THE increase in children who don’t speak English as a first language is confronting classroom teachers.

Integration of bilingual and English as a second language initiatives into the education system is the focus of a new course at Waikato University.

The postgraduate diploma in language and literacy education is being offered for people interested in exploring these issues. Heading the programme is Professor Stephen May, the foundation professor and Chair of Language and Literacy Education at the university.

As well as being an expert in literacy, May is recognised internationally for his work in bilingual education, multicultural education and language education policy.

Literacy, he says, involves more than just reading and writing in English.

One of the major developments in language and literacy during the past 10 years has been recognition of different kinds of literacy, such as bilingual literacy, computer literacy, critical literacy.

Literacy, says May, is only one factor in language education and it must be understood in relation to wider social, cultural and political developments.

In the New Zealand context, developments include the ongoing expansion of Maori as a language of education and wider public life.

There is also the increasing presence and visibility of other languages, notably Pacific Islands and Asian.

The implications of these developments, particularly for education, are critical, says May.

“How do teachers operate effectively in classrooms that are increasingly diverse? How can teachers recognise, and build upon the different literacies that students bring to school, including those whose first language might not be English?”

May says recent educational research highlights how bilingual education programmes, when properly implemented, allow bilingual students to transfer their first language skills successfully to a second language.

“The long-held practice of immersing students in English as soon as possible, at the expense of their first language, has been found to be the least successful means of achieving competence in English.”

The new qualification can be stand-alone or credited to a Master in Language and Literacy.

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