Learning Punjabi at school

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Mainstream students can now learn Punjabi language at the Year 7 level

Mathematics teacher Gurmeet Kaur has incorporated her love for her mothertongue Punjabi into an essential element of her daily work life.

She and her 21 Year 7 students at Sir Joseph Banks High School in Revesby have made the first step towards making the study of the language possible as part of the mainstream school curriculum.

For the first time in Australia, multicultural Australian students are now learning the Punjabi language as a mainstream subject.

Gurmeet Kaur’s passion for the language as well as for her students is evident.

Gurmeet Kaur.Indian Link

“This is a culmination of my two biggest passions – Punjabi, my mothertongue, and a love for teaching,” she tells Indian Link.

Gurmeet Kaur is not new to creating course structure for language study, even though her area of expertise is Maths. Along with a bunch of Punjabi community members, she has been actively involved in creating syllabus and course content for the Punjabi language for over a decade. They have helped create the syllabus for Stage 1 (Kindergarten) to Stage 6 (Years 11 and 12) community language schools in NSW.

The experience of creating a specialised syllabus for her school though, was different.

“I had to make the syllabus adaptable so the students – all from varying backgrounds – not only learn the basics of the language but also get a bit of cultural orientation,” she shares.

The aim of the course is to encourage the students to appreciate cultural diversity among their cohort.

“Many kids don’t speak more than one language, despite living in a multicultural country,” Gurmeet observes. “Introducing more languages in schools aids the children’s understanding of the different cultures around them while giving the knowledge of languages other than English.”

While her years of experience have come handy in her history-making initiative, it was no walk in the park, admittedly. Gurmeet encountered a fair amount of challenges especially with resources for the subject. “Obtaining resources, changing syllabus for each term and getting the ball rolling on the plan were some major challenges,” admits Gurmeet.

Fortunately, help came from the school principal Murray Kitteringham

Gurmeet Kaur.Indian Link

“Mr. Kitteringham has been instrumental in making this happen. We have been working together to implement the new course in our school this year,” she reveals.

Support from Rita Kumari, principal of Revesby Punjabi School and her daughter Amanpreet Kamal, ensured Gurmeet was able to meet the challenge with teaching resources. Gurmeet also credits her colleagues and other language teachers in assisting her with providing a structure and guidance while finalising the syllabus.

If you thought the course included merely learning syllables, alphabets and words, you will be in for a surprise. “In addition to the language study, our students are taught about the culture, traditions, food, religious beliefs and about Punjab in general,” beams Gurmeet.

Some of her plans include cooking lessons where the students will learn how to make rotis, curries and other flat breads famous in the region. The plan also includes a visit to the local Gurudwara, the Sikh place of worship.

“As a part of the curriculum this year, the students will be creating a travel brochure for Punjab,” the teacher shares. The students will also be putting their learning to practice as their teacher Gurmeet encourages them to greet Punjabis if they spot one out and about in the community.

“Our school is right across the Revesby Gurudwara, and I have asked my students to say hello or greet them with ‘sat sri akal’ if they happen to meet a person with a turban,” says Gurmeet.

Mr Kitteringham is pleased with how the students have taken to their new language lessons.

“I am extremely proud of the effort and enthusiasm which our young Year 7 students have brought to this subject,” he said. “The way they have worked together has been in a fun, engaging and cooperative manner that really goes to show the excellence of our students here at school when challenged with unique opportunities.”

All 21 students in Gurmeet’s Punjabi language class belong to different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. This is a testament to Gurmeet’s beliefs that regardless of a child’s cultural background, the introduction of various languages in mainstream schools will help create a better understanding of the different cultures in Australia.

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Nanditha is a food blogger, qualified journalist, writer and editor. Her passion for writing includes feature articles, lifestyle, food, and fashion.
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