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VOTL Volume 10-19 Archive
Voice of the Land - Volume 10

Our Languages Are the Voice of the Land

The FATSIL NEWSLETTER APRIL 1999
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER CORPORATION OF LANGUAGES
VOLUME 10

N.T. schools fight to keep bilingual programs

Moves by the Northern Territory' Government to withdraw funding for Bilingual education programs in the Territory have met with an angry response from educational and community groups around Australia.

Acting on recommendations from a Government appointed economic advisory committee review last year. Peter Adamson. the Northern Territory's Minister for Education, announced plans to phase out bilingual education and to redirect the $3.7 million funding to the English as Second Language scheme. (ESL) The Minister has said that improving English literacy levels in Aboriginal communities was a high priority of the Department's Education Review, and consequently. the bilingual program would progressively make way for the development of ESL programs.

VOTL Volume 10-19 Archive
Children from Doomadgee
These programs will be supported with additional staffing.

Northern Territory primary schools offer 21 bilingual education programs, in which 17 indigenous languages are taught alongside lessons in English.

Objection to the proposal has come not only from the schools directly affected, but from teaching bodies, academics and indigenous organisations elsewhere in Australia.

The ESL program assumes that English is the educational priority and that the indigenous language will take care of itself.

Bilingual programs support the use of language in all aspects of community life, thereby strengthening the range of its use and working to ensure its survival. Teachers involved in Bilingual Education have stressed the importance of giving children, who come to school with little or no English, initial instruction in their own tongue. Any change to these programs would have significant implications in terms of curriculum development and resources.

In response to FATSIL's inquiries, the Minister's office has asked that the following points be understood;

• There is no threat to the position of indigenous language teachers or support workers.
• No teacher / linguists will lose their positions.
• Programs will continue unaffected throughout 1999.
• Consultation will take place with all schools involved, to determine the most appropriate program for each school and community.
• Training will be offered where it is determined that duties should change.
• Indigenous languages will continue to be taught, with the Northern Territory Dept. of Education fully supportive of effective bilingual education.

People from many of the community centres have a different understanding of the implications of the proposed changes, with fears being expressed of major curriculum changes being introduced and the loss of indigenous teaching positions.

A rally in Alice Springs to protest the decision, drew community members, teachers and students who in some cases travelled over 500 kms to take part in the march. Academics and media commentators have also been willing to speak out on the bilingual education issue.

Dr Christine Nicholls, the former Principal Education Officer for Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory Dept. of Education, told national media that fthe chief benefits of the bilingual system should not be measured in academic terms. "Aboriginal controlled bilingual programs give Aboriginal parents and extended families a place in their children's education. They improve relations between community members and schools: increase school attendance: legitimise and strengthen the minority language and so raise the self-esteem of both adults and children."

"Bilingual education programs were introduced in the first place largely because English only programs in Aboriginal schools failed to come up with the educational goods."

At the heart of the bilingual education issue is the right of self-determination of the communities in choosing the type of education they feel is most appropriate for their children.

The people from Areyonga or Utju, 230 kms west of Alice Springs, are representative of the many communities who believe they stand to lose by the Minister's decision. Areyonga was the site of a mission up until the 1960's, with many of its population taken there from the Uluru area.
In 1969 the community worked, without funding, to set up their own school, which was officially established in 1974.

The school has operated a bilingual Pitjantjatjara / English program for 25 years, and those who care about it are not prepared to give in to the Government's proposed changes without a fight.

It is claimed that letters to the minister, stating the concerns of the community, have gone months without a response, and are now being sent to the Chief Minister and members of Parliament, both in the Territory and Canberra.

The advice to the Minister from key representative bodies, including the Institute for Aboriginal Development at Alice Springs, is to go back to the communities for full and proper consultation, which must involve community Elders and other leaders, as well as parents and teachers.

Below is a message from the Miwatj - East Amhem Language Management Committee to Peter Adamson, Northern Territory Minister for Education.

Dhuwal dharuk napurrung dhu ga dharra yan daw'yunamiriw. Nganapurr djal napurrunggalanguw djamarrkuliw' walal dhu marnggithirr marrmaw' romgu, ga dharukku. Nguthan walal dhu bala nhama djorra' matha napurrunggung djamapuy mala. Napurr dhu yaks moma bili dharuktja napurrung dhuwal lukungur dharran dhu yan bakthunamirwinha.

(Dhuwal language - Djambarrpuyngu clan)

"Our languages will continue unbroken. We want our children to learn two cultures and two languages (ours and English). Our children will grow to see their language in books from the work we are doing. We will not lose our languages because they are our foundation and will stand
unbroken."

Further action will be discussed at the FATSIL Governing Committee Meeting in Canberra (April 16-19), when comment from Northern Territory delegates and language centre representatives will be used to prepare a response to the Minister's planned implementation of these changes.

Photo: Children from Doomadgee in Far North Queensland are involved in cultural programs which allow them plenty of time outdoors. Here a group are gathered on the banks of the Nicholson River.