Discrimination against Asian languages in HSC removed

Breaking news: after more than twenty years of discrimination against studying Asian languages in the Higher School Certificate, last month the NSW Government finally removed its restrictive policy.

MCC has long argued that all students taking a language for the HSC should be treated equally with respect to both the language they are studying and to the student’s own family, ethnic or country of origin background.  For more than two decades the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) had:

  • discriminated against students wanting to study Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean families
  • acted contrary to Australia’s national economic interests
  • intimidated the families of students by them to sign statutory declarations.

This was a particularly Asian focused discrimination: students with a so called ‘potential’ background in these languages were forbidden to do the mainstream level option (Continuers and Extension courses*), whereas students with a real background in a European language ware able to access those main stream levels without facing the same restrictive criteria.

Only those four Asian languages were separated into background speakers or heritage speakers and non-background speakers or non-heritage speakers, whereas students with a real background in European language were allowed to choose the same courses as non-background speakers or heritage speakers of those languages.

However, a criterion for the Continuers Course which specifies that “students do not use the language for sustained communication outside the classroom with someone with a background in that language” essentially relates to the parent’s nationality or place of birth. (*For the Extension course the Continuers courses were prerequisite.)

When enrolling for a Continuers Course, only students who wished to undertake Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese or Korean were required to complete the appropriate Languages Eligibility Declaration form including a statutory declaration. Only students who wished to undertake a  Continuers course in Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Korean had it specified that “students do not use the language for sustained communication outside the classroom with someone with a background in that language”, essentially relating to the parent’s nationality or place of birth. This is not inflicted on any other language and was discriminatory against Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean families.

The importance for Australia of the teaching of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean in schools has been widely recognised by State and Federal Governments, major political parties, and academic and business authorities.  In 2008 the Commonwealth Government allocated $62.4M over four years to help school students to become familiar with the languages and culture of China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. However the policies of the NSW Government through NESA in relation to these four languages ran counter to these good intentions.

In essence, these four languages had eligibility restrictions on students that were not required of any European language students. If a student was or had parents from one of those four countries, they were essentially forced to do the most difficult levels (Heritage or Background Speakers) of the language or not do it at all. This was regardless of their level or lack of knowledge of the language. Indeed many students were told they must do the most difficult levels and not the Continuers level even if he/she had not studied the Asian language formally and did not have sufficient knowledge or proficiency for the course.

Other language students could always do main stream courses (Continuers and Extension courses) regardless their language background. This discrimination caused many students with Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean background not to study the language of their ethnic background, a negative choice for retaining their culture and counterproductive for the future of economic and cultural development in New South Wales. This was extremely discouraging for parents who are attempting to encourage their children to develop their heritage language skill. 

This was also in complete contradiction to the Government praise lavished on students with high levels of prior knowledge in European languages who took and are successful in those languages.

MCC strongly put the case that the more widespread study of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean should be facilitated by the NSW Government not hindered by State instrumentalities.

Much of the campaign against this discrimination against Asian languages has been by Japanese teachers and parents through the HSC Japanese Committee Inc founded in 2007. After fifteen years of determined and persistent lobbying, on 20 May the NESA placed a formal notice on its website “Change to Stage 6 [Language] Continuers course eligibility criteria” that finally removed this discriminatory policy.

Equal and identical standards now apply to all languages. Discrimination against Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean students has finally ceased and in NSW, education, culture, business, international relations and trade have all been given the opportunity to benefit from the results.

Mark Franklin, MCCNSW Vice Chair

June 2022