A WESTERN suburbs school will be the first in the state to teach in both English and Chinese.
William Light School R-12 will be a bilingual school from next year, when Year 3s will have half the curriculum taught in Mandarin. As those children grow up, the Plympton school will become a fully bilingual environment over the coming decade.
The announcement follows Premier Jay Weatherill’s signing of an agreement on Thursday with Shandong Provincial Education Department in Jinan, China.
Mr Weatherill said six “digital sister school” partnerships between Chinese and South Australian schools, including William Light, would allow “virtual relationships” to flourish between students over Skype and help them learn each other’s languages. There will also be exchange trips for students and staff.
Eleven schools showed interest in the bilingual school initiative but William Light was the only one that met the required criteria, which included community support, through a formal application.
The governing council was unanimously in favour and surveys found 92 per cent of staff and 89 per cent of parents backed the move.
The school is under half of its 800 capacity with 380 enrolments and principal Linda Richardson believed the popularity of the scheme would help boost numbers over time.
She said bilingual classes would initially have two teachers — one for teaching in each language, funded with extra resources from the Education Department — but over time, more bilingual staff would need to be found.
William Light would look to best practice bilingual schools interstate and overseas to finalise its model, then carefully monitor academic results and student engagement levels.
“The research shows us students who are bilingual do particularly well in NAPLAN (tests for) literacy and numeracy,” Ms Richardson said.
Governing council chair Megan Mahon said speaking fluent Mandarin would give students “the edge in their future careers”.
“You would have to be burying your head in the sand to not think China is going to be an increasingly important part of the world … the age of English being the lingua franca is coming to an end,” she said.
Education Minister Susan Close said Reception to Year 2 students at William Light would have a daily lesson in Chinese to prepare them for bilingual program when they reached Year 3.
“From next year, all students, no matter their year level, will have the chance to learn
Mandarin Chinese as a second language,” she said.
The five other schools to be partnered with Chinese ones as sister schools are yet to be decided.