Posted on April 5, 2023

Punjabi Now Australia’s Fastest Growing Language, Prompting Calls for It to Be Taught in Schools

Alex Brewster, ABC, March 31, 2023

Punjabi is now Australia’s fastest growing language, according to the latest census — but it is still not offered in Queensland schools.

Census data shows Punjabi is the fifth most spoken language at home other than English, making it the most popular Indian-subcontinental language ahead of Hindi and Nepali — despite Punjabis, who hail from the north of India, making up less than 3 per cent of the total Indian population.

Community leaders want dedicated resources to teach it so the children of immigrants can continue to learn about their Punjabi language and culture.

South-east Queensland has become a hub for a rapidly growing Indian-Australian community, the centre of which is the Brisbane Sikh Temple, an almost 40-year-old institution.

“It’s not only the first Sikh temple in Queensland, it’s a community centre,” Punjabi Council of Queensland president Parnam Singh Heir said.

“We have more than 5,000 people come here every week.

“There’s a free kitchen where all are welcome, vegetarian food, seven days a week, open for everyone.”

Integration through education

The temple runs Punjabi language classes for children on the weekends, but Mr Singh would like further support.

“I think it’s time for the government and our education department to promote and tell people how many Punjabis are here and about our language.”

Mr Singh said Punjabis were an adventurous people.

“They’re known as a warrior in India, always looking for a better place to live, for opportunities for a better life,” he said.

“It’s in our blood.”

Diverse nation

Ali Kadri is the chief executive of the Islamic College of Brisbane — home to 1,600 students.

He said schools like his were vital for improving the integration of multicultural families.

“We are a diverse community and we are becoming more and more diverse and I think it’s important that as communities come from overseas and we become a melting pot, we’re giving opportunities to the community to preserve and teach their children, their culture and their values,” Mr Kadri said.

Mr Kadri said he believed there was a need for a Punjabi school in Australia, with many community members raising the idea with him.

Amritha Zachariah from the Australia-India Business Council said this would improve students’ pathways later in life.

“Bringing that global competency and cultural understanding into our schools and our curriculums for our kids at a young age will demystify some of the myths and provide greater opportunities for our kids here in Queensland,” Ms Zachariah said.

Requests for Punjabi in schools

The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority said there were 14 languages for schools to choose from, but Punjabi was not one of them.

A Department of Education spokesperson said it was not aware of any schools offering Punjabi language studies but had responded to requests on adding it to the syllabus.

But Mr Kadri said it was important to understand the difference between language and culture.

“A state school is not going to be in a position to be multicultural in the way a cultural-based or religion-based institution can be, like an Islamic Australian school, or Australian Catholic school,” he said.

“I think while the state should promote different languages in the system, and tolerate different religions and cultures, there is also a need for a specific faith-based independent schooling, or language-based, or culture-based independent schooling.”