Australia: Four hours in English - The NT government Indigenous ed. plan built on misinformation.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Oct 17 19:40:14 UTC 2008

 Four hours in English - The NT government Indigenous ed. plan built on

If you have read any of my other articles about the use of the local
to indigenous education (
pt 2<>)then
you will already know how I feel about such an dis-empowering approach to
education.  But what is most troubling is that a large portion of
Territorians and other Australians seem to support the rhetoric expressed by
the minister Marion Scrymgour. She argues that Indigenous languages have no
place in teaching literacy and numeracy in schools.  After talking to a few
people, and media watching on the issue, it seems clear that support for the
Government's position is based on a few misunderstanding about the learning
that is actually happening on community.  Let's briefly explore the reality
behind these assumptions about the bilingual community schools this policy
will most effect.

*Misunderstandings about literacy education on remote communities.*

   1. The children in remote and bilingual schools are not being taught

   *Reality:*The children on remote communities and in bilingual schools are
   taught English and grow up with the ability to speak English.  The problems
   are they have a limited vocabulary, poor written literacy and numeracy

   2. Bilingual schools are teaching in local languages

   *Reality:* Bilingual schools are unable to train, and thus do not have,
   specialist teachers who know the local Indigenous language. You would be
   forgiven for thinking it should be otherwise.

   3. Children in remote communities are not being taught in English.

   *Reality: *English is the language spoken by almost all teachers in
   remote indigenous class rooms already.  If there is any education using the
   local languages is provided by Teacher Aids from the local community.  Thus
   at least 50% of education has been taught in English for the last 30 years.

   4. Someone out there wants to stop English being taught.

   *Reality: *No one , including indigenous groups, have argued against
   Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being taught English. Aboriginal
   people have always asked to be taught.

   5. The forcing of teachers to use English in the classrooms is new policy
   that has not been tried before.

   *Reality:* This is not the first time a policy like this was introduced.
   The education department introduced a policy of English only education (100%
   of the time) when Sid Stirling was the education minister about 4-5 years
   ago.  The policy was removed after about 2 years.

   6. The current thinking in the NT and around Australia seems to be that
   the best way to teach a new language is to force people to listen to it as
   much as possible.

   *Reality: *Such an approach only works if the student is immersed in the
   language and removed from peer groups that speak their first language That
   is for immersion to be successful at teaching English the kids must be taken
   away from their families and friends - Australia has been there done that,
   No thanks.

    *Reality:* We do not use this approach when we teach foreign languages
   to English first language speakers. What do we do?  We teach the new
   language using the student first language, English.  Why because language
   acquisition is fastest if it is charted in the first language -  eg.
   djugu=contract, guyaŋa=think… you just learnt 2 new words in a new
   language.  Untill the student has a good grasp on the langauge we use
   structured programs that teach using the language the students already
   know.  Why don't we do this in Indigenous schools?

   7. Indigenous languages are not powerful or accurate enough to teach
   difficult in English concepts.

   *Reality:* Indigenous languages are highly effective, accurate and
   contain all the meanings necessary to teach mathematical, scientific and
   humanitarian subjects. I know this because I teach economic literacy,
   governance and germ theory using an Indigenous language

   8. We have to do something. We have tried almost everything.

   *Reality:* The one policy no government has ever implimented to solve low
   literacy and numeracy rates in Australian remote indingeous schools is the
   training of EFL teachers to use local indigenous languages to teach english
   and other subjects. This would enable true bilingual education rather than
   the what actually happens today.

Considering that mainstream support, rather than research and local
community knowledge, tend to drive governemtn policy it is possible that
these misunderstanding or assumptions are driving the curent push to once
again force english only environments on children in remote Indigenous
schools.  I hope this clarifies the issue for you and helps you to explain
some of the issues to others.

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