[lg policy] "Red dirt" schools need more local language Aboriginal teachers

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Oct 30 10:50:12 EDT 2018

 "Red dirt" schools need more local language Aboriginal teachers
[image: image.jpeg]
Community contribution / 14 hours, 14 minutes ago

Local Aboriginal education leaders, non-local leaders, and Aboriginal
community members agree: Aboriginal teachers who can teach in local
languages are essential for remote Indigenous education.

Dr John Guenther of the Batchelor Institute has led a study which has drawn
on more than 770 responses from these three groups.

The groups had different priorities, but all agreed it was important to
have local language Aboriginal teachers.

While state and federal policy documents widely present community
engagement as important for remote Indigenous education, bilingual or first
language education has not been prioritised in recent years.

“One of the main challenges for education systems wanting to pursue first
language teaching is finding enough qualified teachers to do this”,
Guenther said, “but this is exactly why having a well-trained local
workforce is so important — local educators not only speak local languages
but they know their community.”

Other areas of partial agreement included the importance of ESL and
multilingual learning, which was highlighted by both local Aboriginal and
non-local leaders.

Aboriginal education leaders and community members agreed on the importance
of identity, parent and community involvement, and language, land and

They thought it was important to be “strong in both worlds” – to both
deepen connections to local culture and succeed in Australia’s wider
education system.

“We believe that our children are happier learning first in their own
language,” one local Aboriginal leader said.

"They have more confidence in learning, in themselves and they learn more

But non-local leaders’ priorities rarely aligned with those of remote
Aboriginal communities.

These leaders were most often concerned with systemic issues, such as
employment strategies, policy and political contexts, measurable outcomes,
workforce development and issues of race and equity.

Guenther said this was due to the demands placed on them by the education
system: these non-local leaders grappled with tension between the desires
of local communities and the issues they had to report on to education

“However, non-local leaders, who have grown up with urban expectations of
schooling, will naturally be more comfortable working with a system they
know well,” Guenther said.

“The tension is more acute for local Aboriginal school leaders, who are
caught in the middle between these two worlds.”

One local school leader said any discussion about success 'needs to be
holistic, it needs to involve the community'.

“Too often, remote community schools or schools in remote areas set
themselves up as islands and they set themselves up as the institution that
is going to resolve the issue with Indigenous people when in reality that’s
not the case.”

Community members also had priorities which were “not high on the list of
important concerns for either non-local leaders or remote Aboriginal
leaders”, such as academic outcomes, health and wellbeing and relationships.

Many education leaders at “red dirt” schools are doing a great
job, Guenther said, but are placed in a difficult position:

“The evidence shown here may suggest that system priorities about what
matters and what communities think matters are largely mutually exclusive
with very little overlap,” he said.

“Local Aboriginal leaders may act as a bridge or a broker between the two,
but there is only so much they can do.”

He and his co-author, Dr Sam Osborne of the University of South Australia,
have called for action on the one thing that all groups agreed on: the need
for first language local Aboriginal educators in schools.

“Each group recognised the value of recruiting and training local staff.

"They were seen as important vehicles for successful education delivery,”
Osborne said.

“On the one hand, they can (and do) deliver better outcomes for attendance
and academic achievement, and on the other they are a vital source for
building aspiration and cultural and educational capacity within

The authors also suggest several accountability measures that could help
bring community and policy priorities closer to alignment, such as
employment of local staff, local involvement in school councils and
community involvement in schools.

Education leaders in the study included principals, assistant principals,
regional directors, union leaders, and bureaucrats with leadership roles in

Non-local leaders included both Aboriginal and non-Indigenous respondents
from outside the remote context.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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