Tag Archives: Indigenous

Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia workshop

This week I attended a workshop on Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia, hosted by the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at ANU. It was an interesting counterpoint to the previous week’s event hosted by First Languages Australia in Adelaide, which focused on the implementation of the draft framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages in the Australian Curriculum and what was happening in various contexts. The Canberra event looked at language acquisition in Indigenous contexts more broadly, including children learning English and contacts languages as well as their own language.

We heard presentations from a number of CoEDL researchers, including work on individual differences in language development, the role of symbolic play in language acquisition, some research into first language acquisition in Papua New Guinea, and the role of prosody and other phonological features in language acquisition in Malay and Barunga Kriol. We heard about projects in communities such as Wadeye and Kukatja where English is not spoken much outside the classroom, and in communities such as Jilkminggan and Gunnedah where traditional languages are no longer strong. We explored some of the challenges inherent in language revival programs, the role of  Indigenous language in the Maths classroom, the effects of otitis media on Indigenous children’s language acquisition, how print literacy may impact learning Standard Australian English, the impact on children in remote Indigenous communities of NAPLAN testing and English language assessment more generally, and the ‘affordances’ of language programs in  the context of the Australian Curriculum. It was also interesting to hear about some contexts that don’t neatly fit into general approaches to language acquisition, such as the complex linguistic ecology of communities where neither Standard English nor traditional languages are spoken or taught, and what that means for contact languages such as Kriol, and literacy practices outside of the school in endangered language communities.

A public event gave opportunities to share about wonderful work on the Warlpiri theme cycle and the investments in education made in Warlpiri communities, then discussion and demonstration of some language apps for Indigenous languages. These included community involvement in the development of Memrise for languages of Tennant Creek, and making short videos using Powtoon for Gamilaraay, some other potentially useful game apps, innovative means of testing phonological awareness in Yolngu Matha, and the incredible work that’s gone into the creation of the world’s first Australian indigenous language app Tjinari in Ngaanyatjarra.

The final afternoon was spent brainstorming the issues raised throughout the previous day and a half, focusing on:

  • where we want education of Indigenous children to be in five years time;
  • how does our existing research fit into that
  • how can we engage with, learn from, and work more closely with policy makers, teachers, principals and other education workers about what research is needed
  • how can our research contribute to teacher professional development
  • how can this research be translated and impact on those who
    • determine policy
    • implement policy, i.e. teachers and principals

CoEDL has a wealth of experience in its researchers and projects, and can play an important role in this space. It was great to network with so many keen and interesting researchers, and we look forward to seeing where this discussion takes us next.

National Indigenous Language Teaching and Employment Forum report

For the last two days I’ve been attending the First Languages Australia National Indigenous Languages Teaching and Employment Forum in Adelaide. Around 100 people gathered from all around Australia to share ideas about this important topic.

The schedule moved from ‘big picture’ to local activities, starting with a presentation from ACARA about the national framework for Indigenous languages in the Australian Curriculum. Having established the framework, it’s now up to the different jurisdictions and schools to work out how to implement it. The framework aims to be inclusive but also deliberately generic, to allow for the many different contexts in which it will be implemented. Examples of implementation will be posted to the ACARA website.

Following a presentation about the function and purpose of First Languages Australia, presentations from each state or territory (except Tasmania) gave an overview of some of the activities, opportunities and challenges in each location. It was noted that the publication of the framework “has been a game changer for Indigenous languages in schools,” and each state is implementing it in different ways according to their populations and existing curricula. The value of language as a tool for social, cultural and economic development, including workforce development was highlighted, as well as the importance of community engagement in language programs.

Presentations about the MATSITI program to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools, and from various training providers demonstrated the range of programs available for professional development and qualifications for teachers of Indigenous languages. (I was able to share briefly about the Living Archive alongside some of the training courses offered at CDU through ACIKE which focus on Indigenous languages and linguistics.)There are some interesting things happening in Alice Springs, with senior secondary students taking on Translation Tracks through VET in schools, looking at how to translate ‘real world’ documents, and visiting workplaces where language skills are needed. We also heard about the MILE program at Sydney Uni, which uses the resources from students’ own communities, and the Cert IV Teaching an Endangered Aboriginal Language which started in SA but is now available through Muurrbay in NSW. The AnTEP Aṉangu Tertiary Education Program from the APY lands, and the Gumbaynggir tutors program, opportunities through VACL, all reflected one participant’s comments “it’s not just language we’re teaching, it’s all about culture, our ancestors, our land, all together.”

On the second morning, we heard from school programs doing interesting and important things, and some of the challenges they face. Longstanding programs such as mother tongue education in the APY Lands, newer ones such as the Lurra program in several languages in Maningrida (where the point was made that learning in language gave the children a chance to be successful where they might struggle in English), Warlpiri and Anmatyerr in TiTree, efforts in Broome to create 20 fluent speakers of Yawuru in the next five years, Arrernte teching in Ltyentye Apurte, the strong history of language at Yipirinya School, and the challenges facing Indigenous language teachers in WA.

What emerged throughout the program was a series of ‘themes’ which were then explored in smaller groups, and issues were identified for each theme. In the final workshop, small groups aimed to write ‘one sentence’ which would sum up the situation and give focus to what is required. Key questions were addressed such as:

  • who will teach these languages?
  • who will fund the great ideas?
  • how can teachers be recognised and supported when their numbers are so small?

The value of events such as this is in bringing together groups of people with similar interests but working in very different contexts. The specifics are very diverse, but the challenges are just as vast. From languages with no speakers being revived from documents, to highly multilingual communities struggling to learn via English, the common thread was that each community was committed to passing on their knowledge to the next generation.

Besides the important issues discussed from the front, the support and encouragement felt among all attendees was very encouraging. In the many conversations during breaks, connections were renewed, relationships created, ideas shared, notes compared, resources shown, contact details swapped, stories told, and support demonstrated. People involve in teaching Indigenous languages can sometimes feel isolated and disconnected from support networks, so opportunities such as this are invaluable for connecting people and reminding everyone that they’re not alone, and that what they’re doing is important and valuable.

Thanks to Faith and the staff at First Languages Australia for bringing this group together, and to Karina and Simone for keeping it moving, and to everyone for being willing to share and support.

Broadband for the Bush Forum IV

B4BlogoThe Broadband for the Bush Alliance brings together stakeholders from around Australia for research and advocacy for broadband and telecommunications infrastructure and access in remote communities. A media release produced after the conference summarises the main ideas discussed, focusing on the infrastructure issues that means that some communities are excluded from the digital world due to access issues.

The Indigenous Focus Day was a particular highlight, as it enabled Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to discuss the issues that affect their communities. The four streams – affordability, accessibility, awareness and appropriateness – included short presentations from communities presenting both challenges and ideas. They demonstrated how Indigenous people are engaging with technology in interesting ways, particularly for connection to family, culture and language. It was excellent to see the focus on solutions rather than just  the problems – the challenge is to get these proposals to the organisations and people that can make them happen. Another issue identified is the lack of research into how access (or lack of it) affects communities – for example school attendance or workforce development?

I had some good chats with people about the Living Archive project, many people hadn’t heard of it and were interested in seeing the resources, and had some good suggestions about other things we could do. I was especially pleased to meet the IRCA mob, who are doing great things with remote media and communications, and with those working in Indigenous Digital Excellence as part of the NCIE, who are “strengthening Indigenous participation, practice and entrepreneurship in the digital economy.” The forum was accompanied by an interesting Twitter feed as people engaged with the issues using the #bushbroadband.


Participants at the Indigenous Focus Day for the Broadband for the Bush Forum at CDU.

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.