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Voice of the Land - Volume 13

DETYA prepares new education strategies

The Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr David Kemp has responded to concerns raised over the impact of the Department's National Indigenous Literacy, Numeracy and Attendance Strategy, which is due for release early this year.

Members of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages who gathered in Perth for the National Indigenous Languages EXPO
Members of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages who gathered in Perth for the National Indigenous Languages EXPO
RIGHT: Members of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages who gathered in Perth for the National Indigenous Languages EXPO from left; Gwen and John Atkinson, Doris Paton, Lynne Dent, Antoinette Smith and Sandra Smith. The team brought with them historical displays as well as samples of recent work produced through Victorian language projects.

Addressing questions over the impact of the new strategies on future funding for language programs, the Minister expressed a commitment to improving educational outcomes while supporting the retention of indigenous cultural and language studies in schools.

There has been growing concern from some areas that the move by DETYA to boost measurable outcomes in literacy and numeracy in indigenous schooling, would see a shift in funding priorities impacting negatively on a number of indigenous language programs.

In a written statement to FATSIL, the Minister referred to health, welfare and community cultural strength as issues affecting student performance.

"The Minister supports the retention of strong indigenous languages and sees the acquisition of English literacy skills as a national priority that can be achieved without the cost being the loss of indigenous Australians' cultures and languages."

In September and November 1999, Dr. Kemp visited isolated communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

"Issues that seemed to be constantly mentioned included concerns over welfare dependency, poverty, ill health, drug abuse and inadequate responsiveness from education systems to the needs of indigenous communities. These problems are ones that the communities recognise and want to eradicate - but need to be empowered to do so.

There is widespread recognition of the importance of teaching students whose first language is an indigenous one, from a perspective that acknowledges the strengths they bring with them in that first language.

The teaching of Standard Australian English therefore needs to be based on the language competencies and cultural strengths children bring with them to the classroom.

It must be stressed that in 1999 there has been no change to the funding criteria for the Commonwealth's Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (IESIP).

Under IESIP, education providers receive funds to put in place initiatives to achieve educational outcomes against a set of performance indicators and targets. These include indicators relating to the teaching of indigenous languages, indigenous studies and the delivery of culturally inclusive curricula."

At the Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (MCATSIA) in Alice Springs, Dr. Kemp presented research on indigenous student enrolments.The statistics showed that between 1991 and 1998 there has been a 40% increase in indigenous school enrolments and a 60% increase in Higher Education enrolments. However Dr Kemp pointed out that only 32% of indigenous students remain to Year 12, and it was his opinion that there must be a more concentrated effort by the Commonwealth to improve these statistics, particularly in the area of school attendance.

There is widespread recognition of the importance of teaching students whose first language is an indigenous one, from a perspective that acknowledges the strengths they bring with them in that first language.