring Victorians learned more languages than students in any other Australian state or territory. In Victoria last year, out of a possible 50,383 year 12 students, the percentage of students learning another language was 18.3%.
“The percentage drops to something like 6% in some of the other states,” Frank said. In Queensland and Western Australia, which have no government language schools, “it’s left to volunteers to do the best they can for community languages”.
He outlined challenges ahead for the VSL:
- arresting the decline in the number of student enrolments in low candidate languages (five have lost their VCE accreditation in the past five years)
- securing national funding to develop online resources
Monolingual English speakers – a global minority
Dr Russell Cross, lecturer in Language and Literacy Education at the University of Melbourne, spoke about the common assumption that there is no need to learn another language since ‘everyone’ speaks English anyway.
He asked the audience what percentage of the world’s population speaks English. Guesses hovered around the 15% mark. But in fact, data from Microsoft shows native English speakers account for just 5.1% of the world’s population, other English speakers 3.4%, and 91.5% make up ‘the rest’. There are more non-native than native speakers of English, and most people who speak English today are already multilingual. Monolingual English speakers are therefore in a minority.
A perfect score of 50 is an elusive thing. Two of the top scorers, Francesca Romana Coluccio (Italian) and Patrycja Natalia Stachura (Polish) addressed the audience.
Francesca, who completed her VCE at Brighton Secondary College student, enrolled in Italian by distance education. She explained how the complexity of language learning at a high level also demands conceptual rigour in English. She praised her teacher, Rosa Vitelli, for going out of her way “to design a different type of course for me. This was all new to me. She provided lots of supplementary work.”
…and kept her on track. “If I missed a lesson she would email me for a ‘please explain’.”
Patrycja, who did her VCE at Werribee Secondary College, has been in Australia for just two years, coming from Britain, where her family settled after leaving Poland when she was seven. She enrolled in Polish at the VSL’s University High Campus just last year. She paid tribute to the support and encouragement of her Polish teacher, Maria Lednik, who steeped her in books, history, culture and traditions, and even “stayed behind after class”.
“My perfect score enabled me to get into my preferred course, Global Studies, at Monash University.” Patrycja says she wants to go onto teach languages – Polish at the VSL.
Calling out the names of the top scorers, Assistant Principal Stefo Stojanovski displayed a panache for pronunciation that rivalled former SBS news presenter Mary Kostakidis in her heyday.
The evening also recognised the efforts of students learning a language that is not a part of their heritage: Greer Elizabeth Lily Sutherland (Italian) and Sachdave Singh, a Punjabi-background student studying Indonesian.
Where to from here?
Like many Indonesian-language students at the VSL, Deborah Mei Ern Chew’s background is actually Malaysian. She chose to study Indonesian because of its similarity to Malay and also its strategic importance.
Deborah is now in her first year of a politics and criminology degree at the University of Melbourne and studying Hebrew for the first time.
“I plan to work for the Department of Defence one day. We lack Indonesian speakers in that field. We need to improve bilateral relations”.
Download the evening’s program, including a full list of top scorers here.