The strengths and weaknesses of Italian language education in Victoria

A few weeks ago, at the Italian Institute of Culture of Melbourne, a group of key stakeholders met a delegation of members of the Italian Senate to discuss the current state of Italian language education in Victoria. The delegation was accompanied by the Italian Consul-General Dr. Marco Maria Cerbo and comprised Sen. Claudio Micheloni, Sen. Francesco Giacobbe, Sen. Pippo Pagano and Sen. Vito Rosario Petrocelli.

The congregation included current and pre-service Italian language teachers, members of educational institutions, such as Coasit, Vati (Victorian Association of Teachers of Italian), the Dante Alighieri Society, and representatives of various media organizations.

The visiting senators reflected in their addresses on recent travels, outlining advice received and clarifications sought with regards to the challenges faced in today’s Italian language classrooms. A general theme of discussion was the validity and relevance of the Italian language and Italian language education in today’s society.

The establishment of Victoria’s first Italian bilingual school program, starting at Brunswick South Primary School in 2017, was noted, leading to a discussion of teaching approaches used in Victorian schools. Similarly, the roles of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) and immersion programs were outlined. The long-standing support of Vati, Coasit and the Dante Alighieri Society in providing opportunities for extra-curricular activities and professional development for teachers received recognition and in the same vein, the Italian Language Assistant program facilitated by Coasit was a positive talking point.

Critical discussions reflected on the outdated image of Italy presented in schools, signaling a need to shift to a more contemporary portrayal of modern Italian culture. Furthermore, the perceived prejudice against Italian language teachers of non-Italian heritage was also highlighted. Italian-based language teaching courses were also discussed, validating the need to improve teacher-training programs in Victoria.

The attrition rate noted in the study of Italian in post-compulsory years of study was also debated. Members of the congregation expressed concern over competing languages as a possible contributing factor. Tertiary teaching colleagues shared insights based upon the notion that students at tertiary level are a product of the education they receive in secondary school, signaling a need for upgrading the level of language knowledge acquired before entering university.

The event was a positive opportunity to reflect on current teaching practice in Victorian schools, acknowledge successes and outline areas worthy of development and refinement to ensure a prosperous future for the study of Italian in the state of Victoria.