Letter to Con Sciacca

To the Hon Mr Con Sciacca MP
Shadow Minister for Immigration
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

22nd May 2000

Dear Mr Sciacca,

The Australian Council of Teachers of English as a Second Language Associations (ACTA}, representing the eight state and territory TESOL associations would like to express its concern at the Federal Government decision to abolish the Advanced English for Migrants Program (AEMP) and to transfer the students from this program into the "available places" in the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy programs (renamed Language, Literacy and Numeracy Training (LLNT) We ask the Labor party to oppose this decision and offer the follow argument in support.

ACTA wishes to point out that the two programs are not equivalent and that the current students of AEMP will not easily slot into the LLNT. The abolition of the AEMP unnecessarily disbands a targeted, successful and acclaimed program and complicates the teaching requirements to the detriment of both non English speaking background (NESB) and English speaking background (ESB) students.

ESL and Literacy are different. NESB learners require the explicit teaching of cultural knowledge and values, idiomatic use of Australian English; the intonation pattern of English and associated body language, the grammar of English which allows word, sentences and longer texts to be constructed for specific purposes. ESB learners draw on their extensive experience in the English language and Australian culture while expanding their use of English for specific purposes

The client groups of the two programs are also different. AEMP clients arc newly arrived skilled migrants and refugees, generally of mature age with high levels of education (at least 12 years of school and usually overseas qualifications), aiming for professional registration and employment in their own professional areas They are generally fast paced multilingual learners: educated adults who want to progress quickly and contribute to society. They need ESL so that they can communicate effectively at an advanced level in language appropriate to their professions.

If they have not been entitled to access the AMEP, they also need settlement support. They require information relevant to the welfare of their family and gaining familiarity with their community. The AEMP integrates essential information about living m Australia including their options for accommodation, medical care, shopping, leisure, Australian law, citizen rights and responsibilities, workplace practices and the government structure into its language teaching. They also may require counselling to resolve issues such as torture, trauma or grief of leaving their families and homes.

The AEMP has an established network of contacts to meet these needs The Literacy and Numeracy Strategy has completely different clientele. They are confident speakers of English and have considerable cultural and idiomatic knowledge. However they may have low levels of education, no qualifications, minimal employment history, a negative attitude and little discipline to enable success in improving their literacy. They are required to attend classes as part of their mutual obligation agreement in return for a Disability Pension, Youth Allowance or Jet payment. They may require personal counselling to solve personal and truancy issues. They are often young and their leisure activities and interests are very different to those of mature aged new arrivals.

The necessary learning environment for each group differs in methodology, content and the nature of the relationship between students and teacher and between students. The current programs are successful because they accommodate the distinct needs of each group. To enforce the integration of new residents into the Literacy and Numeracy program, will short change the benefits of the two programs and frustrate both groups of students. This will have a number of consequences. For those under Mutual Obligation, dissatisfaction may lead to irregular attendance, loss of payments, continued need for Social Security and will also exacerbate their disenfranchisement in society.

Evidence shows that new residents already face many difficulties as they try to settle into their new country. Denying them access to appropriate courses may bring lowered self esteem and increase their difficulty in gaining employment and surviving on the income they bring with them. This will eventually mean their reliance on social Security, mental health and charitable institutions. Furthermore the very skills for which new residents gained entry into the country will be wasted.

Eventually Australia will become less attractive to skilled migrants, overseas students and business migrants. People making huge financial investments choose wisely and the available support structures and educational and employment opportunities will weigh heavily in the decision.

Another cost of this reduction, is the considerable loss of skilled teachers from the workforce. AEMP teachers are highly skilled in a very exportable commodity - cross-cultural education. The loss of these teachers is a loss of expertise to the community and the reduced potential of these teachers to participate in the economy.

ACTA strongly believes that the benefits to Australia for supporting appropriate ESL classes to new residents far outweigh the costs. In the light of our argument and the enclosed rational for quality ESL programs ACTA asks the Federal Government to reinstate the AEMP as an independent targeted program.

We look forward to your reply with indication of the action that you have been able to take in reversing the planned cut to the AEMP. We look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Penny McKay
President, Australian Council of TESOL Associations



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