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Bilingual Education: comparing the Territories

By emd 16 September 2009 24

[First filed: September 16, 2009 @ 06:34]

I’ve just been watching Four Corners on ABC TV, and they had a very interesting story about bilingual education in Northern Territory public schools. You can check out the details here.

In short, English literacy tests showed that some NT public schools had poor results. The NT government decided that bilingual teaching – where students learn in both their local indigenous language and in English – was the cause of the problem, and mandated a minimum four hours per day (and school is only a 6 hour day with an hour or more of lunch breaks) in English. This was despite evidence that some schools in NT where teaching is predominantly in English also had poor results. Teachers talked about the cultural importance of preserving indigenous language, and the schools role in community and culture.

Here in Canberra, we have public primary schools with popular bilingual programsTelopea’s French, Yarralumla’s Italian (used to be at Lyons), and Mawson’s Chinese programs for example. It is considered to be a sign of greater language ability and a useful life skill to have children speaking more than one language fluently.

So how did we end up with a country where at one end, children are seen to be smarter for going to a school where they learn in two languages, while at the other end of the country children are no longer allowed to learn bilingually even though the indigenous language is used by nearly everyone else in their local community?


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Bilingual Education: comparing the Territories
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Hells_Bells74 7:21 pm 18 Sep 09

Hadn’t even stopped to think of it quite like that Granny.

That’s very strong and I am a little surprised no one stopped to listen to that yet, basically what Djuwalpi Marika said and what you have been saying in other words that is.

Granny 3:36 pm 18 Sep 09

I’m glad it worked out so well for you and your family, Fishbat. However, the story highlights the fact that not everybody feels this way:

Yirrkala is a community in north east Arnhem Land with a long cultural tradition and a strong view about preserving its language. The community has produced some of the country’s best known Aboriginal leaders, including well known musician Mandawuy Yunupingu who oversaw bilingual education as a former principal at the school. There the community simply told Four Corners they wouldn’t be taking any notice of the minister’s directive.

“They want to westernise Yolngu people, they want to leave us in the mainstream culture like a whiteman. We don’t want to live like that.” Djuwalpi Marika

I simply think it should be up to the community, that’s all, and that ideally at least some of the teachers would come from within the community itself.

Fishbat 2:31 pm 18 Sep 09

My second language was learnt at home despite attending an all english speaking public school. Allthough I have no relatives here, I was fortunate enough to have a family unit that cared about our heritage and maintained an integrated approach of our historical culture to that of mainstram english Australia.
To have done otherwise would have been neglect to my siblings and I. had there been greater focus on tangental cultural learning, we would not have been allowed to integrate and participate in the broader Australian community as there is no real application for this knowledge to the general public. We all have jobs, homes and pay our taxes and are raising the future taxpayers as well.
My second language continues to be passed on by my parents, siblings and I outside of school time – its fun learning our culture of times past and if they want to get serious about it they can take intesive study later in life on their own bat.
Our family heritage is assured without sanitised intervention.

ACTing like a Mama 12:58 pm 18 Sep 09

From my understanding of the show, it didn’t seem a problem in getting teachers into the community – it was keeping them. Apparently the average stint at the particular community in question was anywhere from 1 term – 8months. The one teacher that had been there for a few years, said that the teachers (for whatever reason) do not stay long enought to develop relationships between both the children and the community itself (leading to inconsistent education etc). So, more to the point of trying to get teachers to come in, the education department in consultation with the community need to look at ways to have these teachers want to stay and contribute.

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