Learning a second language at primary school is a ‘nice to have', but isn't a priority at the moment, according to local school leaders.
The National Party announced on Sunday their plans to invest $160 million over four years to give primary school pupils the chance to learn a second language, if they so choose.
Tauranga Labour Party candidate and Merivale School Principal Jan Tinetti says this is at least the second time National has promised to teach children another language.
“When Lockwood Smith first announced the policy in 1993, I was a reasonably new teacher. I was quite excited then, but I'm yet to see it reach fruition.”
She's sceptical of the idea, particular in regards to the logistics of potentially teaching every child a second language.
“I'm not sure about their budget, either – it equates to about $75 per child for a year. I think there are so many other things that need sorting in our system first. It's not a priority.”
For Jan, the real work remains to be done around special needs students.
“Without a doubt, principals and teachers want special needs sorted and they want to see the money go into that. Teaching kids a second language is a good aspiration to have, but get the other things right first.”
Other local school leaders agree. Tauranga Primary School Principal Fiona Hawes says learning a language isn't compulsory in primary schools, although a degree of Te Reo is part of her school's curriculum.
“Language learning is a fantastic thing for kids, but it would require a huge government investment. Is it our greatest need currently? I'm not entirely sure. There are more questions than answers at the moment.
“Special education is our greatest challenge moving forward, so I'd rather see more staff funded in that area.”
Greenpark School Deputy Principal Jason Mischewski calls the proposal ‘interesting'.
“Certainly at Greenpark School we offer children opportunities to be exposed to other languages – we have Mandarin and Korean classes at times, as well as ongoing Maori language development.”
However, like Jan and Fiona, he'd rather see more funding for special needs education.
“A focus for us is special needs coordinators. The funding would probably be better used in that area. You sometimes wonder, politically, if the government has got its finger on the pulse. If you went to school and asked them what they really need or want, it would be quite different.”
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller has called the government's entire $379 million education package, including the funding for second languages, a ‘wise' investment.
“We owe it to our children to wisely invest to ensure they leave school equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the modern world.
“I'm particularly excited that every child who has an interest in learning a second language will have the option to do just that – whether that is mandarin, French, Te Reo or New Zealand Sign Language.
“Languages bring a new perspective to life, making it full of opportunity and outward looking, as well as connecting us to the world. When it comes to international trade these skills are more important than ever.”
He says as a busy father of three, he's also looking forward to being able to track his children's academic progress on his mobile phone.
“That's 21st century education.”