On Thursday 15 June 2016, Dr David Howes, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Schools, Department of Education and Training launched the Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program, an initiative of the Department of Education and Training and the Victorian School of Languages.
Victoria welcomes thousands of new settlers every year and the Department of Education and Training has the responsibility of providing intensive English language instruction, mainly through the English Language Schools and Centres and EAL specialists that are generally based in the metropolitan area and regional centres.
However, there is an ever-increasing number of EAL students in geographically remote areas of Victoria where specialised EAL services are not available. The Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program has been set up to meet these growing needs, through the use of interactive technologies.
The launch began with an actual lesson via video conferencing and interactive software. The assembled guests were able to observe new arrival students from eight regional locations participate in a virtual lesson on parts of the human body. The students interacted with their teachers, accessed relevant visuals, answered verbal questions and sang a song.
Dr Howes explained that in 2014 discussions began with Victorian School of Languages about how the Department could realise an online program using virtual technologies and EAL expertise, and these discussions resulted in a pilot, the first of its kind in Australia.
The pilot was evaluated by the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne and the findings indicated that the Program had a number of positive impacts and these included improved student achievement against the EAL standards, development of student confidence and willingness to communicate.
Early in 2016, the Deputy Premier, Minister for Education, the Honourable James Merlino, approved the formal establishment of the Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program
Currently, there are 27 students from 17 schools receiving intensive English language support in a virtual environment. Students who have participated in the Program have been located in places such as Murrayville and Ouyen, in the far north-west of the State, Bundarra in the far south-west and as far north as Mitta Mitta and Wodonga.
Dr Howes said: “What we witnessed here today and what we are here to celebrate…is a culmination of so many people working together over a number of years…The challenges of distance and lack of availability of specialist English language teachers, that were once a barrier to support, have now been overcome through the specialised and expert use of virtual and other technologies, so that no matter where an isolated newly-arrived student lives in Victoria, they will be able to access EAL provision… Special thank you also to the Principal and staff of the Victorian School of Languages for designing, trialling, implementing and managing the program.”
Schools wishing to find out more about the program can contact the Victorian School of Languages on 9474 0500.