Since listening and reading are main components in learning, going to school when one does not know English can be a tremendous barrier in the learning journey. Students in many of the public schools in New South Wales (NSW), Australia are trying to overcome this barrier, with little success.
Only 20 ESL teachers have been employed since 1993, and between 1992 and 2014, the number of students who needed English language teaching support each year grew from 104,173 to 138,487, according to a March 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article. This 33 percent increase in students needing ESL focus creates a gap that the public schools do not think will be funded.
Students in many NSW public schools are required to take ESL courses before they can join the mainstream classrooms. However, there is a bridge lacking to connect the two classrooms and move the students forward in their English progress.
Although approximately one in five students in NSW public schools should be getting ESL teaching support, 47,000 students are lacking in this engagement each year. Education leaders now warn the public that the state government is facing a crisis that will see the literacy rates, which have already been poor in the past, worsen.
Because of this lack in funding, more than 20 education leaders have written to Premier Mike Baird in hopes that he will acknowledge the tens of thousands of students who do not have English as their first language being denied of an education in their country, and will stop “walking away from its responsibility for the English language education of these students,” according to the article.
How Big is the Demand?
The letter written to Baird included that the NSW public school system had the largest ESL student population in the country, which is more than all of the other state school systems combined. However, the number of students lacking ESL education increased to 80 percent, according to the article.
NSW Department of Education figures showed that in 2014, 138,487 students were assessed as needing specialized English teaching instruction, but only 91,401 received any support, according to the article. The letter to Baird said that “this means that the English language learning needs of some 47,086 students were unable to be met in that year.”
“Over the last two decades, ESL resources have not kept pace with student demand for services. This chronic underfunding of teaching positions has created a backlog of ESL need which flows through into NSW’s long tail of low literacy performance and underachievement,” the letter said.
Hope for a Future?
Though the state of ESL education is in a poor condition, the NSW government has told teachers that as a result of the Gonski school funding review, $14 million in access funding for ESL will be given to public schools this year.
Leaders in education, including professors and senior lecturers from universities across the state, see this funding as “a historic opportunity to redress the long-term structural underfunding of the ESL program and address the backlog of unmet ESL need in NSW Government schools.”
Still, some education leaders are worried that the funding is “spin” for the election, and will not be a permanent solution, saying that there will only be at best a 16 percent increase in teachers. Though students may be helped for the upcoming school year, there were no promises on the quality of ESL education for the long term.