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Samantha Disbray on The Conversation

Our colleague Samantha Disbray published this article on The Conversation. Read the original article. Reproduced here with permission.

Why more schools need to teach bilingual education to Indigenous children

File 20170614 15456 ekw3c
Indigenous children can benefit greatly from learning in a language they understand.
Neda Vanovac/AAP

Samantha Disbray, Charles Darwin University

In this series, we’ll discuss whether progress is being made on Indigenous education, looking at various areas including policy, scholarships, school leadership, literacy and much more.

Nancy Oldfield Napurrurla has taught at Yuendumu school for over 30 years.

In her preschool transition class, the children attentively sing along in Warlpiri to Marlu Witalpa (Little Kangaroo). It’s a seemingly simple children’s song about a kangaroo looking for its mother. But with its complex expressions and traditional hand signs, it’s also an effective tool for learning.

Nancy has introduced generations of children to school routines, literacy, and early years knowledge and skills all in a language they understand: Warlpiri. At the same time, they learn oral English from another teacher in a staged curriculum. As they master some English language, they are introduced to English literacy.

Learning in a language you understand

This dual language approach is based on research showing that many concepts are best learned in the language that the learner understands.
And mastery in first language supports second language learning, success in literacy and academic achievement in both languages.

Increasingly, international and Australian research and policy make strong links between recognition and use of first language and cultural knowledge, and student identity, wellbeing and education outcomes.

Teachers in Warlpiri-English and other bilingual schools, such as Yirrkala school, have long worked to innovatively blend traditional and contemporary knowledge.

The overarching aim of this dual language focus is to provide young people with the skills they will need as bicultural adults in the modern world. This is relevant in sectors such as the arts, land management, interpreting in legal and health settings and education, to name just a few.

The importance of bilingual education was recognised more than 50 years ago when, in 1961, politician Kim Beazley Senior saw a classroom like Nancy’s at Hermannsburg school in central Australia, where children were learning in Arrernte and English.

The success of this classroom, compared with its English-only counterparts, inspired him.

Later, as education minister in the newly elected Whitlam government in 1972, he oversaw the launch of the Northern Territory Bilingual Education program. These early days and the decades that followed are documented in a new volume, History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory.

At its most ambitious in 1988, 24 remote schools had programs in English and 19 Aboriginal languages. Local people were directly involved in the education of their children, and champions for schooling in remote communities.

Too few qualified Aboriginal teachers

The schools desperately needed Aboriginal teachers, and training programs were developed through the establishment of Batchelor College and the School for Australian Linguistics (now combined as Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education).

Many Aboriginal people, like Nancy, often of the first or second generation in their families to attend school, were supported by their school and the department to obtain professional qualifications and leadership opportunities.

These opportunities were provided by combinations of in-community on-the-job learning, intensive courses at Batchelor College, and support from travelling Batchelor College lecturers.

However, in the intervening years, changes to accreditation regimes and changes to Batchelor College funding have meant that these opportunities are now rarely available to Indigenous people in remote communities.

Sadly, there are fewer qualified Aboriginal teachers in remote Australia today than in the 1980s.

Team work

Indigenous teachers worked side by side with non-Indigenous teachers in bilingual teaching teams. This required professional development in the skills of team teaching, and teaching English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD).

Non-local teachers were trained, supported on the job and/or accessed professional learning in these skills.

This support was not only essential for young non-local teachers to acquire these skills, it also provided them with social and intellectual support that helped them stay longer on communities.

The need for trained English language teachers and structured EALD programs in remote schools has been raised in virtually every report since the 1990s.

The lack of these skilled professionals continues to hamper Aboriginal students’ learning English and academic success across the Northern Territory.

Bilingual language approach creates jobs

The dual language focus created jobs in remote communities, not just in teaching.

With a great need for written materials to support the program, Literacy Production Centres were established, with a prodigious output of books. These included fiction, history, science and reference works in Aboriginal languages. Recently much of this has been made digitally available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Despite efforts to promote the dual language focus and its importance to communities, it remained controversial, and subject to shifts in policy and resourcing. Ideological disagreements often drowned out evidence and the opportunity to review and improve practice.

Importance of community involvement

While much has changed since 1972, recent research shows the continued importance of community involvement in schools.

Now in 2017, the Northern Territory Education Department is preparing policy and developing curriculum for teaching Aboriginal languages, including the remaining bilingual programs, based on the new National Curriculum.

These moves recognise the value of Aboriginal languages in education and employment.

But policy and curriculum on their own are not enough. Aboriginal classrooms need more Nancy Oldfields, more trained teachers from their own communities who speak their own languages. The Western Australian Department of Education has a practical and innovative model to achieve this.

Classrooms need more trained teachers who are skilled in teaching oral and written English to children who speak other languages. And they need these teachers to be skilled in working together as professional teams.

This is where Australia needs to invest in Aboriginal education – in teacher education, professional learning and team-teaching, and excellence in languages education.

The ConversationRead more articles in this series.

Samantha Disbray, Senior linguistics researcher, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Professor Michael Christie on The Conversation

Listen to your elders: inviting Aboriginal parents back to school

By Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University

Tony Abbott is spending this week in North East Arnhem Land, part of his long-held hope “to be not just the Prime Minister but the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs”. We asked our experts: what stories does the PM need to hear while he’s in the Top End?

Promising “a new approach to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve real results”, the top priorities of the Australian Government’s new Indigenous Advancement Strategy are “getting children to school, adults into work and building safe communities”.

Based on 40 years of experience in Top End education, I’d argue that if you can get the schooling right – which involves adults just as much as kids – you can lay the foundations for more adults in work and safer communities too.

Lifelong learning

“Free, compulsory and secular” education took a long time to establish for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

I arrived at Milingimbi in the early 1970s as one of the first government educators, soon after the good-willed but under-funded Methodists had handed over their mission schools to the Northern Territory Administration Aboriginal Welfare Branch. There, the parents asked me why, if education were so important, it was visited upon children rather than adults.

I had learnt in my now radical-seeming teacher education in New Zealand the stories of how formal, universal education had served to keep poor children off the streets while their parents worked in the factories of the industrial revolution, and how it prepared the children for the same menial repetitive work in confined spaces for extended periods (the rich already had their schools).

Yet at Milingimbi in the 1970s, there remained a vibrant Methodist tradition of adult education, and plenty of interaction between the school and adult education staff and students. Every classroom had at least one local Aboriginal teacher, and there was often a grandfather outside under a tree singing or a mother telling stories.

Operating without carrots or sticks for attendance, the school had a central place in the life of the community, and we spent much time on country. We learnt from the elders that each child in school was unique to his or her particular links to history, people and place, and that we needed to understand and acknowledge those differences.

Today, times have changed. Under the pressures of “normalisation”, people everywhere are paying attention to NAPLAN test results. They are particularly poor for Aboriginal children in remote communities who grow up with little English around them, and who come to school whenever it pleases, truancy officers notwithstanding.

Communities and governments alike are looking for new and different ways to work collaboratively towards “Indigenous Advancement”.

If I were asked for ideas that could “achieve real results” – in remote Indigenous education – the following two would be at the top of my list.

Adults are as important as the kids

School can be an alienating experience when there are no senior family members around and no teachers speaking familiar languages. And the ancient practice of growing up children as independent agents in their environment, free of coercion, is still very strong in remote communities.

Parents would love to see their kids in school every day, but only if their kids choose to be there. The kids will choose to be there if they can see their families and clan elders working together with teachers and community leaders to make active contributions to their schooling and their futures.

Finding good ways of welcoming parents and elders – including their languages and authority – back into schools would do wonders for the NAPLAN results, if only because of improved attendance rates and the commitment of parents to a collaborative working together.

Practical benefits of tapping into local knowledge

We must also think about the new generation and its contribution to our future. The emphasis on English and maths results above all else means kids are assessed well before they are confident in the richness of their local identities and connections.

There is so much knowledge – including local languages, history, culture, environmental and ecological knowledge – that is there, waiting to be tapped into and reappear in classroom life, just as that knowledge was shared very productively in the past.

If Aboriginal families and their knowledge were taken seriously in schools, alongside the important knowledge from the outside world, it would not only revive the attendance rates but also prepare students to take part in the changing remote economies.

This isn’t just wishful thinking. If we want Aboriginal people to take an active and productive part in the future of remote Australia, a combination of traditional Aboriginal and contemporary Australian knowledge is very much what we need.

A film about a collaborative project between CSIRO and Aboriginal rangers, organisations and community people, tackling showing locals were tackling weeds in central Australia.

There are practical ways that traditional knowledge can be a crucial path to future employment for young Aboriginal kids. For instance, in environmental services, major carbon abatement projects (such as fire management), biosecurity and invasive species management, cultural heritage management, language, history, law, and many other areas.

All Australians benefit from having healthy, strong, bi-cultural Aboriginal populations in northern and central Australia.

Further reading in this Abbott in Arnhem Land series:
Australia’s 7 Up: the revealing study tracking babies to adults
Welcome to my Country: seeing the true beauty of life in Bawaka
‘PM for Aboriginal Affairs’ Abbott faces his biggest hearing test
Well-connected Indigenous kids keen to tap new ways to save lives
How crowded homes can lead to empty schools in the bush
Would you risk losing your home for a few weeks of work?

The Conversation

Michael Christie receives funding from the Australian and Northern Territory Governments to undertake governance research, as well as funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Prof Jane Simpson on The Conversation

Indigenous languages won’t survive if kids are learning only English

By Jane Simpson, Australian National University

The question of what language(s) to teach Indigenous students, what languages to teach them in, and how to go about it has been generating a little political heat (but not quite so much light) of late.

On ABC’s Q&A earlier this month, Yalmay Yunupingu – the widow of Yothu Yindi front man Mandawuy Yunupingu – asked a pointed question about how the teaching of Indigenous languages will be funded given that Article 14 of the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People states that Indigenous children have the right to education in their own language. And a recent piece in The Conversation by Stewart Riddle sparked controversy after he said it could be argued that the emphasis placed on English literacy was no better than discredited historical attempts to make Aboriginal kids more “white”.

In fact, there’s a broad consensus that Indigenous students need to be taught English to fully participate in society. Most people also agree Indigenous languages need to be preserved. But there’s a great deal of confusion about how to go about this. This stems from confusion about how to address the language needs of children.

How and what do we teach Indigenous children?

Let’s begin with children who come to an Australian school speaking an Indigenous language or Cantonese or Arabic or a language of Somalia or… These children need to learn English as a subject – they need to learn English grammar, pronunciation, and to expand their English vocabulary. Otherwise they’re cut off from the goods and services of mainstream society. Everyone agrees on this: Indigenous parents, immigrant parents and teachers alike. Where they disagree is how this should be done.

There’s the el cheapo sink-or-swim approach – we chuck the kids into an English-only classroom where they don’t understand a word of what is being said, and then we expect them to learn to speak English by immersion. This may work in classes where almost all the classmates speak English and the child’s parents can provide support at home. But it doesn’t work in classrooms where the classmates don’t speak English, and where parents can’t read or write English. If a child can’t understand what a teacher is saying about arithmetic, then they won’t learn the basics of arithmetic. Children become bored with not understanding what is happening in the classroom, and lose confidence in their ability to join in mainstream society.

There’s a better approach – where children are taught in English, but where from the start teachers do teach them English as a subject in a systematic way, building up their confidence in speaking, reading and writing English. This will result in delays in understanding subjects such as arithmetic and science, until children have mastered enough English to understand what the teacher is saying. But at least it gives them a chance to learn English well.

In both these approaches, the home language is sometimes taught as a subject for perhaps 30 minutes a week. This doesn’t help children understand what is happening in the classroom, but it may give them a sense that the language is valued. However, to do this properly, a staged curriculum is needed, where children build on what they have learned, and enhance their knowledge. There aren’t the materials to do this in many communities, and so children may endure a lot of repetition of the same low-level material on plants, animals and artefacts. This may lead them to think that their home language is a restricted language, not something that they can use on Facebook, or something to use to talk about rockets, asteroids etc.

Then there’s the best practice approach – where the home language is used as the medium of instruction in the classroom at the start. Children begin school with teachers who can explain what’s happening in the classroom in their home language. These teachers can teach children English in a systematic way, building up their confidence in speaking, reading and writing English grammatically.

They can explain the fascinating and complicated ideas of maths and science in a language that children can understand, until they have mastered enough English for a switch of language of instruction to English. This is ideal. For it to work, governments need to invest in training fluent speakers of the languages as teachers, in helping them learn how to teach children to speak, read, write and understand English, and in developing elementary curricula and materials in the languages (see the Living archive of Aboriginal languages for examples). The payoff of a good mother-tongue-medium instruction program is excellent – children who can talk about a range of ideas in two languages, and who grow up knowing that both their languages are valued.

Indigenous languages are shrinking

As the children grow older, there’s the question of enriching their home language. As English speakers, most Australians are used to developing a mastery of the language in school, through using it to talk about maths, the economy, genetics, and so on. They learn new ideas and new words to express these ideas concisely.

Some indigenous language teaching materials

Classes on English literature, poetry, plays, and films are other ways of increasing our knowledge of English. A few second language speakers of English may be lucky enough to have the opportunity to enrich their home languages in a similar fashion – German or French or Mandarin speaking children may be able to go to bilingual schools in Australia where they can learn to talk about ideas in a sophisticated way. They can learn at school about the histories and societies linked to their home languages. They can read Goethe, Victor Hugo, Mo Yan.

Indigenous children have no such luck. The domains in which they can use their home languages are shrinking, there is little or no material in their languages for them to study at school, and compulsory schooling in English means they have less time to speak their home languages anyway. Very few learn at school about the great works of verbal art of their communities. All too often, teaching about Indigenous arts at school is reduced to “didgeridoos, dots and damper”. Teaching at a higher level requires teachers who know the Indigenous language and understand the language of songs and storytelling, or who can collaborate effectively in team-teaching with senior Indigenous singers, performers and story-tellers.

English-only schooling as practised in most Australian Indigenous communities is destructive – it reduces children’s ability to learn English, to learn other subjects, to learn about the verbal arts of their own societies. It reduces opportunities to enrich their first languages through discussing new ideas in those languages. In the long-term, it reduces the chances that the next generation of Indigenous children will be bilingual in Indigenous languages and English. And in that way English-only schooling reduces the chances that Indigenous languages will survive much longer.

The Conversation

Jane Simpson receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a member of the Friends of Bilingual Learning.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Conversation article 7 April 2014

Some vital signs for Aboriginal languages

By Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University; Brian Devlin, Charles Darwin University, and Cathy Bow, Charles Darwin University

Attitudes and policies relating to Australian Indigenous languages are in a state of flux. The Northern Territory government is reportedly again aiming to banish Aboriginal languages from the classroom.

But there’s good news too: the Australian Research Council has approved a second round of funding for the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, which is being launched today in Darwin.

Building the archive

The Living Archive is a digital collection of materials in Australian Indigenous languages from around the Northern Territory. Most of the current collection was produced by Literature Production Centres at schools with bilingual programs over several decades from 1973.

The resources housed in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages include educational materials for children.
Cathy Bow/Living Archive of Australian Languages

The beautifully illustrated books include stories of creation, contact history, traditional practices, cautionary tales, humorous incidents in daily life, environmental knowledge, bush medicine, pedagogical readers, and many other genres. They contain fine examples of people transforming high oral literature into written literature.

With the demise of bilingual education, the books faced an uncertain future. In some cases they had been carefully catalogued and stored in the schools; in others they were carelessly thrown into dusty storerooms. In the worst cases, boxes of books had already been destroyed.

Visits to the communities by project staff involved sorting through piles of dusty books, identifying the best copies for scanning, and talking with community members about the project.

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is a resource that will help all Australians better understand our linguistic heritage.
Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

Each contributor (author, illustrator, translator, etc) named in a book was sought out (or family members of those who had passed away) and invited to give permission for their materials to be digitised and uploaded to a public website. Most people were pleased to see these resources being valued and given a new life in the digital environment.

The second stage, now underway with additional partners, aims to expand the collection beyond its bilingual education origins to uncover other texts in endangered NT languages, as well as engaging community members, academics and schools in using and enhancing the collection.

The area covered by the archive.
Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

Designed in part as academic research infrastructure, the Living Archive’s overarching aim is the mobilisation of language work intergenerationally and interculturally. It will reach schools, remote communities, and beyond – and reopen questions about the role of Australian languages in our wider collective Australian life.

Access to online vernacular language materials is becoming easier – and the Living Archive will be a valuable addition to resources for educators. The Australian Curriculum framework explicitly encourages the use of such materials in educational settings.

In spite of this, the latest report to the NT government recommends an English-only approach in bush schools. This flies in the face of research pointing to the effectiveness of planned and informed use of home language and English in the classroom in developing listening, speaking, reading and writing of both home language and English.

While waiting for the next policy decision, community-level support for vernacular languages in schools continues.

The policies that oppose giving home languages a central place in the education of young speakers look like a reaction to top-down pressure to improve the English literacy and numeracy results of young children in very remote Aboriginal communities on the national testing regime (NAPLAN).

Accelerating the development of these competencies seems to trump the benefits of mother-tongue education every time. But at what cost?

Keeping languages active

The launch of the Living Archive, with its focus on collaborations between researchers and language owners, sheds light on the efforts being undertaken in many places to keep languages alive for future generations.

Shelves of documents from the Yirrkala community in north-east Arnhem land.
Cathy Bow/Charles Darwin University

The archive helps us understand how these languages reflect and produce a uniquely Australian knowledge of our history, our place, our relation to the land, our understanding of environments and seasons, the work for example of fire ecology, and our health in body and spirit. English has not evolved to make and do Australian life in the way Australian languages have.

As more and more obscure texts in endangered languages are identified and uploaded to the archive, people in Australia and beyond can continue to engage with this rich cultural heritage.
Visit the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages here.

The Conversation

Michael Christie receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Dr Brian Devlin works for Charles Darwin University, which is a partner in the Living Archive Project, funded by the Australian Research Council. He is a member of the Future Party (http://futureparty.org.au/) and the National Tertiary Education Union. He occasionally volunteers some of his time to the Friends of Bilingual Learning (http://www.fobl.net.au/), the Australian Human Rights Commission and UNESCO.

Cathy Bow receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.