The loss of the only Vietnamese bilingual program

The decision to terminate the program was made in April this year in a closed meeting, when the new administration was barely one school-term into its role. It was also the start of COVID-19 lockdown, when parents and community members were struggling to adapt to the pandemic

If a second Italian bilingual school is to be established, why should it come at the expense of the only Vietnamese bilingual program, located at the heart of the Vietnamese community in Victoria?

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SBS : In 2011, the program had grown to its best. After 2011, what happened?

Teacher Chau: After 2011, the program continued to develop until about 2014-15. At that time, the school's leader, the principal and the deputy principal had a different viewpoint and they wanted to re-build the writing program for the school.

SBS : why?

Teacher Chau: Because in the west, students come from various cultural backgrounds. English is not mother language. When children go to school, their writing skill is affected. The school want to enhance the writing program. To enhance the writing program, they need more hours. However, they cannot have extra time for teaching. At that moment, the Vietnamese program is just at their front. It is the only real reason. Removing the Vietnamese program, they will have more time to apply the English writing program. When they wanted to focus to English, the Vietnamese program became a thorn in their eyes. In fact, there's nothing wrong with enhancing the writing class. However, it was completely wrong to say that the Vietnamese program affects writing class. It became a big problem.

SBS : Well, was the time of Philip Fox when he took principal seat at school?

Teacher Chau: Yes, he start work at school around 2012!

SBS : As we know that from 2016 to 2019, it was the term of Principal Philip fox. Many times, he decided to abolish or warned to abolish the Viet bilingual program. Seriously, he decided to abolish the program in 2016. After a lot of protest from the community, the program was resumed. In 2018, it was announced that the program would be abolished. All matters happened during the time of Principal Philip Fox. In April 2020, an official decision was made to axe the Vietnamese bilingual program. The new principal came to the school in early 2020 and made that decision. The given reason was lacking teachers and a lot of difficulties in recruitment for long time. However, according to some parents, in the facts the school did not provide the suitable conditions for the bilingual program to keep previous efficiency or further development. In another important factor, the school did not retain skilled teachers. They treated teachers badly. Parents said “teachers have cited examples of humiliation, disrespect and deception. Teachers were made to feel unwanted and disposable l”. As a result, during the period from 2017 to 2018, eight teachers left the school, including you, the leader of Vietnamese teachers group at the school. So, could you let us know your opinion about the parents' accusations and what are reasons why you and 7 other teachers left the school?

Teacher Chau: Firstly, when I was the coordinator of the Vietnamese program, it was my role to support other Vietnamese teachers, especially the very young ones.  Thus, when I was in that position, and when I saw my associates were not treated properly, I was very upset. Therefore, I often supported their decision.. If they could apply to another school, they should go. When I did that, it affected to the Vietnamese program. But, I wanted to show school’s leaders that Viet teachers were not bad teachers. When Viet teachers applied to another school, all of them got jobs immediately. Thus, they just same to any other teachers. It means that their skills were nothing less than any other Australian teachers. They were criticized that they could not work as classroom teachers. It made me absolutely dissatisfied. It was also the reason why I left after so many years, 5-6 years of suffering there. It was the reason why I feel sick when I had no way to protect those young teachers.

SBS : how serious treatment did those young teachers have that make you upset.

Teacher Chau: School leaders could not speak Vietnamese, so when they recruited them, they must rely on me. I could speak both English and Vietnamese. In the class, because of a lot of teaching hours, Viet teachers had a hard time. Especially, they must cover many different classes. Lesson preparing took a lot of their time. I had to support them. However, time for Vietnamese teachers was just the same to other Australian teachers, Vietnamese teachers must work overtimes very stressfully.  However, their effort beyond than normal, it was not recognized.  Therefore, after a while, they felt why no-one support their overtime work. Even more, they received bad words that they did not work enough.  Anyway, young Viet teachers were growing up in Australia, their Vietnamese skill were just enough for communication at home.  It was not enough for them to be classroom teachers (in Vietnamese), so it took time for those teachers to continue to improve their Viet language enough for teaching in classrooms.  The leaders of the school completely ignored all of that reasons. As such, it affected Vietnamese teachers’ result. Another problem I want to mention, when they thought Vietnamese teachers is unskilled, it seriously affected the teachers' motivation.  Because teacher got a lot of difficulties in class if they were not appreciated by school leaders.  Especially for people grow up in Australian society, the fairness is obvious for everyone.

SBS : In addition, young teachers were not recognized as classroom teachers, how did the school’s leaders treat Viet teachers? Did the school respect them properly as coworkers?

Teacher Chau: Normally, they were accepted to school with a short contract only and they must re-submit the application annually to be continued.  They must wait for yearly vacancy to apply (on-going teachers). So, the chance for them to be a classroom teachers, it was lower than others (Australian). The given reason was that Viet teachers were unable to teach in English. Although the reason was absolutely wrong, the school still used it to deny them as on-going teachers. That created an unfair working condition and make a lot of pressure on them. Because for the new graduations, they needed a steady job and stable income to cover their independent living. Therefore, what the school leaders did, it made a serious impact on them.

SBS : Yes, your words I also heard from an on-contract teacher of Footscray primary school from 2017 to 2018. This teacher also confirmed that 2019, she must re-submit application to continue teaching. However, her application was rejected without any reason, it showed unsuccessful status only and then she had to apply to another school. When she applied to another school, her application was accepted immediately. We also knew that during 2017-2018, Footscray Primary school received an additional $ 150,000 from the Vitoria Education Department to recruit teachers for the Vietnamese bilingual program.  At that time, you were still working at school. In your opinion, was the special sponsor used for recruitment or not, while still not enough teachers for Viet program?

Teacher Chau: That money was mostly used to recruit Vietnamese teachers. I think it is correct. But, the spending way was a bit wasteful.  For example, from department of education, counted on the number of students, the spending will split to number of teachers. However, there were Vietnamese and Australian teachers in the same class, some of the extra paid time would be wasted. That's how the school used the money in the wrong way during those years. In simple words, for example, I was a Vietnamese teacher and I taught grade 6. At the same time, my class had another Australian teacher. So, during my class time, what does the Australian teacher do and what do I do when the Australian teacher in the classroom? Therefore, those extra paid time were wasted and inefficient by the school.

SBS : with that fund and recruited successfully, why didn't the school keep those teachers?

Teacher Chau: That is also everyone's question. They spent a lot of money for training teachers, making materials, why didn't they continue to support young teachers, retain them and continue the program? We must return to the original reason. They actually did not want to keep the Vietnamese program and blamed to the teachers skill or un-able recruiting teachers.  Those two dummy reasons was used to make the program impossible.

SBS : According to the Education Department as well as Footscary Primary School announcements, lacking of qualified teachers rout to abolish Vietnamese bilingual program, what do you think about that?

Teacher Chau: As you know that I am working for French bilingual program of Camberwell primary school. Finding a teacher who can speaks French, it is much difficult. It similar to the situation in Footscray in the years I worked there. It is because teachers who are able to teach in dual languages, are really rare. Therefore, the difficulty in recruitment is the facts and common in all of bilingual program across Victoria. When it is the common problem, it could not be used as reason in Footscray (primary school).

SBS : Yes! Although the Vietnamese bilingual program was abolished, the footscary primary school as well as the Ministry of Education committed to retain Vietnamese as a second language progam, i.e. LOTE.  So, what is the difference between the two programs teaching Vietnamese bilingual and teaching Vietnamese as a second language? Why are parents so determined to continue the bilingual program?

Teacher Chau: With the bilingual program, their time is integrated into the language they learn more than a normal lotte program.  In a LOTE program, teachers teach 1 or 2 hours a week, so the integrating opportunity for students is very low. The children returned to class after a week, they forgot almost because there was so little practice time. Thus, in school years of primary school, the integration of children was very little. Meanwhile, in the bilingual program, there is more time for students to be absorbed in the second language, they are able to practice second language more. So that, they can use their second language more fluently in both writing and reading. That is the advantage of the bilingual program.

SBS : Yes! The school also highlighted the benefits of bilingual education. It include improving academic achievement, improving memory and functioning, and enhancing children's language learning abilities. The school also made clear that they will study 50% of their class in the second language and 50% in English.  Therefore, requirements for the second language in the bilingual program are certainly much higher than the LOTE program. At the end of July, Footscary Primary School also decided to replace Vietnamese by Italian for the bilingual program. In your opinion, is the decision of the Department of Education and Training Victoria as well as the decision of Footscray Primary School is reasonable or not?

Teacher Chau: I and you just read on the newsletters. I am no longer a staff at the school.  I had a question about the given reason when Italian was chosen, that is an easier language for learning. I don't understand who advised the school for that. Because it is absolutely no meaning at all. There are both advantages and disadvantages in studying any language.  For example, in Japanese, writing is very difficult, while in Vietnamese, pronunciation are more difficult. However, there are other advantage that Vietnamese uses the alphabet writing, it similar to English. So students do not need a lot of time to learn writing. While in Japanese, they must learn writing one by one.  It is just the differences in language learning.  Therefore, it doesn't mean that Italian is easier than learning Vietnamese. Thus, “easier to learn” in school’s decision, I think it's completely wrong.  In another reason, Italian matches the language program of local high schools.  The school forgets that high schools accept students from many different schools, including non-bilingual schools. It is one of the difficulties of bilingual programs in this state. High schools do not offer language programs for students at a higher level because the number of students from bilingual primary schools is not enough to open classes. That is the reason why whether learning Vietnamese or Italian or any other language in Footcray, they must study again when they go to high school.

SBS : In your opinion, it is unreasonable to switch from Viet bilingual to Italian bilingual.  So, is the axing fair or not? It is fair for Vietnamese parents whose children attend a school? Especially a large number Viet people in this area as well as the high percentage of Vietnamese students at school, and Footscray is considered as the heart of the Vietnamese community.

Teacher Chau: Yes!  For people who thought that the Vietnamese program was not correct at Footscray, they forgot to review all the bilingual programs in Victoria, there is always the links. Some time that link is very old. For example, in the case of Bayswater south (school), there is a German language program. Why did they operate German program in Bayswater south? Because, there is a German nursing home nearby. Since then, there are some German heritage families. It is the reason why languages are ​​chosen for the bilingual programs from the local community. At Footscary, of course, there is the Vietnamese community.  They forgot that point to choose a different language. Footscary school leaders have forgotten that Vietnamese is very popular in Footscray. Thus, there is a great opportunity for children when learning languages in Footscray. They can use Vietnamese without traveling anywhere else. Otherwise, children must go overseas to practice other languages. Footscray is just right there for Viet language program.

SBS : Yes, on behalf of the audience of the SBS radio program, we would like to thank Ms. Chau Cong for sharing your precious experience with the SBS Radio program tonight, thank you very much.

Teacher Chau: Yes, thank you too for giving me the opportunity to speak about my experience in Footscray over the years.




My experience with being a student at Footscray Primary School (1997 – 2003) has meant that I have had the unique opportunity to not only maintain my mother tongue, but witness my non-Vietnamese peers be exposed to a rich and beautiful language. Everyday....

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I truly feel for the local Footscray community where Vietnamese is an immediately relevant language, not only in many of the households but all through the retail precinct and community, allowing for a wonderful immersion program and the learning benefits...

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I support the Vietnamese bilingual program because I strongly believe that we need to fight for schools on Maribyrnong that are built on cultural diversity, communication and exchange. I want to see our local schools modelled on bringing families from dif...

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In Maribyrnong, Vietnamese continues to be the language most spoken at home other than English. Replacing Vietnamese with Italian, a European language, is not the way to go even if, as the school argues, an Italian program is easier to resource. It would....

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