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Education lecturer champions community languages

students studying at UEL

Education lecturer champions community languages

As UK exam boards announce plans to slash foreign language options for students, a University of East London lecturer is spreading the word about the important role these languages play in building a stronger society.

“The academic research and employment statistics are unequivocal,” says Ratha Perumal, senior lecturer at UEL’s Cass School of Education and Communities. “Young people who engage with all their languages to a high academic level, do better in school, remain strongly connected to their cultural and language communities, and also have better employment prospects and outcomes,”

Ms Perumal and officials from the Newham Partnership for Complementary Education recently gathered in east London for Newham Complementary Schools Week. They were joined by teachers, community leaders, academics, policymakers, language school owners.

The event promoted community languages -- those spoken by members of minority groups or communities and complementary schools. These are where children can learn community languages outside normal school hours.

Ms Perumal, who is a trustee for the Newham Partnership, hosted the launch event at UEL’s Stratford Campus.

The evening’s agenda, themed ‘Championing Community Languages’, included discussion about concerns over the recent announcement by the OCR, AQA and Pearson/Edexcel examination boards that several languages will no longer be offered as GCSE and/or A level subjects beyond 2017.

Thirteen languages including Punjabi, Polish, Turkish and Urdu are all set to be axed. Many of these languages are spoken in homes throughout east London, an area that prides itself on its linguistic diversity.

Eliminating these languages from the official curriculum means that students who speak them at home or in the community will lose the opportunity to develop their skills to a level that could help them access higher and further education, according to Ms Perumal.

“The benefits of multilingualism are not confined to the speakers of additional languages alone,” she says.  “The benefits accrue to all learners, who develop what has been referred to as ‘cultural agility’, which is the ability to connect, engage and over time, work with individuals from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

“The benefits to the UK employers in this era of global business and trade are self-evident,” she adds.

‘Championing Community Languages’ drew a large number of speakers in the areas of language teaching, support and research. Among them was Pascale Vassie, Executive Director of the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education, and Khondker Talha, the Deputy High Commissioner for Bangladesh.

There is hope exam boards will spare some of the languages scheduled for elimination. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan recently said the government didn’t support the cuts.

Notes to Editors

The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.