Rumour has it that the Northern Territory Government is proposing to scrap the one remaining linguist position in the southern part of the Northern Territory. This position has been going since the mid 1970s, and the occupants have worked with Indigenous people and schools to create shared understandings of Indigenous languages, of the needs of school-children for understanding what happens in the classroom, of the needs of Indigenous teachers for support and training. They have produced amazing materials in Indigenous languages for classrooms, curriculum materials and reference documentation, some of which is archived and available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.
Rumour also has it that the reason for scrapping the position is because there is “no need for any linguistic expertise in Central Australia and the Barkly schools”.
But rumour doesn’t have it that the kids have all staged a revolution and started speaking Standard English.
Nor has rumour passed on in whispers evidence that their NAPLAN results have suddenly reached those of middle-class Australian non-Aboriginal children. Nor that their results will get better if their teachers know less about their languages.
And fact, not rumour, indicates that wilful blindness to children’s language needs violates the language rights of indigenous peoples – see the UN’s declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. Articles 14 and 15 are fine statements of language rights, and of the need for states to provide resources to back up the rights.
If rumour is right, then Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are losers again.
Indigenous children have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State. All indigenous peoples also have this right and 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.
Indigenous children living outside their communities have the right to be provided access to education in their own culture and language.
States shall take effective measures to provide appropriate resources for these purposes.