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Language is an important global asset, not only economically but socially and

culturally. There are roughly 2900 languages spoken worldwide (Linguistic society of

America, 2012). English is a power global language, it has become the second most

extensively spoken language in the world in the past 50 years, most speakers use

English as a second language (Ferfolji, Jones Diaz and Ullman, 2015). The Australian

Council of Education Research, ACER (2000) informs us that English is the official

language of Australia, it is also fact that Australia is one of the most multicultural

nations in the world (Hoddinott, 2006). It has become a place of migration and refuge

with more than 6 million immigrants, including 600,000 refugees settling here since

1945 (Hoddinott, 2006). Many of these people do not speak English as a first language,

but rather as a second language or begin to learn when they start school. Students

with a language background other than English (LBOTE) face many challenges

throughout their schooling, in this paper I will discuss how categorising LBOTE

students can have a detrimental effect on aspects of their schooling and everyday lives.

However, I will also argue that policy within the Australian and New South Wales

curriculum is already attempting to facilitate support for LBOTE students. Using post-

colonialism, poststructuralism and critical race theories I will focus upon whether

Australian schools are meeting the challenge of equity and access for LBOTE students.

Equity is defined as the quality of being fair or impartial (Oxford University Press,

2017b). Access is defined as having the right or opportunity to use or benefit from

something (Oxford University Press, 2017a). Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of

Human Rights, UDHR (1948) states that education is a basic human right, it should be

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free and accessible to every human being on this earth and it shall be directed in such

a way that strengthens and promotes tolerance, friendship and respect for all nations,

religions and races with the ideals of maintaining peace. Unterhalter (2009), suggests

that equity in education is associated with the movement of ideas, time, money, skill

and organisation that facilitates ‘investments’ in the learning of children and the

development of teachers. Equity and access in education involves giving each student

a tailored approach so that they can each achieve the same results Tollefson & Tsui

(2014). It differs from equality, as some students may need more assistance than

others, for example, LBOTE students may need more help understanding grammar

than English-speaking students.

Language is a form of communication, it is how we speak, read, write and even sign to

understand and convey ideas. Language can help shape one’s identity, it creates links

to culture and heritage. Bilingualism and multilingualism is more prevalent on a global

scale than monolingualism. Language can also be a barrier for communication, it is not

easy to communicate with another person that speaks a different language,

occasionally a mutual understanding can be agreed upon through other sources of

communication such as body language, facial expression and hand gestures. However,

for the most part linguistics can be very perplexing. LBOTE is described as language

backgrounds other than English, this categorises students in a way that they can learn

to speak to English in a separate setting from native English speaking students.

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A dominant discourse is the most common way of thinking, talking and writing about

a subject or phenomenon (J. Ullman, understanding diversity through sociological

theories, February 27, 2017). The most common dominant discourse about LBOTE

students is that they do not belong in this country because they cannot speak English.

From personal experience, I know many people that do not like when ‘foreigners’ speak

in their native tongue in a public setting. These people can then be vilified based on

their knowledge of their native language or lack of the English language. This asserts

the majority group ‘white people’ with power. Another common discourse related to

LBOTE students, particularly of Asian descent is that they are book smart, the power in

this situation shifts to the LBOTE students because many employers seek multilingual

employees today especially those that speak Mandarin. However, on a negative point

many people assume African refugees are rorting the ‘system’, I hear people ask where

they get their clothes from, how they learn to drive, how do they afford to live here? It

is assumed that tax payers are paying for them. Postcolonial theory comes into play

here, ‘white privilege’ takes hold and criticises every person of colour or ethnicity does

not belong here (Ford, 2012). The idea of power set out in these examples has a

significant impact on teaching and learning, much of the teaching we have been

exposed to is based on postcolonial Australia, that is from 1900’s to now. Creagh

(2013) states that the English curriculum in Australia is narrowed towards a

monolingual English language background. Assumptions are being made that every

student is of Australian descent and English is the primary language. This again gives

the majority group ‘white students’ power over the minority group ‘LBOTE students’.

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Australia is a postcolonial nation, the issue with this is there are still significant

inequalities based on race, ethnicity, linguistic background and religion (Ferfolja, et al.

2015). This theory suggests that the curriculum based in our schools is still very much

focused towards the English-speaking students. This could be detrimental to LBOTE

students as they are not a considered within the curriculum. Post-colonialism is moving

into a ‘hybrid’ stage where space is being made for other cultures and ethnicities to

have a perspective and voice (J. Ullman, understanding diversity through sociological

theories, February 27, 2017).

Delgado and Stefanic & Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller and Thomas (as cited in Ford, 2012),

expresses that critical race theory is an “approach that focuses on white hegemony,

critiquing governance, policy and enacted social practices that adversely impacts upon

people of colour”. It supports the same ideas conveyed in the post-colonial theory that

the curriculum and syllabus are designed for the majority student. The idea of the

unseen half from Ferfolja et al. (2015) suggests that the seen half is anyone whom

would be categorised at white, male, Christian and heterosexual- these are the people

the curriculum is designed for. This concept detriments LBOTE students because they

become silenced within the system (Ferfolja et al. 2015).

Poststructuralism conveys that truth does not exist because it is a social construct,

everything is open to interpretation (J. Ullman, understanding diversity through

sociological theories, February 27, 2017). This theory breaks down barriers that are

present within Australian schools. It allows us to understand that discourses are not

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true but rather made up from our own thoughts of others. It attempts to remove all

racial connotations from both majority and minority groups so that students are just

learners and not ‘races’. It removes category which according to Creagh (2013) would

be beneficial so that LBOTE students do not get lost in the system. It would allow

teachers to focus on their students and their proficiency levels rather than focussing

on their ESL class as a whole, where students will inevitably have different levels of

exposure to the English language.

I come from an Anglo-Saxon family, I am a third generation Australian on my mother’s

side and my father’s family have lived in Australia since the convict era. I can only speak

English I went to a school in Western Sydney that had a comprehensive ESL program,

over the 6 years I spent there, the number of international students increased, many

of these students were from Chinese backgrounds and knew little or broken English.

Thinking back to school I did not realise how hard it was for these students to learn

not only a new language but implement literacy skills within that language at the same

time. I never interacted with the LBOTE students much at school unless I had to in class,

this is not the support they needed or should have been given. Encouragement from

the teachers and school may have been needed to increase our interaction with our

LBOTE peers and support them in their endeavours to learn English and their other


The dominant discourse related to my own intercultural understandings is that all

LBOTE students associate with each other and nobody else. This can reduce the life

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chances of these students as they become hidden away from majority groups (Creagh,

2013). It has an impact on teaching and learning as they can become lost is the system

particularly if a teacher feels they can relate more to the students that speak English

as a first language. It can reduce their chances for support from particular teachers and

students if it assumed that they just associate within their own minority groups (Choi,


There are several policies and strategies that have already been implemented in

Australian and New South Wales schools to support LBOTE students. The multicultural

education policy was implemented on December 05, 2005, objective 1.4 specifically

relates to the needs of LBOTE students, it states that schools must provide programs

to assist English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) students with the

development of their literacy skills within the English language so they can fully

participate and receive equitable schooling (New South Wales Department of

Education, 2016b). This policy clearly states what is equitable and fair in terms of

multicultural education, however the policy assumes that each student is at the same

level and experiencing the same schooling, Creagh (2013) reiterates this in their article

stating that Australian education reforms are failing to recognise this group with

extreme educational needs because they are hidden statistically. Creagh’s research is

based on NAPLAN results, where EAL/D students consistently perform as well as or

better than the test norm of English speaking students, this data silences learner needs

and creates false pretences about where these students are at with learning English.

The multicultural education policy needs to be more specific with whom they are

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targeting and why, how they are going to make changes within all schools across New

South Wales and who is going to police it. The model states that at the end of each

year data should be collected and sent in from each school. However, this data may

not be 100% accurate or valid, as Creagh (2013) has stated LBOTE students perform

well when it comes to testing, but they are hidden behind a large category, testing

should be based on English proficiency and knowledge of skills to determine a more

accurate evaluation of students’ achievements.

Hammond (2008) suggests that ESL students in the ‘second phase’ of schooling might

be forgotten about as they move into mainstream classes and therefore pedagogical

changes need to be made to ensure these students keep improving in their learning.

The results found that ESL learners need targeted support to their specific needs for

academic language and literacy development. Teachers need to be well equipped for

this to occur, therefore the implementation of the quality teaching initiative is essential.

The QTI is based on questions put forward to teachers to gain a better understanding

of their background and knowledge towards ESL students. Majority responses showed

teachers welcomed diversity in their classrooms and had a positive attitude towards

their students, however the paper also found that teachers expected more from their

students in this ‘second phase’ without understanding their levels of knowledge and

learning needs. The QTI suggests that teachers need to be more critical in their

research towards their students and by following an initiative such as this one they

may break down some of the barriers associated with their expectations of students

due to their misunderstandings.

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New South Wales Education Standards Authority, NESA (2017) suggest that ESL scales

provide a detailed progression of the English language for EAL students. The ESL scales

cover the syllabuses from Kindergarten to year 12 with mapping out of subject content

to support teachers of EAL learners. This tool is helpful for all teachers with EAL

students. These scales should be used as an indicator to plan lessons and implement

activities that can assist students further with their learning.

Australian schools are not accurately meeting the needs of LBOTE students in terms of

equity and access. Rather than categorising all these students together, there needs to

be a shift in focus to pay more attention on proficiency of the English language and

the skills acquired within the language for example, grammar. Although LBOTE

students perform well in formal exams such as NAPLAN and the Higher School

Certificate, it is not enough to suggest that they completely understand the English

language to take it into their everyday lives and into their future workforces. Australian

schools have implemented some well thought out policies, but more research needs

to be done to effectively implement them across the board so that every LBOTE can

have equal and equitable access to education.


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