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.