This study investigates the impact of language and computer policies on teachers of Languages Other Than English (LOTE). An essential part of successful implementation and continuation of these policies is clear communication between policy makers and the implementers of the policies, that is, language teachers in Queensland high schools. How policy makers and central office managers perceive the objectives of these policies is not necessarily how language teachers see them, or how the policies are carried out.
This study is based on communication and organisation theories as propounded by Taylor (1993, 1994), Taylor et al. (1996), Fairclough (1995), Cherry (1985), Bateson (1972, 1979), Thompson et al. (1991) and others. The main thrust of the argument is that organisations are comprised of human conversations that result in the development of artefacts, such as policy documents and organisational structures, that are devised to meet common aims of the participants in the conversations. Australian national language policies were established in a socio-political environment which reinforced the concepts of multiculturalism and the need for Australians to learn a second language. Queensland followed the thrust of the national policies and promulgated a language-in-education policy that has been the basis upon which languages are currently taught in Queensland schools.
While the Commonwealth Government has encouraged the use of computers in education, it has left the development of computer-in-education policies to States and Territories. Education Queensland also promulgated a comprehensive computer policy, which has enabled schools to be connected to the Internet, as well as providing a basic computer infrastructure in schools. As part of this policy, all teachers were directed to achieve a basic competency in using computers, and further, were to integrate the use of computers into their work plans.
The combination of the two policy movements regarding the teaching of languages and the use of computers in schools, has meant that schools, and particularly LOTE teachers, have had to carry out the directives of these policies, often with little or no understanding of them. This study investigates the impact of these policies on language teachers, with a particular emphasis on how teachers understand the policies, and then how they implement them in their daily work.
Twenty-seven language teachers in thirteen different high schools in the eight education districts in the greater Brisbane area were interviewed. A set of questions was used that looked at teachers' knowledge of policies, how they found out about them and how they communicated their concerns about them to their peers and superiors. Additionally, questions were asked about teachers' use of computers in language teaching, and the issues surrounding this area. Finally, teachers were asked what pressures they felt most strongly in their language teaching.
To obtain evidence on a broader scale, a questionnaire was sent to 504 language teachers in State high schools throughout Queensland. A return of 115 (24.3%) valid responses was received. The questionnaire used both closed and open-ended questions. Additionally, two principals and one non-language teacher head of department were interviewed to obtain a broader school perspective on issues relating to language and computer policies. Three officers of Education Queensland's central office were interviewed to gain an understanding of how the Department perceived the implementation processes of the policies, and the problems they saw in these processes. Finally, five other language specialists in Australia were interviewed to gain an interstate perspective on issues relating to language and computer policies.
A text analysis of major policy documents was also undertaken in order to gain an understanding of the contexts in which they were developed, and how the texts themselves indicated who was to be responsible for implementation, and who the beneficiaries were intended to be.
The findings indicate that teachers were very vague about specific policy documents and their contents, particularly about national policies, and had little input in their development. However, policies that related directly to their daily work were more likely to be understood, such as specific language syllabuses and the requirement to attain minimum standards of computing. Formal and informal communication patterns within the education system were also investigated to discover how policies were disseminated to teachers, and how teachers could provide feedback on issues relating to the policies. Teachers communicate and network mostly with their peers within the school, and then with colleagues and mentors outside of their school. Slightly more than half the teachers who responded belong to a professional association such as the Modem Language Teachers Association of Queensland, and of these, a smaller number are active in the work of the association.
The findings also show that most language teachers do use computers in their work, but mostly for the preparation of lesson plans, and for administrative and assessment work. There are difficulties in most schools that preclude the use of computers for language teaching, and these include a lack of adequate hardware and software, limited access to existing computer equipment, inadequate software for computer assisted language learning (CALL), and a serious lack of specialist training for teachers. Additional concerns of the teachers are a perceived low status of foreign language teaching within the schools themselves and within their communities. There is also pressure by school administrations on language teachers to actively market their language in order to increase the number of students who continue their language study beyond the compulsory years.
The study concludes with recommendations that will assist language teachers and the Department to improve language teaching in high schools in Queensland. These include: enhancing the patterns of communication within the Department to allow for improved feedback from teachers to decision-makers through the use of the Department's intranet; provision of adequate computer infrastructure to schools so that subject areas such as languages will have equitable access to it; specialist training of language teachers in the use of computers; enhancement of teachers' understanding and interpretation of relevant policies; and the development of a marketing campaign to improve the community's attitudes towards language teaching.