Improving the learning of languages in the UK rarely gets the attention and resources deserved, although Mandarin and Latin have recently received special pots of funding to invest in new teaching.
Gareth Thomas, Opposition Labour Party MP for Harrow West in London, who led a successful campaign to persuade Ministers and Exam Boards to maintain GSCE and A-level language qualifications in community languages, is renewing urgent calls to save South Asian languages such as Gujarati, Bengali and Punjabi from their downward spiral.
He believes Britain needs to back South Asian language teaching, from Gujarati to Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi through to Persian. The teaching of South Asian languages is critical to Britain’s economic future as well as an opportunity for academic excellence among young people in our country.
Thomas said: “Ministers’ failure to invest in these languages is leading to a marked decline in the number of students taking exams. The problems concerning the ongoing political tensions with Russia and China further highlight the need to turbocharge trade with South Asia.
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“Moreover, children learning these languages develop skills which help their performance in other parts of the curriculum. Community efforts, through Temples, Mosques and Saturday clubs, have been great at helping young people learn languages, but more support is needed.
“I urge the government to recognise the need for proper support to help local communities and schools to support young people learn these important languages.”
Between 2015 and 2021 the number of students entering GCSEs in Bengali, Gujarati, Persian, Punjabi, and Urdu drastically reduced. Whilst Covid hasn’t helped a downward trend has been obvious for a while.
Gujarati has seen a 77% decline in entries at GCSE level
Bengali has seen a 66% decline in entries at GCSE level
Persian has seen a 65% decline in entries at GCSE level
Punjabi has seen a 45% decline in entries at GCSE level
Urdu has seen a 37% decline in entries at GCSE level
Similar investment and commitment are needed to kick start a new generation of young people able to communicate with the peoples of South Asia in their own languages to boost trade, open up business opportunities and assist in improving our collective security.
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The economic growth and rise of the middle class across many South Asian nations highlights the importance of greater cooperation between the UK and the countries in the region. It is projected that South Asia will add 1 billion new entrants to the so-called “consumer class” by 2030.
Dedicated funding, specialist training of teachers, a flagship school programme, support for community schooling and proper training are needed to boost provision.