A draft Bill to strengthen the ability of students to learn a second language at school has today been released for public consultation by National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye.

“The benefits of speaking more than one language have enormous cognitive, cultural, social and economic benefits. My Members Bill is about ensuring that all children in years 1-8 have universal access and resources to learn a second language,” Ms Kaye says.

“The Bill requires the Education Minister to set at least ten priority languages for schools following public consultation, and places a requirement on the Crown to resource the provision of these languages in schools. I’d expect that languages that would be consulted on would include Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and potentially Hindi.

“It will then be up to school boards to consult with their communities to determine which of the priority languages will be taught at their school. Every school will be required to deliver at least one second language, but some may choose to offer more than one.

“However the Bill makes it clear that Te Reo and New Zealand Sign Language must be national priority languages and funded by the Crown. The current law requires schools to take reasonable steps to enable children to learn Te Reo and this will not change.

“The Bill also requires the Government to develop a national language policy, to ensure there is a long-term strategy around issues such as workforce training and development for teachers and access to physical and online resources. I do not underestimate the need to carefully plan and support the workforce to help deliver this policy. 

“National expects that the cost of the changes will be around $40 million per year, to provide schools and Communities of Learning with more expert language teachers, language specialists and online resources. To put this in context, this is around six per cent of the Government’s ‘fees free’ policy for tertiary education.

“I intend to secure cross-party support for strengthening the teaching and learning of second languages in schools. I am optimistic that political parties will have an open mind about this Bill which I hope can be a catalyst for change. I have written to each party in Parliament asking for their support on the Bill, and at the very least to start a cross-party conversation about improving access to languages in schools. 

“Over the next month I will be asking the public to give their initial views on the Bill via a website. A petition has also been created for New Zealanders to show their support for improving access to language learning in schools. I plan to lodge the Bill in late February. 

“Strengthening language fluency has the potential to lead to a smarter, more culturally aware nation that is better equipped to succeed domestically and internationally. While there have been some positive steps over the last decade there is still more to do and this Bill represents an important investment in our country’s future.”

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