10 March 2023

Pledge to teach the Punjabi language at Griffith schools

| Oliver Jacques
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Paul Toole and Manjit Chugha

Deputy Premier Paul Toole with Griffith’s Manjit Chugha, who has spent years advocating for Punjabi to be taught in schools. Photo: Supplied.

The NSW Government has pledged to initiate moves to have the Punjabi language taught in Griffith schools if re-elected on 24 March.

Peta Betts, the National Party candidate for the seat of Murray, announced that “students across local public schools in Griffith will have the opportunity to learn Punjabi language” when attending the town’s Sikh temple on Sunday (5 March).

Griffith has a growing Punjabi-speaking population, with the 2021 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census revealing it is the primary language used at home by 1007 people – making it the third most common language in the town behind English and Italian.

Many who speak it have migrated to the Riverina from north-west India, where it is spoken by more than 100 million people, most of whom are followers of the Sikh religion. It is one of 22 regional languages officially recognised in India’s constitution and different from the country’s most widely spoken language, Hindi.

Sunday’s announcement was welcomed by the Griffith Sikh community’s Manjit Chugha, who has been advocating for his native tongue to be taught in schools for many years.

“It’s pretty exciting for us,” he said. “We are now a large community here. We’ve been teaching Punjabi at the temple through a language school, which is also funded by the Government. We have 30 to 50 students learning in the temple, but that number will grow once it is taught in schools … having a committed permanent teacher will ensure students are able to get high-quality classes. Our preference is for the language to be taught from primary all the way to HSC.”

group of people

Deputy Premier Paul Toole and Peta Betts with members of the Griffith Sikh community. Photo: Supplied.

A spokesperson for the NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said much of the detail was currently being worked out.

“The commitment is for a languages teacher to be recruited this year, with the teacher set to start work at the start of the 2024 school year. Which schools and year groups are TBC [to be confirmed] at this stage,” the spokesperson said.

Mr Chugha said it was a win for his community’s advocacy.

“If you don’t ask, you will never know.”

The NSW election pledge follows Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ promise for both Hindi and Punjabi to be taught in schools in his state, a commitment made just before the Victorian election in November 2022. He said his Government would invest $3.5 million to create beacon schools to teach Hindi and Punjabi at the Victorian Certificate of Education level.

“Victoria has the biggest Indian population in Australia – it makes sense to teach Hindi and Punjabi in Victorian schools,” Premier Andrews said.

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Ms Betts previously visited the Griffith Sikh temple in early January alongside Deputy Premier Paul Toole, where the pair announced a significant funding boost for the annual Sikh Games, a sporting tournament and cultural fair held over the June long weekend and organised by the local Punjabi community. She said the event would receive $100,000 in funding under round five of the NSW Government’s Stronger Communities Fund, an application-based and assessed grants program for rural projects.

Griffith councillor and former tournament organiser Manjit Singh Lally said the extra funding would enable his community to expand the games, which are held at Ted Scobie Oval.

“I’m very happy,” he said. ”We could [run the tournament across] two venues this time, we want to introduce the sport of hockey, which will be played at the [newly upgraded] West End Stadium.

“We might be able to host crowds of up to 20,000, or more.”

If so, the 2023 Sikh Games could be the biggest-ever event held in Griffith.

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