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Some vital signs for Aboriginal languages

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…

The resources housed in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages include educational materials for children. Fiona Morrison/Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

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.

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71 Comments sorted by

  1. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    I think it’s fine to study this complex of spoken languages as an academic linguistic pursuit, but advocating that kids in remote communities learn to read and write in a confected language, based on an abbreviated English alphabet, really depends on what the practical aim of their education might be. If the intention is that they gain an understanding of the wider world, then engage meaningfully with it to the extent of finding satisfying work later as adults, forget it. However, if their intended future is to stay imprisoned in their dysfunctional communities, perhaps to serve as living museum pieces, then this is the way to go!
    Childhood is a critical period for language acquisition, and it would be criminal, in this country, for these kids not to learn English competently. They speak their own languages very competently at home.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      I have to agree Paul.

      What are the real advantages to learning these languages at school. I'm assuming there must be dozens or more of local dialects throughout Australia.

      To me it seems a parochial exercise that serves very little purpose.
      It may be part of the overall problem of education issues facing IA.

      Let parents take on the responsibility of passing on local language, and let schools focus on more pressing issues to help IA get to where they want to be.

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    2. Greg Dickson

      PhD Candidate in Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      This body of literature has a very clear function that neither you or Stephen-the-commenter-below realise: they help kids learn to read. The idea is that if you start school speaking language X and knowing very little English, there is no point starting literacy education in English - not only are the letters meaningless but the words they spell out are too! The idea is that kids will learn to read much quicker when they're learning to read the language they know and think in. In the meantime, they're teacher starts teaching them how to *speak* English and after a few years, they can start reading English too because (a) they've already learned what reading is all about and (b) they now have oral English skills to help them decode written English.

      It's an established, successful model of education.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Beg to differ..........it's like saying if they learn Russian first it will help them with English. (in one sense).

      Kids have very adaptive minds - teach them English from the start and let them learn their local dialect at home.

      It works very well with other ethnic groups in Australia.

      The world they live in is English oriented, like it or not.

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    4. Greg Dickson

      PhD Candidate in Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Sorry no. Your Russian analogy is weird. I imagine that native Russian speaking kids do quite well when Russian is used in their classrooms and can learn English reasonably well from a Russian-speaking teacher. Same goes for (e.g.) Pitjantjatjara speaking kids.

      Secondly, they *do* learn English from the start. As I said above, the idea behind the Indigenous language literature discussed in this article is that they learn oral English skills, but learn to read in their own language first, while…

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Esoteric languages are really better placed taught at home.

      Far better to teach Chines or Japanese or Indonesian.

      Give them skills to broaden their horizons. Otherwise they will just stay where they are and continue to present the same issues we discuss year in year out.

      Is education meant to enhance IA lives, or is it simply an excuse to make us whites feel better.

      I suppose the question that should be asked is what do IA expect out of education. Do they need a great education if they are going to stay in those outback communities and hunt and fish?

      I'm sure many will see those comments as outrageous, but I'm trying to ascertain what needs are wanting to be fulfilled by the IA themselves.

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    6. Greg Dickson

      PhD Candidate in Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It's important to separate the reasons people learn other languages. There are three main ones: (a) because it's stimulating, interesting etc. (you're "esoteric"), (b) for economic reasons (the main reason you're focusing on) or (c) for reasons of culture and heritage.

      No reason is greater or lesser than the other, but you seem to be discounting (c) as valid whereas it's a massive motivator globally for maintaining the use of languages and the reason why many learn new languages.

      Money isn't everything. That being said, being bilingual and biliterate in an Indigenous language is not to be sneezed at in economic terms. It makes it much easier to work in all sorts of domains: education, various consultancies, interpreting, community services, land resource management. Believe me, being a competent biliterate, bilingual does not leave you twiddling your thumbs and having nothing better to do than go fishing for the day.

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Unless all IA communities learn each other's languages, to me there is little value other than for academic sake.

      The only aspect of "economics" I'm looking at is the ability for IA to further any ambitions they might have - to get them off welfare and be self-sufficient.

      If they don't want this "dream", then education is a waste of time anyway.

      And I guess there are more IA in urban areas than rural, that also weighs into the argument. Are we only talking about rural communities?

      And the if the answer is yes, why are rural languages better or more relevant than urban IA language?

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    8. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Hello Greg. Is the theory behind having the child read in an indigenous language an intermediate step? Once children are reading written language, teaching then occurs in English or does it remain in the indigenous language? What level of proficiency is required? Are texts books associated with educational curriculum available in various indigenous languages? Who does the teaching of reading in the indigenous language? Education department teachers or external (family/community leaders)? Are individuals who teach reading in indigenous languages required to have academic qualifications? If education department teachers are teaching reading in the indigenous language how do they acquire proficiency in the language? Do tertiary institutions offer indigenous language programs?

      Thank you for your response.

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    9. Greg Dickson

      PhD Candidate in Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to Darren Yorston

      Hi Darren. Good questions too. But there are a lot of them and many don't have quick answers and unfortunately I have other things to do!

      I'd suggest having a look at the recent (2012) government report 'Our Land Our Languages' which answers a lot of your questions: http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=/atsia/languages2/report.htm

      Hope this helps.

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    10. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Greg, give up on Stephen. He didn't read the bit that says: "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." And he won't accept that it holds for any vernacular, anywhere, which he attempts to escape by labelling them "esoteric".

      The point of vernacular and bilingual education is and always has been that it is pretty much the quickest ande most effective way for the kids to pick up the phonemic and alphabetic principles which form the foundations of literacy (regardless of how large the inventory of Roman alphabetic characters is that is used). For crying out loud it has been in Berko-Gleeson from the earliest editions. Also, it is reasonably easy to move from one Roman alphabet system to another for a different language, we do it, the Europeans do it and many others do it.

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    11. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      Thanks Greg. Interesting report. Highlights the benefits of language both socially and culturally, as well as observing that English is essential for all children to have to maximise learning opportunities and life chances.

      I thought the WA concept of "Limited Authority to teach" was interesting. Sounds like a good program to have in schools, not just with respect to indigenous children but also to aid children coming from countries where English is not spoken. Would be an excellent aid to teachers who have classrooms where students speak a variety of languages.

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    12. Christine Nicholls

      Senior Lecturer at Flinders University

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Only just came across this discussion...

      A moderating remark Paul; these are NOT 'confected languages'; any more than any language is confected (which many are in fact, including English, if we consider its promiscuous borrowings from the syntax/ semantics et al from other Indo-European and many more other living languages, ranging from Hindi (thug') to Croatian ('pencil') Norwegian ('ski 'and more!).

      Re the relatively remaining few Aboriginal languages, they're living languages (though in…

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    13. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Christine Nicholls

      Thanks for your response, Christine. I agree with you that this is a very complex matter; my comments were mainly thrown in to stir the pot and get a discussion flowing. But it was also motivated by palpable irritation I'd experienced years ago, while supervising a health research project in Arnhem Land, during which I encountered numerous example of muddle-headed thinking (and apathy) in high-level bureaucracy, unrealistic expectations of government and the outside world by local community leaders…

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    14. Christine Nicholls

      Senior Lecturer at Flinders University

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Hello Paul,

      Just to correct an incorrect notion if I may, even at this comparatively late stage (I was away at the time that this excellent article came out), these truly Australian languages are not 'confected' languages any more than any other language in the word is 'confected'. The script in which these languages are written have little relevance.

      Contemporary Japanese, for example, can be written using kanji, hiragana, katakana, or romaji (Roman script, as per what we English speakers use…

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    15. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Christine Nicholls

      Welcome back Christine.
      Whilst the socio/political attack on bilingual learning in the NT continues unabated, every now and then a little ray of sunshine.
      Check out the latest initiative by the ABC and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service: www.abc.net.au/news/indigenous
      As for that old furphy "only a few people speak it", a language no more should be "valued" by how many people speak it, than a painting by how many people look at it, nor a song by how many people listen to it. Languages are people's…

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    16. alan w. shorter

      research assistant

      In reply to Greg Dickson

      "The idea is that if you start school speaking language X and knowing very little English, there is no point starting literacy education in English - not only are the letters meaningless but the words they spell out are too! The idea is that kids will learn to read much quicker when they're learning to read the language they know and think in."
      Except Aboriginal languages are oral, not literate. Only recently have a few of these oral languages been committed to print, and only them because white anthropologists did all the hard work. But they are committing these oral languages to ENGLISH script. So the letters won't be any more meaningless than they will be in Warlpiri, or whatever.

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    17. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to alan w. shorter

      The script this is written in is not an ENGLISH script.
      I learned to read and write in a SPANISH script, and it is identical except for the 'ñ' and the occasional 'ü'.

      "because white anthropologists did all the hard work" belittles the impressive input by first language speakers, and non-anthropologists.

      There is something very unfair in condemning societies from being empowered and enriched by literacy just because until fairly recently they had an "oral" tradition. Widespread literacy in the western world is also a relatively recent phenomenon.

      From Dr.Seuss’ Did I ever tell you how lucky you are':
      "And how fortunate you're not Professor de Breeze
      who has spent the past thirty-two years, if you please,
      trying to teach Irish ducks how to read Jivvanese."
      (the illustration is priceless)

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    18. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      Hello Frank, I am not sure what you mean by Spanish script. I thought Spanish was written utilising Latin letters. The letters who show look like Latin letters with accents. Could you link to an example of what these letters look like?

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    19. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Darren Yorston

      Hi Darren,
      I was being ironic in response to Alan's earlier post which included:
      "But they are committing these oral languages to ENGLISH script"
      The Latin letters you refer to are no more ENGLISH than SPANISH script is what I meant. Also I made the point that English speakers have no more right to use these letters than non-English speakers, even if they belong to societies that until fairly recently did not have a literary tradition.

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    20. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      Lost me Frank, I am sorry. I do not know what English script is either, is that a pre-Roman Celtic script? One based upon runes, similar to hieroglyphs? I suppose though it would not be English as England did not exist at that time.

      Non-English languages utilise the Latin alphabet, I do not think there is any ownership upon the use of written language alphabets. Someone may be able to correct me if I am wrong though.

      Reading Mr. Shorter's post, he does not appear to be condemning a society, I am…

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    21. Greg Dickson

      PhD Candidate in Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to alan w. shorter

      Wrong: Aboriginal languages are oral, not literate
      Correct: Aboriginal languages were oral, now they are also written

      Wrong: only because white anthropologists did all the hard work
      Correct: only because linguists devised writing systems in collaboration with language speakers, taking into account the unique sound systems of each language

      Wrong: they are committing these oral languages to ENGLISH script.
      Correct: it's called the Roman script and many, many languages use it. There is no inherent problem with a language using a script that is also used by other languages.

      Wrong: the letters won't be any more meaningless than they will be in Warlpiri,
      Correct: the letter will be more meaningful because they'll represent sounds they have grown up using and represent words they already know.

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  2. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    The wilful ignorance of the political classes often astounds me. As the article says their attitude to verrnacular and bilingual education "... 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." Of course they are not alone. Playing down Aboriginal languages because they are spoken by small numbers of people is common practice…

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    1. Julie James Bailey

      Retired

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Can we address the real issue here. Currently 58% of indigenous primary school children in the NT come from homes where English is not spoken as a first language. Most come to school not speaking English and teachers have no ESL training and no experience of teaching spoken English, they are trained to teach reading and writing. In remote schools English is not spoken in the playground or in the community. Children need to speak a language first. Research shows that learning to speak a second language when learning a first is the easiest way to learn a language. This points to bilingual early childhood education with trained teachers in both languages. Children will then come to school with both their home language and English.

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    2. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Julie James Bailey

      I agree with your comment about about educators not having training in ESL, it must be difficult with children coming to a school not speaking English and having to work out how to not just teach them subject material but also a language.

      Research may show that learning a second language whilst you are learning a first is easiest however it does also suggest that children who learn two languages at once generally have smaller vocabularies in each language up to around 10 years of age than do monolingual children.

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  3. Lisa Waller

    Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Deakin University

    It's been great to read about the archive project - what a fantastic initiative. The bilingual education teaching materials produced in schools over more than three decades are highly valuable resources. It's wonderful to think they are being preserved and made widely accessible through this research. May they continue to be used in Territory classrooms in the digital age!
    I have studied the Northern Territory Government's policy shifts on bilingual education in the period 1988-2008 and the role that news media reporting has had on this issue. I can hardly believe that the NT government wants to axe the programs again. Not in the face of indigenous peoples' international human right to educate their children in their languages, as well as decades of international research and the recent federal report on Indigenous languages in education, which strongly endorses the NT bilingual programs.

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  4. Ken Dyer

    Knowledge Seeker

    "To understand the present, you need to understand the past. To understand Australia's history, you need to look at how the land has shaped not just our past, but will continue to shape our future." Thus wrote Jackie French in her book, "Let the Land Speak".
    We should welcome the opportunity to expand knowledge of indigenous languages,and thus learn about our country. Australia, settled by English speaking boat people 200 years ago, is still dogged by the attitude that if it ain't English, it ain't…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Ken Dyer

      Nothing wrong whatsoever in IA kids learning their community languages.

      The point I am trying to make is that if we are trying to educate IA kids to adapt and live in a modern world, they need English and the other curriculum subjects that mainstream kids get.

      If IA parents don't want or don't care what their kids do or don't learn, why spend huge amount of money wasting everybody's time.

      And if we are not trying to educate IA kids to live in the modern world, what is the aim of education.

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    2. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Wow Stephen,

      What makes you say - "If IA parents don't want or don't care what their kids do or don't learn, why spend huge amount of money wasting everybody's time"?

      Rather than saying "if we are not trying to educate IA kids to live in the modern world, what is the aim of education" how about we leave patriarchy and assimilation in the past and realise that we have much to learn from Indigenous languages and cultures including much that could help offset the destructive aspects of Western culture(s).

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      I say that Brad b/c in media pieces/docos it has been demonstrated that getting many kids to school is a problem.

      Truancy rates are high. Many parents "seem" disinterested in whether their kids go to school or not.

      And I again make the point that education only serves a purpose if something is to be gained by the individual students.

      If there is no gain from western style education - stop wasting money, or orient education to a different sort of education that benefits the local situation.

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    4. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen,

      You are contradicting yourself here.

      On the one hand you say "If there is no gain from western style education - stop wasting money, or orient education to a different sort of education that benefits the local situation."

      Yet on the other hand you denigrate attempts to do exactly that by incorporating Indigenous language and culture into the education process. (BTW the evidence indicates that this is a great way to make school attractive and relevant to parents and children alike)

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    5. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Ken Dyer

      Ken,
      As I was scanning down this thread, I was despairing at the monolingual ethnocentric comments. We in Yuendumu have suffered this at times malicious xenophobic ignorance for decades. Nice to see a few positive comments, like yours. Indeed let's celebrate and encourage the linguistic diversity where it hasn't yet been destroyed!

      Since its inception in 1974 the bilingual program at Yuendumu School has come under sustained bureaucratic and political attack. This is justified by that furphy…

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      I was accused of pontificating, and it seems as if you are treading the same path.

      You say >>>>>Today white Australians are among the few remaining civilized people who still think <<<<<<

      That is very far from the truth. As we lived in a nation of diverse ethnicities, languages other than English are all around us.

      At school in the 50s & 60s & 70s French and Latin were the languages taught. Then Japanese and Indonesian were offered on the syllabus as well.

      From all the comments thus far re this article, I'm still trying to establish what indigenous Australians are looking to gain from the white man's education.

      If it's not working or partly or wholly unsuitable, then it needs changing.

      The bottom line is what do indigenous Australians want?

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    7. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      At present in the NT a "review" is being conducted into Aboriginal Education. Bruce Wilson, the author has put out a draft report in which he recommended inter alia that secondary education in remote communities not be funded and all secondary students be sent to boarding school, and that an English only approach be taken. Public meetings are being held before the final report is issued. Many people that have attended such meetings are reporting that they get the impression that Bruce Wilson is not…

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    8. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      Hi Frank

      thanks for your reply.

      The videos were thought-provoking and insightful.

      Patrick White says he wants education to give him and future generations a better chance in life. These goals seem consistent with most parents and educators.

      I think it was Melanie Herdman who pointed to the lack of resources in rural indigenous schools as compared to urban schools. Again for me it is hard to fathom where the huge amount of money directed towards indigenous Australians is going.
      Surely education, not only of the kids, but adults must be the major priority to enable the end to many of the social problems faced by indigenous Australians.

      I have never disputed the need for local language, but the videos have shown me that it is an integral part of existence in rural communities. And as part of the fabric of the communities it is vital to the ongoing cultural experiences of indigenous Australians.

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    9. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "Again for me it is hard to fathom where the huge amount of money directed towards indigenous Australians is going."
      It is off topic, but I can provide a partial answer.
      Keep in mind my information is partially based on hearsay and may not be 100% accurate.
      With the Intervention in 2007 (then known as the Northern Territory Emergency Response) 73 remote communities were declared "Prescribed Areas" Appointed were over 50 Government Business Managers (GBM's- soon labelled Ginger Bread Men) at rumoured…

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    10. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      Oops! I dropped a decimal point.... $63M not $6.3M

      Either way, it's a "sh..... load of money"
      In my opinion we didn't get "value for money" (some may beg to differ)

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  5. david gray

    agricultural scientist & economist at Agriculture

    Learning about one's own inherited culture and being able to take pride in it is enormously significant. Over time, bilingual education would help many young men and women of indigenous origin to learn about the many good things in their culture and be proud of themselves in that quiet, firm, grounded way that underpins a good life. We all need to have pride in our own culture of origin.
    But it is not just languages that matter. The large body of indigenous cultural knowledge (including oral history…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to david gray

      So my question is....do you see IA living in the past ad infinitum.

      Why if cultures, nations, communities look to progress as a way of improving the staus quo (where things need changing), do we expect the IA to live as they did 60k years ago.

      What does education (non IA) have to offer IA in rural areas - anything? Generally western society looks to education to improve and "better" citizens. Is this relevant for IA?

      I get annoyed at the elevation of the IA culture as being at the apex of the wise, laid-back, nature-loving peoples.

      I'd like to think that many of us share some or all of those innate gifts.

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    2. Ken Dyer

      Knowledge Seeker

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I think you have it totally wrong. What is going on here is an attempt to reconnect aboriginal children (or IA as you designate them ) with their true identities through the medium of stories in their first language.

      What is being done here is the reversal of the destructive forces of assimilation through government policy that has been imposed on aboriginals (another european designation) over the last 200 years.
      Anita Heiss in her book "Am I Black Enough For You?" describes her frustration…

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Ken Dyer

      I take your points.

      My thoughts are that only through education can IA kids get to live a "better" life - what ever that might be.

      I have also mentioned several times that there are more urban IA than rural/outback.

      I have always addressed the current adverse circumstances of IA and have tried to elicit solutions to providing the services and answers that best suit IA, not non-IA.

      But IA are no more deserving of respect than you or I, or the immigrants that arrived last week. This is…

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    4. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Ken Dyer

      Maybe we need to educate most Australians as well that Australia didnt begin 200 years ago with the First Fleet?

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Darren Yorston

      I think the message is well enough received.

      It is continually "out there".

      Some kids today don't even know about WW2, the Cold War or much else before 1980.

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    6. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen,

      You ask - "Why despite the billions of dollars spent over the past decades, are we still having these discussions. Is the money wasted or pilfered, are the services provided useless or not working"?

      Does this not tell you that the top down patriarchal and assimilationist approaches have failed and that we need to change so that we empower these people to create the kinds of future they want?

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Brad - couldn't agree more.....and the sooner more indigenous voices are heard, the better.

      Education is only relevant where it suits the desired outcomes.

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  6. Zane Ma Rhea

    Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

    Congratulations on this work!

    At a fundamental level, this archive is a tangible example of Australia's endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Some comments on this work seem to suggest an assimilationist and colonial mindset to the speaking of, and preservation of, Indigenous languages.

    Having been a primary teacher speaking both English and Pitjantjatjara in the classroom, it was clear to me that to move from speaking the home language (O1) to a second language…

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    1. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Zane Ma Rhea

      What do O1, O2, L2 refer too? Is that how oral and written language is identified? I have not see that system utilised before, would you have a reference so I could read some more please?

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    2. Zane Ma Rhea

      Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

      In reply to Darren Yorston

      Hi Darren, Have a look at:

      Ma Rhea, Z. 2012. Thinking Galtha, Teaching Literacy: From Aboriginal Mother Tongue to Strangers’ Texts and Beyond in Cree, A. (Ed). Aboriginal Education: New Pathways for Teaching and Learning. Berowra: Australian Combined University Press, pp. 24-53.

      My thinking goes back to Ong's work and starts from an orality perspective to try to sort out the components of what we are trying to teach and our methods of doing so. We do little at uni to teach preservice teachers how to develop their bilingual, bicultural pedagogy and learning on the job is a very steep learning curve. Starting with orality helped me enormously to understand the oratory of Indigenous languages and how this helps teaching into the English oratorical tradition...(even before we think about the literacy angle!).

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  7. Craig Read

    logged in via Twitter

    Learning languages is a skill. Once you've learned a second, it's easier to learn a third. Once you've learned a third, it's easier to learn a fourth. This is especially true when you're young.

    Being able to think in other languages is almost as useful (sometimes, more so) than being able to speak them. That's as true if you're using French to describe philosophical concepts or Inuit to describe snow.

    In response to all the comments advocating them giving up their language. How would you…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Craig Read

      Now Craig I have never intimated that making their lives "better" is making them more like "us".

      Better means whatever you want it to mean.......

      Does it mean going back to the future, or does it mean better living standards - or what?

      It seems that non-IA are making all the play - where are the IA voices to determine the future.

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    2. Zane Ma Rhea

      Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      wondering if you would be happy to be referred to as a WP if you are indeed a white person? not sure why you think you can choose a label such a IA? There are established conventions for this stuff and bothering to write Indigenous Australian should not be too difficult? or even Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. I do it as a mark of respect but also as a discipline to remind me not to cave into the comfortable soft racism of using diminutives...

      But WP always like to shorten everything...wonder why?

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Zane Ma Rhea

      Zane I can see your point, but using the diminutive IA does not me a racist - soft or hard.

      I wonder why academics like to preach a doctrine of political correctness?

      That's as dogmatic as you seem to be.

      There are greater issues at stake, and it seems very silly to take issue on this point.

      Respect? You talking bout R.E.S.P.E.C.T..........

      I grew up with Aretha singing that song and well know the meaning of the word.

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    4. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen,

      How about we stop being patriarchal and let Indigenous Australians decide what is "better" for them?

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Brad I said exactly that two or three times.

      >>>>I'm trying to ascertain what needs are wanting to be fulfilled by the IA themselves.<<<<<

      >>>>>It seems that non-IA are making all the play - where are the IA voices to determine the future.<<<<<<<

      >>>>>The only aspect of "economics" I'm looking at is the ability for IA to further any ambitions they might have - to get them off welfare and be self-sufficient.<<<<<<

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    6. Zane Ma Rhea

      Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Ralph, didn't call you racist...wondered why you felt you could create an acronym and whether you had any authority/permission to do so given that these things have been discussed and agreed internationally and then endorsed by our government...

      that is the issue. you have to earn that right and yes go Aretha...

      Zane

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Zane Ma Rhea

      Oh dear...L.O.L. - or do I need to get that checked by the acronym police too.

      And it's Stephen btw.

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    8. JANE SIMPSON

      Chair of Indigenous Linguistics at Australian National University

      In reply to Zane Ma Rhea

      All the Indigenous parents I have worked with have recognised the importance of learning to speak, read, write and understand English. Where the concerns arise is with respect to how this is done. Many Indigenous children, like many children of immigrants, struggle when they come to school with understanding the language spoken by their teachers. Mother-tongue medium education attempts to address that problem, rather than the 'sink-or-swim' approach of expecting children who don't understand standard…

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    9. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen,

      Most of what you have said here has been you pontificating about what is best for these children and denigrating approaches that don't agree with yours.

      A few examples - "To me it seems a parochial exercise that serves very little purpose. It may be part of the overall problem of education issues facing IA."

      "teach them English from the start and let them learn their local dialect at home."

      "Esoteric languages are really better placed taught at home. Far better to teach Chines or Japanese or Indonesian. Give them skills to broaden their horizons. Otherwise they will just stay where they are and continue to present the same issues we discuss year in year out."

      "Unless all IA communities learn each other's languages, to me there is little value other than for academic sake... If they don't want this "dream", then education is a waste of time anyway."

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Well tar & feather me and kick me outta town.

      I was under the impression this forum was for opinions and ideas.

      So anything you don't agree with becomes pontification.

      Given that the arguments that are being bandied around re this issue have been around for decades, it is very clear that there have been no real or lasting solutions to the problems/issues.

      What have the billions achieved?

      The images from rural indigenous areas is not particularly pleasant, so the reality is that education is not working.

      So what will work?

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    11. Zane Ma Rhea

      Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Sorry Stephen...

      but you avoid the issue of what gives you the right? I am not saying you don't have the right (you may well be Aboriginal for example and been in these debates for years?) but you are entering a long conversation and if you could change your tone so that we can have a discussion rather than a stoush that would be great!

      The acronym question is not about your ego and your right to freedom of expression. Of course that is how it is often couched but if you think about it, have…

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    12. Brad Farrant

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I think you are still missing the point Stephen.

      We need to stop acting and talking as if we have a right to try and force our opinions (about what is "best" for them etc) onto these people.

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    13. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      How many times can I say I agree.

      Perhaps we need an "Indigenous Australian Department of Education", staffed only by aborigines.

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    14. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to JANE SIMPSON

      I think you highlight an important distinction there Jane, that there is a pedagogy issue and a cultural identity one. We seem to often get caught in the extremes of the debate and often forget that what is being asked is not that one point of view is more important than another but how can we have both point of views working together.

      We currently have an education system that advantages people from a particular culture and any effort to address disadvantage that exists within education, whether it be deliberate or accidental, should be applauded.

      Building an environment where people can both preserve and develop their cultural identify, as well as providing everyone with the same opportunities for success is a worthy goal. The benefits to not just our nation, but all of humanity are great.

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    15. Zane Ma Rhea

      Coordinator, Indigenous Education and Leadership at Monash University

      In reply to JANE SIMPSON

      Agree Jane.

      When I was teaching in the Central Desert (and ever since) the discussions were always about finding a 'both ways' solution. If we teach the orality path then we as teachers and teacher educators need to be learning Indigenous languages properly so we can begin to understand how to scaffold from home language oral skills into English as spoken oral skills (something that is a waning art in western teacher education). The concurrent path is to support literacy production centres in…

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  8. Sally Lawrence

    Teacher

    Language is a huge part of culture. No one here is even talking about how important it is to feel good about who you are and your identity. Language reinforces identity, kinship, connection and responsibility to land etc. If children are proud of their identity and who they are, their response to learning a foreign language, that is English (for some kids in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, English is their 3rd or 4th language) will markedly improve. Some comments here still reflect the views of Assimilation and the White Australian Policy. Keep up people and show respect for the oldest living culture in the world. Tell me, why can't children have their first languages acknowledged and taught in schools? In the Torres Strait, children learn in English, Kalau Lagu Ya or Meriam Mir and Creole, depending on where they live. 3 languages wow!! How many people do you know speak 3 language by 12 years old!! Nothing dumb about that!!

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  9. Sally Lawrence

    Teacher

    Interesting that there seems to be a lot of commentary and 'insight' being given to this topic by a mob of white academics who use really big words in an attempt to sound informed. Age old problem, white Australia believing they know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities and their people. Ask what the communities want for themselves, they are in the best position to know what their community needs. Some of the comments shared here are paternalistic and down right rude.

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    1. Frank Baarda

      Geologist

      In reply to Sally Lawrence

      Sally,
      Here I repeat part of a comment I posted earlier in this thread:
      What do indigenous Australians want? Here is a sample:
      Videos in response to the public forum held at Nhulunbuy;
      featuring Gurrwun Yunupingu, Melanie Herdman, Rarriwuy Marika and PJ White.
      Gurrwun Yunupingu: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nmXb51zwm7U
      Melanie Herdman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qDC6zeOQxEE
      Rarriwuy Marika: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8HeRTs1wINg

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    2. Darren Yorston

      Student @ UQ

      In reply to Frank Baarda

      I have been following the controversy with respect to the South Australian Museum's Ngintaka exhibition at the same time as this thread. I was interesting to read of the difference of opinion within the Anangu people, some senior people against the exhibition as well as many community members for the exhibition.

      I am glad that the concerns have been resolved and the exhibition has now gone ahead. It would have been a shame that an opportunity to expose non-Australian Aboriginals to Australian Aboriginal culture would have been lost, as well as the obvious opportunity to educate.

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