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Students teach anti-racism attitudes

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Tags: Refugees, Multicultural Affairs, Syria

Ms WOODRUFF (Franklin) - I want to draw this House's attention to a fantastic event that happened last week during lunchtime here in the Parliament reception hall. It was a presentation by the Students Against Racism group led by TasTAFE teacher Jenny Annells, who has coordinated that group of some 80 students who came to Australia as refugees or migrants from many different backgrounds. The people present last week were from Bhutan, Nepal, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Sudan, people who are making a transition to Tasmania from a very different life. They are contributing to our community, above and beyond getting on and trying to find their place in this new land, education with students in schools in the state.   This is a fantastic initiative that has been running since 2008 where students visit high schools and talk to people about their life. The purpose is to get students to understand what racism is, how prevalent and corrosive it is in our society, and the things they can do in their everyday life to counter that. They have a workshop style and it is very effective. They gave a little example of how they work on a very personal way with students. They certainly moved those of us who were present and watching. Hearing their stories was something that spoke to me about the great transition happening in the state. Over the next year or more we will have many people coming to settle here from Syria.   We can all play our part in trying to reduce racism in society. The work of this TasTAFE group is supported very broadly in the community. This Government could do more and it comes to the learning of the English language. For these students to be able to take their place in society they have to be able to speak the language. It is at the top of their list. Many of the other things we take for granted, about the homes we live in, jobs and everything else hinges on an ability to speak English.   Currently the only English language support program for migrants from a non-English speaking background in Tasmania is what is called the English as an Additional Language Program. This program allocates in-class support teachers to assist students. A student would typically get between one hour and two and a half hours of support each week during the beginning of the program with the time allocated gradually decreasing. The level of assistance is determined based on their English proficiencies and the type of visa that the student is on. This is the only program that people under the age of 18 have access to. We all need to understand what it would be like to be taken from Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq or Bhutan with no English skills and put in a classroom as a year 11 student along with everybody else doing a physics lesson, maths or chemistry. It is hard to imagine what that would feel like.   We need to consider how we can reorient that English learning program and create an intensive program where students are brought into English classes first before they get put into schools, or in parallel. It is an intensive program that would need to run over a couple of months. Rather than spreading this out, an hour a week over a couple of years, we take those resources and put them into a very short period.   The English as an Additional Language Program in the state had 43 full-time equivalents as of June last year, but according to the 2011 Census there are 7 163 young people from migrant backgrounds, aged between 12 and 24, who lived in Tasmania. In Tasmania the average annual growth of migrant young people in that age group is 3.3 per cent. This is compared to the average annual growth rate for the total Tasmanian population, which is less than 0.1 per cent. There is a substantial growth rate in that group and we want to encourage them and give them all the resources that we can to adapt to living in Tasmania and to make the contributions that each and every one of them want to make to our community. They come here and they are so active to get involved and participate in a positive way.   The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network is a fantastic network of young people. They released a report recently and held focus groups at high schools coordinated by the English as an Additional Language teachers. They found through these focus groups that language support here was not sufficient and the method for determining eligibility failed to take several factors into account. Their report highlighted that, unlike other programs, the English as an Additional Language funding has not been attached to need in the Tasmanian system.   I am concerned that as we look at this new wave of children of young student age, from Syria and other countries, we need to reorient our English as an Additional Language training and resources so primary and secondary school children can have access to what they need.   Time expired.