New report highlights language diversity in schools

The number of NSW public school students from an Indian language background has doubled in a decade. Jim Griffiths reports.

Students showing painted hands. Students showing painted hands.
Image: Students at Parramatta Public School enjoying a Holi celebration activity.

A new report has revealed the number of students from an Indian language background in NSW public schools has doubled in the past 10 years.

The ‘Language Diversity in NSW Government Schools 2022’ report revealed there are more than 65,000 public school students in NSW who speak an Indian language at home, up from 30,000 in 2012.

The students represent 22.1% of all NSW public school students with a language background other than English (LBOTE).

Students with a language background other than English are those who live in a home where another language is spoken by the student, parents, or other primary caregivers.

Emilia Vatalis, Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Instruction, at Marsden Park Public said the school had embraced the local Indian community.

“Our families are very community based. They’re always willing to have a conversation,” she said.

“We also help transition these families and students into our culture, for example, explaining things like what to bring to school because the students are used to hot lunches.”

Ms Vatalis said changing immigration patterns in towns and cities across the state had seen schools become community hubs, with new opportunities to share and enrich cultural learning.

The cultural infusion has also resulted in changes at the school, most noticeably in extra-curricular activities.

Along with a new school band and a Bollywood dance club, Marsden Park Public now offers a chess club for a cohort of academically driven students.

“The community has brought a lot of diversity into the school. Just last year we had our first Divali afternoon with parents,” Mrs Vatalis said.

“It was a really great community event, and they were really excited to share the food from their culture.”

Parramatta Public has seen a shift from greater numbers of Chinese language speakers to more Indian language speakers, which has provided an opportunity to diversify the school’s community languages program.

Principal Gail Charlier said the school offers both Mandarin and Hindi community languages programs and has a community languages teacher who provides bilingual support in student learning hubs.

“Community language teaching supports the continuance and significance of the home language within our community and strengthens concept understanding by establishing links between the home language and English,” she said.

More than 5000 NSW public school students come from a Hindi language background, while there are similar numbers from language backgrounds in Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi and Gujarati.

Of the 24 Indian languages represented in the ‘Language Diversity in NSW Government Schools 2022’ report, there were six other Indian languages with more than 1000 LBOTE students in NSW public schools - Nepali, Telugu, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Marathi and Kannada.

More than a third of all NSW public school students (37.7% or 302,154 students) came from homes where languages other than English were spoken by at least one person. The proportion of LBOTE students was 30.3% in 2012.

The study showed Arabic was the largest single LBOTE group in 2022, with 40,929 enrolments (13.5% of all LBOTE students) from an Arabic-speaking home.

The Department’s Executive Director, Schools Policy and Evidence, Jacky Hodges said a student’s country of origin could not be inferred by their language background.

“Country of origin is where the student was born, while language background refers to the languages spoken by the student and their families,” she said.

“French, for example, is the official language of approximately 30 countries, with many more countries, including Australia, having French speakers as citizens and migrants.”

Understanding language diversity helps principals and school leaders tailor appropriate ongoing support and learning equity. 

It also helps schools deliver culturally inclusive education and celebrate students’ cultural and linguistic diversity. 

The Language Diversity in NSW Government Schools 2022 report is available from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation website.

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