The ACT government is looking at how to improve language teaching in public schools in the wake of sharp criticism that it's too patchy.
It admits that some schools now offer no foreign language teaching despite a commitment that students are required to study 60 minutes per week in primary school.
"Due to staffing issues, schools may not be able to offer a language program," said a spokeswoman for the education minister, Yvette Berry.
The pledge to improve comes as a leading parents' group and language teachers call for change.
In some primary schools, there's no teaching of a second language. Other primary schools teach one particular language but the local high school teaches a different one.
According to the ACT Parents and Citizens Association, this disadvantages children. "It's important that they are learning a language just for their brain development," the association's Janelle Kennard said.
The primary schools which don't offer any language except English were listed in ACT government documents as:
The documents also list areas where languages are taught in primary schools but not available in the local high school.
The main languages where this kind of block between primary and high schools happens seems to be Korean, Indonesian and sometimes Japanese.
The head of the ACT's association of non-government community language schools said the range of languages offered to students should be much broader.
"Some languages such as Hindi are taught only at college level, and not in primary and high Schools," Santosh Gupta, the acting president of the ACT Community Language Schools Association, said.
"This creates a big problem for children who wish to study language of their choice in Primary and High schools."
Hindi is the main language of India and spoken by more than 500 million people. Only the different versions of the main Chinese language, Spanish and English is spoken more around the world.
The lack of coordination in the ACT system has also been criticised by a former teacher who now runs his own language school.
"We really need a central facility for teaching languages," Frank Keighley who set up the Canberra Academy of Languages said.
He said the city needed good, coordinated language teaching more than any other place because it was home to so many organisations with international links, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to embassies to UN and other international organisations based in the federal capital.
"As the seat of national government and an area with a strong multicultural presence, we have every reason to ensure high-quality language learning opportunities are available to everyone," he said.
The criticism follows a call by the Liberal opposition in the ACT Legislative Assembly for Arabic to be taught in Canberra schools.
But one prominent member of the territory's Muslim community said there wasn't an overwhelming demand.
"There's no real need for Arabic to be taught in public schools," Azhar Javed who attends the Canberra Islamic Centre, said, speaking in a personal capacity and not for the centre.
There are two sorts of Arabic: classical Arabic which is essential for reading the Koran and modern Arabic which is spoken in some middle eastern countries.
The first type of Arabic is taught primarily at weekend schools often attached to mosques. Learning it is not so much for understanding the language but to be able to recite the Koran - understanding could come from translations. Modern Arabic, on the other hand, was usually used by the families of migrants and people with middle eastern backgrounds and it was learnt at home.
The spokeswoman for the education minister said that the government was considering reorganising the way teachers work so that specialisms could be shared by schools - a Korean language teacher, for example, might work in several schools instead of being tied to one.
Under its Future of Education Strategy, the ACT government is looking at "a more coordinated approach to specialist teachers in subjects like languages. This will likely involve specialist teachers working across individual schools, which will allow for improved language pathways."
At the moment, individual schools make decisions about the languages they offer. They take into account the demand for a particular language from students and their parents but also the availability of teachers.
There is a general belief among experts on the education system in the ACT that one of the problems is a shortage of skilled language teachers to meet the demand.
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