Local and national action for Australia’s Indigenous languages

[Update: in Crikey 14/11/08 there’s a good story by Samanti de Silva from the Areyonga community NT, on the community’s concern about the decision to abandon bilingual education. It links to a letter signed by around 35 community members saying among other things:
“Learning in Pitjantjatjara first helps our children to learn better. It helps them to learn English too. Our children who are good at reading and writing in Pitjantjatjara are also the same ones who are good at reading and writing in English…. The teachers will use Pitjantjatjara when teaching to help the children understand things. How can you tell us the teachers must use only English even if the children don’t understand what they are saying?”
The perilous situation of Australian Indigenous Languages has aroused some action. ‘Friends of Bilingual Education Learning’ [Thanks Wamut! I was back in FOB (education) support group mode – FOB tried to defend NT bilingual education in the early 1980s] have a Google Group for sharing information on the Northern Territory decision to teach most of the day in English. It contains letters that people have written to the Minister, Marion Scrymgour, explaining the problems with this decision.
Action on this is urgently needed, before the bilingual education programs are silently dismantled over the summer holidays. Before the first hours of the first school day, when next year’s excited five-year olds realise they can’t understand what the teacher is saying.
On the national level, the need for a National Indigenous Languages policy was discussed in Patrick McConvell’s Lingua Franca talk last week. Ngapartji-Ngapartji (see their policy paper here) and FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages)are campaigning for this, and the FATSIL website has an online petition to the Federal government. You can click here, and see the petition, which can be printed out or signed online .

3 thoughts on “Local and national action for Australia’s Indigenous languages”

  1. Hi Jane,
    Just being picky here, but about that group – it’s Friends of Bilingual Learning, not Education – a slight distinction but an important one. The group is informal and started earlier this year to promote bilingual learning in general. I liked this because it related directly to the on-the-job training I used to do at Ngukurr which wasn’t bilingual education – that’s more a school thing – but it was definitely bilingual learning. So Friends of Bilingual Learning started with a bit more of a holistic approach, however this Marion Scrymgour thing then came along and of course we’re all up in arms and the ‘Friends of Bilingual Learning’ group seemed quite relevant all of a sudden…

  2. There is an alternative to English as the dominant World Language, and its name is Esperanto.
    Esperanto is now within the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.
    Native Esperanto speakers, include George Soros, Ulrich Brandenburg the new German Ambassador to NATO, and World Champion Chess Player, Susan Polger.
    The World Esperanto Association enjoys consultative relations with both the United Nations and UNESCO.
    Evidence can be seen at http://www.lernu.net
    An interesting video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LV9XU

  3. Also of interest on this topic is the lecture presented by Tom Calma,
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and national Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Northern Territory Library, Parliament House
    17 November 2008
    For example, he says: “In fact there is evidence that Bilingual students do better in English reading literacies than ‘English’ schools in their regions. And the English schools offer education in English for all of the hours of the school day.
    So let’s put that one to bed. Bilingual education does not kill off English literacy. And Bilingual education has the added benefit of developing literacies in the first language – meaning that children are learning literacies in both their first Indigenous language(s) and in English.
    I am also bothered about this policy from a human rights position. The Convention on the Rights of the Child tells us at article 29.1 that:
    … education of the child shall be directed to (c) the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate and for civilizations different from his or her own …
    The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at Article 14.1 also tells us that:
    Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
    It is time to stop developing policy from ‘on high’ without the input and collaboration of Indigenous Australians.”

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