Students turning Japanese at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Cathedral School students greeting a group of Japanese exchange students.

St Andrew’s Cathedral School students greeting a group of Japanese exchange students.

JAPANESE language students at St Andrew’s Cathedral School will put theory into practice when they head to Japan later this year.

Next month, Japanese teacher Donna Desiatnik will take her year 8-10 students on a two-week tour of the country. During the trip, students will visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island and Nagasaki and “see the places that we’ve talked about”, from traditional temples and shrines to the “crazy, modern aspects of society”.

Every year, St Andrew’s partners with schools across the globe for exchange trips, sending its students overseas or hosting students from sister schools. The trips are designed to further students’ language skills and cultural understanding, and give them a chance to communicate in a foreign language.

This, Ms Desiatnik said, “has a really positive impact on motivating them in the lessons, because there’s a reason: ‘I’ve got to learn how to ask for directions because we’re going to be there and I’m going to need it’”. 

After 10 days touring, students stay with a Japanese family for five nights and attend lessons at Nagasaki Nishi High School, whose year 11 students visit St Andrew’s for six days each year.

“That’s a real highlight for them,” she said. 

Ms Desiatnik said students develop a richer intercultural understanding by staying with a family, eating their food, attending school and immersing themselves in the culture. “When you enter a Japanese house you have to take your shoes off and put slippers on,” she said. “Everything that we’ve talked about in the classroom starts to make sense.

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The trip is a “really spiritual and exciting experience” for the students and often motivates them to continue with their Japanese studies in years 11 and 12. Ms Desiatnik said some students return from the trip “so passionate they tend to go again on their own”.

According to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), learning a foreign language strengthens students’ intellectual and analytical capabilities, and enhances creative and critical thinking.

Ms Desiatnik added that knowing a second language increases employment opportunities, and helps individuals learn more about themselves and develop a strong identity. 

Despite such benefits, languages in schools have been overlooked, Ms Desiatnik said, because under the government NAPLAN testing “so much of the curriculum is dedicated to developing literacy and numeracy”.

“Language has become one of those extracurricular options, whereas in the 1950s everyone had to study Latin and French – it was mandatory,” she said. “It’s really declined in its [perceived] value despite all the research that shows how valuable it is to the child and society.”

According to the Board of Studies, only 10 per cent of the 73,397 students who sat the HSC in NSW in 2012 were enrolled in at least one language course.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Ms Desiatnik said. “Learning about the culture of another country makes you look at yourself and makes you deepen your understanding of who you are and things we take for granted.”

Relief as nursing home killer jailed for life

Life without parole ... Roger Dean at the scene of the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.

Life without parole … Roger Dean at the scene of the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.

A MAN who murdered 11 elderly residents of a Sydney nursing home two years ago will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sentencing Roger Dean to life imprisonment, Justice Megan Latham told the NSW Supreme Court today the pain and terror experienced by the victims must have been horrific. The “heinous, atrocious and greatly reprehensible” crime was planned and premeditated. She said the victims, who were immobile and asleep at the time the fires were lit, were “vulnerable”, of “high dependence” and were in the “care and control of the offender”.

Dean deliberately started two fires in the Quakers Hill Nursing Home on November 18, 2011, to “create a distraction” from his theft of 238 prescription painkillers from the home. Three of the victims died immediately. Eight who suffered burns or lung damage from smoke inhalation died in hospital in the weeks following the incident.

The former registered nurse, 37, originally pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of murder and eight of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, but changed his plea the day his trial was to start. The death toll makes Dean the worst mass murderer in the state’s history, ahead of Belanglo Forest killer Ivan Milat.

Dean appeared on national television immediately after the fire, describing his efforts to help those trapped in the blaze. “I just quickly did what I can [to] get everyone out … the smoke is just overwhelming. We got a lot of people out, so that’s the main thing,” he told media crews.

The relatives of the victims cried and cheered in the packed public gallery, which included a strong police presence, as the sentence was handed down. One woman collapsed and had to be carried out of the courtroom.

One relative shouted, “You’ll get yours” as Dean was led away. Another yelled, “Rot in hell!” Dean showed no emotion during sentencing.

Outside the court, Amanda Tucker, whose grandmother, Dorothy Sterling, 80, died in the fire, said a life sentence would never take the pain away from her family. “My nanna never made it out of that nursing home … [Dean] walked straight past her and didn’t help.”

Elly Valkay, who lost her mother, Neeltje, 90, said the outcome was wonderful. “I hope he suffers as much in jail as my mother suffered the last four days of her life, which was horrendous,” she told reporters. “Our loss is still there, will always be there, but to know that justice has been done … it’s wonderful to see and it’s wonderful to feel”.

Lorraine Osland, whose mother Lola Bennett died in the blaze, said life would never be the same. “It wouldn’t matter what they gave him … it will never, ever be any different for us. He got a life sentence and so did we,” she said.

Neale Becke, the son of 96-year-old Doris Becke, said the sentence had brought him closure. “If you have a mother go home and give her a cuddle. You only have one,” he said.

Last month the state government announced that all aged-care homes in NSW will install fire sprinkler systems by March 2016. An inquiry heard last year that the deaths at Quakers Hill could have been averted had the nursing home been fitted with sprinklers.