Bilingual School

Minutes of the Public Meeting: Re-introduction of Bilingual Education in the Barossa Valley

by John Clarke

Minutes of the Meeting to discuss the Re-introduction of Bilingual Education in the Barossa Valley, held at the Langmeil Centre, 7 Maria Street, Tanunda on Monday, August 9, starting at 6pm.

Stefanie Traeger, President, Barossa German Language Association Inc., welcomed those present, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land, and read out the list of apologies. Special mention was made of Don Ross, who was to be one of the speakers, but because of a fall was unable to attend. 

People who attended the meeting included parents and grandparents who wanted bilingual German study opportunities for their children, German- speaking community members and business people who recognised the cultural and economic significance of German for the Barossa, politicians who discussed the importance of the German language and cultural connections with German speaking countries, and educators wanting more information about bilingual education and what kind of bilingual programs could be introduced.

The purpose of the public meeting was introduced.

Everard Leske spoke of the heritage of bilingual education in the Barossa. He said that the establishment of schools followed closely the establishment of churches as the German settlers held strong beliefs on the importance of education. They had been influenced largely by two men: the theologian Martin Luther, who believed that faith should be based on knowledge of the Bible, which required education of both men and women, and the philosopher and scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who emphasized the importance of a knowledge of science. Among the early settlers in the Barossa were a number of highly qualified men, who used their scientific knowledge to improve the life and culture of the young colony of South Australia. Details of the lives of early teachers were also provided and the impact on highly regarded teachers who lost their positions in 1917 when the South Australian government ordered the closure of all schools where the German language was used.

Peter Mickan of the Linguistics Department, University of Adelaide, began by explaining bilingual education, that it is the teaching of one or more core curriculum subjects in a language other than that spoken on a daily basis by the students, and consequently the learning of that language through use on tasks that are recognised by the students as valuable. He gave examples of bilingual teaching in Melbourne schools and in a Catholic primary school in Adelaide, where some teaching is conducted in Italian. He explained further how bilingual teaching had been a feature of schools in the Barossa prior to 1917 with subjects taught in German in the morning and English in the afternoon.

Tony Piccolo, Member for Light, expressed his belief that language and culture are intertwined, and if the German culture of the Barossa Valley is to be preserved, a culture which he saw as having increasing tourist value, the German language must be fostered. He pointed out that research has shown that students who learn a foreign language become more skilled in the use of their own. One problem he foresaw was the availability of German speaking teachers.

Anne McKenzie spoke of her experience in a bilingual family. She said that her children understood German, because it was spoken at home, but they needed encouragement to feel confident in their use of the language. That encouragement had been given through the Barossa German Language Association’s Spielgruppe and Kinder Klub and would be continued through bilingual schooling. She said the support for bilingual teaching among her friends was strong.

Stephan Knoll, Member for Schubert, spoke of his grandfather’s emigration from Germany after World War II and his regret that his knowledge of German is so poor. He found during a stay in Germany in his youth that it was difficult to improve his German, because the German people he met wanted to practise their English. It was essential, he believed, to redress the imbalance in trade between Australia and Germany that Australians needed to have a similar desire to use the German language. For a bilingual programme to succeed the initiative, he said, would have to come from the schools, from principals, teachers and students. Once that was achieved a proposal could be presented to Parliament.

Matt Williams, Honorary Consul in SA, Federal Republic of Germany, spoke of cultural and economic ties with Germany, and how such ties would strengthen between South Australia and Germany if more South Australians could communicate in German. He believed the Barossa Valley with its German heritage would be particularly favoured by greater familiarity with the German language. The advantages for people who wished to travel to Germany for study would be considerable.

Peter Mickan summed up, reinforcing the advantages that would follow from bilingual teaching in Barossa Valley schools. He proposed writing to politicians, educators and cultural and business groups such as Barons of the Barossa to lobby for their support. Reference was made to Tony Piccolo’s address to the House of Assembly of the SA Parliament on 6 May, 2021: “I think the time has now come to consider some bilingual schools, acknowledging the importance of English but also accessing the culture of the Barossa through an understanding of the German language.” And the response of the Minister of Education, Hon. John Gardner on 28 July, 2021: “Bilingual education is supported by the Government of South Australia through the investment in two government bilingual schools in metropolitan Adelaide. Whilst at this time there are no plans to open further bilingual schools in South Australia, the Department of Education would be pleased to review any proposals.”

Several suggestions were put forward, including an exchange programme with German teachers, which would initially supply the need, which was mentioned by Tony Piccolo, for teachers able to conduct classes in German. A more long term solution would be a change in teacher training in South Australia.

Stephanie Traeger moved: 

“This public meeting

  1. Supports the re-introduction of bilingual teaching in schools in the Barossa region;
  2. Requests support from the Department of Education in South Australia, of Lutheran Education, and of schools and their communities for the development of systematic German English bilingual programs in schools in the Barossa region;
  3. Requests the support of the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, of Switzerland and of Austria for the establishment of bilingual German English programs in the Barossa region;
  4. Invites the participation of local organisations and businesses in the re-introduction of bilingual German English schooling.”

The resolution was passed by a show of hands.

The meeting closed at 8pm.