Chapter 4 Learning Indigenous languages and Standard Australian English
This chapter examines the value of incorporating Indigenous languages in
education. It analyses the potential to improve partnerships between schools
and Indigenous communities through Indigenous language learning in schools. In
particular, school attendance rates and improved continuous engagement with the
education system are discussed.
The chapter focuses on the advantages of including Indigenous languages
in early education. The benefits of language nests are considered as well as
the role that family and childcare centres play in preparing children for
school, especially in remote locations where English is not commonly spoken. The
Committee discusses how achieving English language competency is improved by
teaching in Indigenous languages from a child’s first years in schooling.
The Australian Curriculum is reviewed to assess how Indigenous language
and culture is being incorporated within the new Australian Curriculum that is
currently being implemented throughout Australia.
Various styles of teaching for Indigenous students including learning
English as an Additional Language/Dialect and bilingual education are discussed.
Educational benefits of ensuring English language competency are examined by
the Committee as are numeracy and literacy assessments.
Building partnerships between schools and Indigenous communities
Building and improving partnerships between schools and Indigenous
communities was highlighted as a positive way to improve educational outcomes
for Indigenous students. The potential benefits were great including improving
school attendance, engagement and learning outcomes for Indigenous students.
This is an area that the Committee discussed in its previous report
tabled in 2011, Doing Time - Time for Doing, Indigenous Youth in the
Criminal Justice System. In the previous report the Committee recommended a
number of ways for schools and Indigenous communities to build partnerships
together, including engaging the local Indigenous community to teach language
and culture afterschool and provide extra curricula activities.
The Committee received evidence from the Queensland Department of
Education and Training about an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Languages Statement it has developed. The object of the Languages Statement
aims to facilitate the connection between schools and Indigenous
The DET Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages
Statement provides the basis to assist Queensland educators and school
communities to support the languages and cultures of their Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander students within the school context.
The Department of Education and Training, Queensland, highlighted the
importance of developing relationships between school and communities. In the
submission it stated:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages need to be
recognised, valued and supported in schools, and in developing relationships
with families and communities. Initiatives that develop culture and language
have been found to be significant factors in increasing Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander students’ participation, attendance and achievements in
The New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities noted
a similar sentiment in its submission:
The NSW Department of Education and Communities believes that
good education practice values and incorporates the knowledge, understandings
and perspectives of Aboriginal students, their families and communities and
focuses on engagement, collaboration and participation. Not only are national,
state and local perspectives important in learning, but so too are the
historical, social and cultural contexts and backgrounds of the peoples and
communities involved in learning. Aboriginal languages, as do all languages,
give voice to the heart and soul of culture.
The Chief Executive, Greg Barnes, Department of Education and Training,
Northern Territory, discussed with the Committee the importance of Indigenous
community engagement and provided an example of a community that has
demonstrated excellent community engagement as a result of building strong
...you have to have the community coming with and along side
of you. ... the school needs to work with the community and not the other way
around. The community should be driving the show. When you get them onboard and
owning things, places like Gunbalanya, Galiwinku and some of the communities on
Groote now are getting enormous rollups of the community in the three-to-nine
program. We have the community engaged in learning. If the community engages in
learning then the modelling for the kids is amazing.
The Australian Council of TESOL (ACTA) submission emphasised the point
that schools and communities should work in partnerships with one another:
Community leaders and parents will continue to be primary
agents for teaching traditional culture/s and language/s to their children.
Schools and communities should work in partnership with their communities to
perpetuate, grow and celebrate culture/s and language/s, including Aboriginal
and Torres Strait creoles and varieties of Aboriginal English which are
students’ home languages.
Lola Jones, representing the Western Australian Department of Education,
discussed the importance of including Indigenous languages into schools in
order to engage Indigenous communities. She commented that the benefits can be
not only useful for engaging Indigenous students but beneficial for engaging
the Indigenous community in language revival:
Having language in schools is such a small part of language
revival, and in Western Australia it has been a small part but sometimes it has
been the key to getting whole communities involved in language revival.
Engaging students in education
The Committee heard from various teachers and educational experts on the
benefits that can be demonstrated by supporting Indigenous language learning in
schools. The self esteem of young Indigenous students is boosted when
Indigenous languages are incorporated into the school curriculum. The inclusion
of language in the curricula from kindergarten or preschool through to year 12
was discussed as an effective way of engaging Indigenous students.
Barbara McGillivray, chair of the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Languages and Culture Aboriginal Corporation (FATSILC),
emphasised the importance that ‘languages be part of the curriculum being
taught in the schools from kindy all the way through.’
Coco Yu, a language teacher in Broome provided the Committee with an
example of how the inclusion of Indigenous language learning supported a student’s
confidence and self-esteem:
I teach from pre-primary to year 2 at the moment at my
school. Next year it will continue to year 3 and will carry on like that. Last
year in year 1, I had a very shy girl who would not speak in front of the
class. She is a Yawuru child although English is her first language. She would
not get up and speak in front of the class, but one day we were playing Yawuru
bingo in the class and she won. I was so surprised. I thought, well, come on up
and say this word. And she did. She was very proud. She practically ran up and
grabbed the key word picture and said 'gugu' meaning dad or father. At that
stage, I was on the verge of thinking this was too hard but she got up there
and was so excited to speak in front of the whole class. I realised that, yes,
this is important and we must keep doing it.
A similar story was told about a year six child at a school in
Queensland who was known to have behavioural difficulties. In a submission to
the Committee, Nyoka Hatfield, an Indigenous language and culture teacher,
described the positive effect her Indigenous language and culture class has on
... after one of my very first year six classes, a teacher
that accompanied the students said that it had been a very long time since he
had seen a particular student sit quietly and listen for an entire lesson. This
student had behaviour problems and I don’t know if he was indigenous or not,
but he ended up being one of my leaders when we sometimes performed for the
Another example demonstrated how Indigenous language and culture classes
could engage students’ interests in secondary education. Ms Hatfield described
the following situation:
In 2009 at one of the high schools that I visited, my first
class were the Indigenous year eights, these students then had a Japanese
language class to attend (it was compulsory for them), while my next class,
were the Indigenous year nines. The year eights were practically begging the
Indigenous school worker to let them miss the Japanese class and stay with me.
I explained to the students that I would just be repeating what I had already
told them, but they said that it didn’t matter, they would rather stay with me
and were very disappointed when they weren’t allowed.
For the children to feel connected to school, the inclusion of their
home language at school can be important for them to understand the link
between the world they live in at home and learning English. Teachers from
Yirrkala school made this point during a public hearing:
The children come to school already with a great deal of
knowledge about their world, culture and language. That is what they bring
because they have a language that they bring to school and it helps them to
unpack what they learn at school.
The Committee received evidence that demonstrated positive links between
incorporating Indigenous languages into schools and improvements in school
attendance rates. However the point was stressed that incorporating Indigenous
language into schools was not the silver bullet to improve school attendance
rates per se.
Studies carried out in Queensland and New South Wales indicated that the
inclusion of Indigenous language learning at school did lead to an increase in
Supporting the inclusion of Indigenous languages can increase
the access of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to and
participation in kindergarten and other early childhood education and care
programs. In Queensland between 2008 and 2010 overall Indigenous children’s
kindergarten participation increased by 6 percent to 35 percent.
In NSW, using and learning Aboriginal languages has been
associated with increased school attendance rates among Aboriginal students,
improved academic performance, particularly in levels of literacy, and a
heightened sense of self-worth. For Aboriginal students, learning an Aboriginal
language can strongly motivate students, promoting a sense of pride and
Anecdotal evidence gathered by the Committee suggested that including
Indigenous languages in schools lifted school attendance rates. One Arm Point
School in Western Australia was provided as an example of improving attendance
rates and educational outcomes:
...[T}he former principal, Mr Steven Price, has been
instrumental in improving student attendance and educational outcomes in
language by focusing on systematic language teaching and respect for three
languages in the school (Bardi, Aboriginal English, and Standard Australian
English). This program has continued with the current principal.
Lola Jones from the Kimberley Education Office, Western Australia
supported the view that a culturally relevant school environment assisted with
increasing attendance rates:
I cannot really talk about attendance data, but some
principals have commented to me that 'We did nothing else last semester that
was different. The only thing we did was introduce an Aboriginal language, and
our suspensions have dropped and our attendance is up.' That is anecdotal but
that is strong, and parents who say, 'I had a choice and I could enrol my kid
at school A or school B but I enrolled in that school B because I know they
teach an Aboriginal language.
In Darwin, Gary Barnes discussed the complex nature of School
attendance. He commented:
School attendance is a multifaceted and very interesting
phenomenon. You can have the best education programs running that are
culturally responsive, appropriate and grow culture, but if the kids are not in
the schools—and often they are not in the schools because they are not in the
communities but off doing a range of other things...
Dr Brian Devlin, provided the Committee with some figures on attendance
rates during the 1980s when there was a bilingual program running at Shepardson
College, Northern Territory:
I can certify that during my time as principal at Shepherdson
College, attendance was 82 percent on average and in some classes, for example,
John Greatorex's year 6 class, attendance was consistently above 90 percent.
Greg Dickson, an academic from the Australian National University, noted
in his submission:
Sadly, evidence shows that Lajamanu School has suffered since
its bilingual education program was removed in 2009 under the First Four Hours
policy. Attendance figures have barely risen above 45% since mid-2009, down
from 60% (and above) between 2006-2008.
One of the most alarming statistics received in relation to school
attendance demonstrated the magnitude of the problem of continuously low
Missing school for one day a week was calculated, by the
Western Australian Office of the Auditor General, as being equivalent, on average,
to missing two years of schooling over a ten year education.
The Committee believes that fostering Indigenous community engagement is
a critical factor for schools that have low Indigenous attendance and retention
rates. The Committee understands that Indigenous languages can be part of the
solution to assist in forming partnerships between schools and Indigenous
Indigenous languages can be used within the school to help promote
awareness of the local community languages. The incorporation of Indigenous
languages into the school environment promotes recognition and pride for
Indigenous students and their families. It may help students forge connections
between Indigenous and non Indigenous worlds, and so provide them with the
skills to succeed in both.
The Committee urges state and territory governments to continue to
support strategies that focus on building Indigenous community partnerships
with schools and recognise the importance of Indigenous languages within these
The Committee is of the firm belief that language and culture learning should
be integrated into school learning however it notes that children undertake
some of their greatest learning before they reach school age. Further, children
are constantly learning and absorbing language in the household, in the
backyard and within the community. Therefore the Committee encourages families
and elders to work together, before children reach school age and outside of
school hours to continue the teaching of Indigenous languages.
The Committee believes that communities are the first teachers of
children but it is important for governments to work in partnership to raise
healthy children, who are strong in their first language. Indigenous
communities must assist in working proactively with schools to develop a
suitable way forward to incorporate language learning with their local school.
Several states and territories have included Indigenous languages in
their curricula at different levels. The following section provides an overview
of some of these Indigenous language components for some states and
The Committee received the following evidence in relation to the
inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in the Queensland
syllabus. At a public hearing in Brisbane the Committee was informed:
Very recently the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA)
developed two syllabus documents. The Queensland Studies Authority has
responsibility for creating the syllabus for both state and non-state
Queensland schools. QSA has created the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
syllabus, P-10—that is, from prep through to year 10—and the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander languages: trial senior syllabus 2011, which is
currently being trialled in the senior schools. This means that Queensland
state schools can now teach traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
languages as a language other than English, or LOTE. LOTE will become mandatory
for all schools in 2012. The local school, along with the community, will
decide what approach to take with that, but they will be required to teach a
language other than English as part of their curriculum offerings, and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages is an option for those schools
to fulfil that requirement.
The Queensland Department of Education and Training submission detailed
one of the ways this syllabus was being supported:
DET is supporting Queensland state schools to implement the
syllabus and is in the process of developing support guidelines for Principals
and is investigating other modes of support for implementation of the syllabus.
Within the Torres Strait, traditional languages are taught in both primary
and secondary school classes, The TSRA understands that qualified linguists and
language speakers are employed by Education Queensland to provide these
As discussed in the previous section the DET Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Languages Statement provides the basis to assist Queensland
educators and school communities to support the languages and cultures of their
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students within the school context.
New South Wales curriculum and other language support
The New South Wales (NSW) Aboriginal Languages K-12 Syllabus commenced
in 2005 and has been developed in conjunction with the Aboriginal owners and
custodians of each of the languages offered. The syllabus supports sequential
learning and covers linguistic features of Aboriginal languages, grammatical
structures, listening, reading, writing and speaking in an Aboriginal language,
and an understanding of Aboriginal heritage and contemporary culture.
In its submission the Department of Aboriginal Affairs highlighted the
figures for the number of students currently studying 13 Indigenous languages:
In NSW in 2010, 7986 students, 1571 Aboriginal and 6415
non-Aboriginal students, undertook study in one of the 13 Aboriginal languages
offered at one of 36 public schools. At TAFE, Certificate 1, 2 and 3 is offered
in an Aboriginal language. The course commenced in 2007, and by 2011 532
students had undertaken one of these courses.
The NSW 2021 Plan, a ten year plan, recognises that Aboriginal
people are disadvantaged across almost every social indicator and incorporates Aboriginal
specific targets across all relevant goals.
Within the NSW 2021 Plan, the following goals specifically impact
on the teaching of Aboriginal languages:
n Goal 15: Improve
education and learning outcomes for all students includes the Aboriginal
specific target: Halving the gap between NSW Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal
students in reading and numeracy by 2018; and
n Goal 26: Fostering
opportunity and partnerships with Aboriginal People, establishes that a
reinvigorated Aboriginal affairs strategy will be developed in conjunction with
Aboriginal people, through a real and meaningful partnership.
Alongside the NSW 2021 Plan the NSW Government established a NSW Aboriginal
Languages Policy in 2004. A five year Aboriginal Languages Strategic
Plan 2006-10 was developed after lengthy consultations with Aboriginal
communities, and recognised the critical role of educational sector to the
reclamation of Aboriginal languages. One of the four key result areas was
Aboriginal Languages in the educational sector.
Through the Strategic Plan, Aboriginal Affairs NSW, has contributed more
than $1.4 million since 2005 to 78 community based language projects through
the Aboriginal Languages Research and Resource Centre.
The NSW Government's Aboriginal Education and Training Policy commits to
the teaching of Aboriginal languages, Aboriginal studies and Aboriginal cross
curriculum content. The Policy acknowledges the strength, diversity, ownership
and richness of Aboriginal cultures, and custodianship of country are
respected, valued and promoted. The Policy outlines the incorporation of
cultural contexts, values and practices of local Aboriginal communities into
the mainstream delivery of education and training.
Northern Territory curriculum
The Committee held a public hearing in Darwin and spoke with Northern
Territory Minister Malarndirri McCarthy and other government representatives
about the languages inquiry. Minister McCarthy informed the Committee that the
Northern Territory was offering comprehensive Indigenous language curricula:
The Indigenous languages and culture curriculum is found in
the Northern Territory Curriculum Framework, the NTCF, including language
maintenance and language revitalisation programs. The Northern Territory is the
only Australian jurisdiction offering comprehensive Indigenous language curricula
of this type. Under the new policy, each school can determine what the priority
of language learning is for the school and, in consultation with the community
and the school, this can be achieved.
In relation to the Indigenous studies programs, DET continues to report
against achievement of the Territory 2030 strategy requirement which states
By 2020 all Territory students will demonstrate achievement
in Indigenous studies.' The Northern Territory's Indigenous studies modules,
history and identity, support teachers to deliver these programs. Schools
record Indigenous studies achievement data in a common repository.
Details of the Northern Territory language and culture programs were
provided to the Committee:
In 2011, 60 government schools in the Northern Territory
offered Indigenous language and culture programs of which there were 26 first
language maintenance programs, seven to nine language revitalisation programs,
11 language renewal programs, 11 second language learning programs and two
language awareness programs.
There are nine schools that received additional resources to
deliver two-way or step programs offering home language learning programs and
they are Areyonga, Lajamanu, Maningrida, Milingimbi, Numbulwar, Shepherdson
College, Willowra, Yirrkala, and Yuendumu. How often Indigenous language and
culture programs are taught varies from school to school, but weekly programs
of three to four hours is the average.
The Northern Territory Government has established an Indigenous Advisory
Affairs Council (IAAC), which is a council made up of 16 to 18 members who are
representative of the Northern Territory. The IAAC are providing advice to the
Minister on developing a language policy which is yet to be completed. The
Committee was informed of the IAAC vision:
By 2030, all Territorians will celebrate the diversity of our
languages and cultures. We will walk and talk together in two worlds to achieve
a healthy society which values respect, harmony and wellbeing.
The Committee asked the Minister to comment on the significant amount of
criticism regarding the Northern Territory’s four hours of explicit English
teaching policy that had been raised in many submissions. Minister McCarthy
responded by commenting that her Government:
...have always maintained that Indigenous languages are
essential in the Northern Territory to maintaining and looking at the
revitalisation and the learning of languages. The decision that was taken to go
to four hours English was focused on the clear fact that English was not being
learnt, and the unfortunate side effect of that decision was that it was seen
as a clear attack on language, which was certainly not the intent.
The Committee discusses the Northern Territory’s four hours of explicit
English teaching policy further in the latter part of this chapter under the
section titled learning in first language.
Mr Barnes, CEO of the Northern Territory DET commented on the number of
schools in remote locations in the Northern Territory:
We have got approximately 76 very remote schools for whom
English is a second, third or fourth language, and in the vast majority of
those schools—well over 70 of those—there is a form of bilingual education
Western Australia curriculum
There has been a continuous and increasing presence of Aboriginal
languages being taught in Western Australia public schools since 1992.
Aboriginal languages have been part of the list of priority languages as part
of the Western Australia (WA) Department of Education and Training LOTE (Languages
Other Than English) Strategy. Aboriginal Languages are embedded as part of the
Languages Learning Area.
The key goal for Aboriginal languages in Western Australian Department
of Education is to:
n increase the levels
of student achievement and participation rates in Aboriginal Languages Education
n maintain a critical
pool of highly skilled Aboriginal language teachers providing quality
sustainable language programs in Department of Education schools.
The teaching of Aboriginal languages is a cooperative effort between the
school and the Aboriginal community. The language (or languages) taught in the
school and the language speakers are negotiated with the local Aboriginal
community. A steady number of Aboriginal staff and some community members, who
are language speakers, are undertaking the Aboriginal Languages Teacher Training
course provided by the Department. These people graduate as qualified
Aboriginal languages teachers with the skills to teach their language in a
In 2011 there were twenty Aboriginal languages being taught in fifty
Western Australian public schools in remote, urban, rural and metropolitan
areas to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. There were fifty-five
Aboriginal Languages teachers and eight elders are teaching language to 7,246
students in Years K-12.
In Broome, the Committee was told about several schools in Western
Australia that offer Indigenous language courses through to Year 10, 11 and 12:
We have currently got one school where they have got the year
11 and 12 course of study run through the curriculum council. I am not sure of
the numbers that have gone right through, but we have got another school in the
Goldfields that is currently bringing on year 10s and then next year they will
extend that to the year 11s and 12s. I know of a couple of people who have been
through the year 11 and 12 course of study who have actually then looked at
becoming trainee language teachers—it is that full circle.
The Australian Curriculum is in the process of being developed by the
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in
collaboration with a range of key stakeholders, communities and individuals.
The aim of the Australian Curriculum is to ensure consistency of curriculum
content across all states and territories in Australia. Implementation of Phase
1 of the Australia Curriculum began in 2011 and is due to be fully implemented
across all states and territories by 2014. Phase 1 includes English,
mathematics, science and history.
The Australian Curriculum sets out what all young people should be
taught through the specification of curriculum content and the learning
expected at points in their schooling through the specification of achievement
The Australian Curriculum includes a focus on seven general
n information and communication
n critical and
n ethical behaviour
n personal and social competence
and intercultural understanding, and
cross-curriculum priorities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories
and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and Sustainability.
These have been
embedded where relevant and appropriate in each learning area and can be viewed
explicitly in the curriculum online.
The inclusion of Aboriginal studies in the curriculum provides an
Indigenous perspective across all core subject areas. This inclusion has
significant potential to inform all students of the histories and cultures of
Indigenous Australians, to raise interest in learning an Aboriginal language,
and to offer the value to all Australians of Indigenous languages.
Through the Australian Curriculum, Aboriginal Languages will be offered
as a language option. The inclusion of Aboriginal languages recognises the
potential benefits for all Australians of learning an Aboriginal language. It
operates from the fundamental principle that for all students, learning to
communicate in two or more languages is a rich, challenging experience of
engaging with and participating in the linguistic and cultural diversity of our
ACARA noted that the option of choosing Aboriginal languages in the Australian
Curriculum offers both opportunities and challenges. Teaching Aboriginal
languages requires a substantial investment in resources to respond to the need
for language research, documentation and development of a range of language
learning materials. ACARA commented that:
...the potential benefits of such an investment are likely to
be widespread and profound, providing crucial support to Aboriginal
communities' language revival efforts at a critical time.
ACARA informed the Committee that extensive collaboration and
consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Communities
had occurred in relation to the Australian Curriculum.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers and academics
contributed to development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority, providing advice on its
inclusion within the Australian Curriculum learning areas/subjects and in
curriculum writing activities.
Face-to-face consultation meetings were held across Australia
specifically focussing on the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. Invitations were
sent to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators and community members and
extended through State and Territory Indigenous Education Consultative Bodies
and Education Authorities. A total of 230 people attended these consultation
ACARA informed the Committee that the development of a Framework for
Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages is underway as part
of the first stage of development of the Australian Curriculum: Languages. Programs
types to be developed include:
n first language
maintenance and development
n second language
n language revival
(including language revitalisation, language renewal, and language
The Framework will elaborate on the program types, content, and
achievement standards related to each, as well as the protocols that must be
followed in decision-making in learning and teaching Aboriginal languages and
Torres Strait Islander languages.
There will be some examples of how the Framework is realised in specific
languages for each program-type. Language-specific curriculum development will
be undertaken by state/territory jurisdictions in consultation with the
ACARA has released a shape paper, Shape of the Australian Curriculum:
Languages that provides broad directions for the development of
languages curriculum. Writing of languages curriculum is underway beginning
with F-10 Chinese and Italian and a Framework for Aboriginal Languages and
Torres Strait Islander Languages. 
The Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander
Languages is due for completion by the end of 2013.
During the inquiry the Committee received evidence that supported the
incorporation of languages into the Australian Curriculum currently being
developed by ACARA.
The Association of Independent Schools SA (AISSA) commented:
The place of Languages in the education programs of schools
is currently a focus of debate as the Australian Curriculum Assessment and
Reporting Authority (ACARA) progressively develops the Australian Curriculum.
The place of Language Learning in Indigenous communities should be an integral
element of this debate.
The South Australia Commission for Catholic Schools (SACCS) notes that
in the ‘Draft Shape Paper of the Australian Curriculum: Languages’ (Draft Shape
Paper) the term ‘Australian languages’ is used to designate the
languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The Draft Paper
additionally states that the inclusion of Indigenous languages will:
n meet the needs and
rights of young people to learn about their own identity
n assist young people
to understand and develop a deep appreciation of their culture, language, land
n contribute to the
wellbeing of young people.
SACCS supports these premises and acknowledges the numerous benefits of
including Indigenous languages in the curriculum, particularly in early
education through a focus on oral communication.
SACCS recognizes that particular attention needs to be given to the inclusion
of Indigenous languages in schools. The implementation of programs that
encourage the maintenance of Indigenous languages and the recruitment and
employment of Indigenous educators to effectively undertake this role is a
pertinent and complex dilemma, most specifically in urban settings. Indigenous
Languages policy writers will need to work closely with Aboriginal communities
and educational institutions to ensure engagement in decision making for the
provision of effective outcomes in this arena.
This position was reiterated in a submission from the Catholic Education
office, Lismore which stated:
Including indigenous languages in the school curriculum
contributes to the Indigenous students’ social and emotional welling by
developing their sense of self (being) and their connectedness to the school
(belonging). The provision of language teachers from the local community
provide realistic and achievable role models (becoming).
The following concerns were highlighted in a submission about the content
of the Australian Curriculum:
There are concerns that Aboriginal content may not be sufficiently
covered, with the Stolen Generations and other key issues not a compulsory
component of Aboriginal history. The number of hours allocated to the
Australian History curriculum in junior high school, which includes Aboriginal
history, has also been raised as a concern, with 50 hours allocated for this subject
that was initially intended to cover 70-80 hours a year.
In addition, the level at which Aboriginal studies is
introduced and maintained through the grade years is not evenly spread from
early primary onwards, with age appropriate resources, but is weighted to the
latter years of high school.
The Committee is pleased that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
histories and cultures will be embedded now within the Australian Curriculum
where appropriate. This will be informative for all students and will
contribute towards an improved understanding and recognition of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander culture.
It appears that ACARA has undertaken broad consultation with the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop the shape paper, Shape of
the Australian Curriculum: Languages from which the Framework for the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander languages component will be written. The Committee
keenly awaits the development of the Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres
Strait Islander Languages due for completion by the end of 2013.
The Committee impresses the need to incorporate flexibility into the
Australian Curriculum Languages Framework to allow for Indigenous communities
to work with schools in this area and to assist in the development of teaching
resources and the training of local Indigenous language teachers.
The Committee notes that the Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Languages is due to be completed by 2013 but does not have an
implementation date or phase in schedule. In the interim, the Committee
believes the Commonwealth Government should continue to support where possible
Indigenous language learning in schools with Indigenous students who speak an
Indigenous language other than Standard Australian English.
The Committee strongly supports the development of the Framework and its
inclusion in the Australian Curriculum. Given the importance placed on these
initiatives by Indigenous communities, the Committee considers there would be
value in specifying dates for the proposed implementation of the Framework for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages on its website.
Recommendation 11 - Indigenous language learning in school
||The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government coordinate
with the states and territories to announce dates for the implementation of Phase
2 of the Australian Curriculum.
Early childhood language learning
The Commonwealth Government recognises that quality early childhood
education is critical to ensuring young children have opportunities for early
learning, socialisation and development. As a result one of the Closing the Gap
targets is committed to ensuring all Indigenous four year olds in remote
communities have access to early childhood education by 2013.
In May 2012 the Committee visited the Halls Creek Children and Family
Centre which was set up under the Remote Service Delivery National Partnership
Agreement. The Committee was impressed that Indigenous language learning was
encouraged in the childcare centre.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
discussed with the Committee several initiatives that the Commonwealth Government
is funding to provide early childhood support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
n The Early Childhood
Language and Literacy Parents Project - PaCE project on Groote Eylandt in the
Northern Territory. The Early Childhood Language and Literacy Parents Project
is being delivered by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF)
working closely with parents, carers and community members of Umbakumba,
Angurugu and Milyakburra. The project includes the delivery of workshops that
teach parents foundational preliteracy and language learning platforms that
they can use to support the early learning of their children. The project runs
from April 2010 – December 2012 and supports parents, carers and community
members to stimulate children's early developmental language and pre-literacy
skills so that they are ready to learn and thrive when they start Pre-school or
transition to formal schooling.
n The Home Interaction
Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) - The Australian Government has
committed $32.5 million over five years (2008-2012) to roll-out the Home
Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) to 50 communities
nationally and support around 3,000 families. The ability to adapt HIPPY to
individual community needs is central in ensuring participating children,
parents and carers successfully complete the program. Adaptations to the
program may include:
of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tutors, and
in the mode of delivery and taking time to break down concepts and stories. For
example in group settings over an extended period rather than the usual 30
minute individual family session; program delivery in a mix of English and
traditional language; inclusion of extended family/clan members in program
delivery; and inclusion of translated materials.
There is a building momentum to ensure that Indigenous languages are
recognised and incorporated in early education such as childcare centres and
preschool or preparatory (Foundation) years.
International research has shown that early childhood Aboriginal language
and cultural programs lead to increased self-esteem, improved academic
performance, improved school attendance, reduced drop-out rates and better
proficiency in reading skills in both the Indigenous language and English.
Early learning experiences through playgroups, child care and
kindergarten, rich in both home languages, (ie contact or traditional languages
and Standard Australian English) can support early literacy and numeracy
outcomes and the transition into school.
The Committee received evidence that supported this concept of valuing
Indigenous languages in early education:
Early childhood is an incredible time, of learning about
their world and their place in it, for all young students. It is a time to
enrich and develop language skills. It follows then, that for those children
who have an Indigenous mother tongue, this important early learning time should
be in their first language. Quality bilingual/multilingual maintenance programs
will introduce and develop English skills through planned, supportive ESL
At a public hearing in Brisbane, the Queensland Department of Education
and Training (Queensland DET) discussed with the Committee what is being done
to incorporate Indigenous languages in early education.
Foundations for Success is the teaching guidelines for
the pre-prep program for 3½- to four-year-olds in 35 remote Indigenous
communities. It is a guideline for teaching staff that embeds in it as one of
its key principles the importance of recognising home language as a
foundational understanding and as a bridge to students learning Australian
standard English early on in their preschool career.
The Queensland Government is committed to enhancing pre-Prep programs
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to better prepare them for
school through the implementation of DET’s Foundations for Success guidelines.
Foundations for Success assists educators to plan, implement,
document and reflect on a holistic early learning program for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander children before the preparatory year in Queensland. The
guidelines include significant principles and advice regarding language:
Foundations for success provides educators with
strategies to support young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to
move between their home, an early learning program and school. It helps
children develop strong foundations with both the culture/s and language/s of
their family and of the wider world, allowing them to move fluently across
cultures without compromising their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Educators promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
children’s ongoing first language/s development by including adult first
language speakers within the program at every opportunity. The program is
language-based, rich in shared and sustained conversation and resources to
support the development of children’s first language/s in parallel with their
developing awareness about Standard Australian English (SAE) as a second or
Language is a key factor influencing the educational challenges facing
many Indigenous children. Eastern States Aboriginal Languages Group noted that:
... if we ignore the fact that children are not being offered
the connection between the spoken language of their home with a set of matching
resources in preschool and early school years, we are condemning them to a life
of severe educational disadvantage.
An effective means of including language and culture into early
education is through Language Nests.
Language Nests are pre-schools or crèches that are run by local
Indigenous language speakers. Children attending the Language Nests are
immersed in the local language and culture.
A submission from the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity (RNLD) described
Language Nests and the benefits of them:
Typically, a small group of children comes together in a
family atmosphere through the week to be cared for by older people who are
speakers of the target language. Bringing together the grandparent and
grandchild generations in a home--‐like environment replicates or
repairs intergenerational transmission. Language nest programs also typically require parents to
commit to learn the language alongside their young children. This is one of the most effective
components of the program and one which differentiates it from school language learning programs.
It ensures that the children enrolled in the language nest can continue to use
the language they are learning within the home and community.
The Social Justice Report 2009 supported the use of language nests and
made the following comment about resourcing them effectively:
Establishing language nests requires the coordination of
policy and resources over a number of portfolio areas across the state,
territory and Commonwealth governments. Language Nests require complementary
policy in the areas of early childhood services, employment services for
Indigenous language speakers, training for elders and community members if
required, and possibly infrastructure development resourcing. Initiating this
activity goes well beyond applying for a grant from the Maintenance of
Indigenous Languages and Records (MILR) program.
The NILS report discussed the benefits of Language Nests:
Focusing on Language Nests for pre-schoolers is important
because they reach children at the time when they are most receptive to
learning languages. Language Nests are also important because they are
institutions that sit between schools and communities and can help to bring the
The teaching of Aboriginal·languages to pre-school children has been occurring
over a number of years in NSW, on the central coast through the Many Rivers
Language Centre and through the Gugaga Childcare Centre in La Perouse, among
others. These language programs have proved very successful, with Aboriginal Elders
teaching at the pre-schools and the development of age appropriate resources,
such as naming body parts and stories in language, as an introduction to
Aboriginal language and culture. These pre-schools report benefits for
Aboriginal children who develop an increased sense of pride, language and
numeracy recognition and improved social interaction skills.
Language Nests are operating internationally and the Indigenous language
programs in Australia expose children in early childhood to Indigenous language
learning, stories and culture, as a key strategy to prevent language loss.
Language Nests immerse young children in language use through play and
activities when children are young and most adaptable to language uptake.
Margaret Florey from the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity,
(RNLD) was very passionate about the successful nature of Language Nests in
... we have really strong evidence from other settings that
both the master-apprentice model and the language nest model are effective in
recreating intergenerational transmission of languages.
RNLD informed the Committee that in the past very few language nests
have been set up in Australia. The reason for this is that people need to be
trained adequately before Language Nests can be successfully established. In
early 2012, RNLD organised for two intensive master-apprentice workshops to be
run to train people wishing to teacher their Indigenous language. RNLD
We are bringing 36 Aboriginal people from right around the
country to two workshops—one in Alice Springs and one in Kununurra—to pilot the
master-apprentice program. The American trainers who founded the model are
coming to train people to become trainers in master-apprentice and then to be
able to go out and to train other people in their regions in the
master-apprentice model. That is what I hope we will do with the language nest
model to intensively train a large number of people from right around Australia
in setting up the model, together with the second-language classes for adults.
There was abundant evidence from the United States and New Zealand
attesting to the benefit associated with teaching Indigenous languages in early
childhood. In New Zealand, Language
Nests are attributed with averting the loss of the Maori language in a
generation, with 19 percent of Maori youth aged between 15 and 24 are now able
to speak the Maori language te reo Maori.
The success of the Language Nest program is further supported in
Hawai'i, where Pu'nana Leo, the key language body, established Language Nests
in pre-schools in 1980 when less than 40 Hawaiian children were able to speak
their language. Through the establishment of Language Nests by 2009 the number
of children speaking language had increased to 2000.
The Committee believes that Language Nests are a practical way of
ensuring that Indigenous languages are maintained and revitalised, regardless
of whether they be classified as traditional/heritage, or a contact language.
Further benefits include employment and capacity building with
Indigenous communities. Language Nests can improve early childhood learning
outcomes and bring wider benefits for the participating community and for the
use of the language. The returns of Language Nests are many as they encourage
the continuation of the language as well as empowering adults and elders in the
community to come together with younger members of the community to learn their
The Committee is aware that Language Nests have been used in other countries
as best practice for maintenance and revitalisation of Indigenous languages.
The Committee recommends that language nest programs be resourced throughout
Australia by the Commonwealth Government Indigenous Language Support program as
well as by state and territory governments and the non-government sector where
Recommendation 12 - Language Nests
The Committee recommends that the Office for the Arts,
through the Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) program, prioritise funding
for Language Nest programs throughout Australia.
The Committee further recommends that the Commonwealth
Government give consideration to establishing Language Nest programs in early
childhood learning centres and preschools as set up under National
Identifying first languages
It is well known that for many Indigenous students first attending
school, English is not their first language. When a teacher is faced with a
class full of students who may represent a variety of language groups, or even
a class of students with most speaking English only and one or two with poor
English skills, it is too easy for non English speakers to be left behind.
Educators recognise that every student starts school at a different level of
learning, however little recognition is given to identifying a child’s first
language and beginning their education from that point.
Identifying languages is important for all students. Particularly in the
early school years however it is essential for any new student to the school to
Accurate information about and particular acknowledgement of the creoles
and varieties of Aboriginal English spoken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander students must inform the development and implementation of all
educational programs and initiatives for these students.
The Queensland representatives from the Department of Education and
Training (DET) commented that sometimes a contact language can be mistaken for
poor English. At a public hearing they stated:
... understanding the language varieties that students speak
is helpful. If you are thinking that students are speaking a bad form of
English, the way you might deal with that situation would be totally different
to the way you would deal with it if you understood that the student actually
had a full and complete language and needed to be taught Australian standard
English explicitly and as a second language learner in order to access the
The Committee encourages the Government to meet the Closing the Gap
targets to ensure all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities have
access to early childhood education within five years. Whilst this is an
important target it is not good enough to provide access to early childhood
education if the Indigenous students and their families are not well
understood. Recognising first languages and developing appropriate teaching
strategies and learning environments are essential to engaging Indigenous
students and the community from the critical early years.
International and Australian research indicates that Indigenous students
will have improved educational outcomes overall if first languages are
identified and incorporated into the learning environment in the early years of
The Committee was concerned to hear that at times teachers do not
recognise that some Indigenous students are speaking Aboriginal English and
confuse it with a poor form of Standard Australian English. A greater awareness
of Indigenous languages and their current use should be brought to the
attention of the teaching community as well as included in teacher training.
Teacher training is discussed further in Chapter 5.
The Committee believes it is essential for all Indigenous students to be
given a first language assessment in order to determine what language skills
young Indigenous students have when entering early childhood education. Further
learning can then build on a child’s existing knowledge and understanding,
rather than alienating the child from learning and understanding.
The Committee was impressed with the Queensland Department of Education
and Training’s work in the field of Indigenous early education, including the Foundations
for Success program and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
The Foundations for Success program acknowledges the importance
of culture and language that families and children bring to school and
encourages first languages to be included in early education. The Committee considers
that States and Territory education departments should consider developing
similar programs such as Foundations for Success.
Noting the importance of making early learning a positive experience and
of understanding the prior learning of a student the Committee recommends that
mandatory first-language assessments be carried out for Indigenous students
entering early childhood education.
Recommendation 13 - First language assessment
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Education
work through the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood to
develop protocols for mandatory first-language assessment of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander children entering early childhood education.
Following on from this recommendation, if an Indigenous child’s first
language is other than Standard Australian English then the methods of teaching
must be adjusted to create the appropriate learning environment. Teaching
methods, such as using English as an Additional Language/Dialect ( EAL/D).
Appropriate training for teachers to meet the special needs of EAL/D learning is
discussed in Chapter 5.
English as an Additional Language (EAL/D)
Learning English as an Additional language/dialect (EAL/D) has been
referred to frequently throughout the inquiry using different names including:
ESL, English as a Second Language and LOTE learning, Language Other Than
English. However it is now recognised that ESL is not always an accurate descriptor
since English is often the third or fourth language being acquired, as is the
case for some Indigenous language speakers. The terms EAL/D, ESL and LOTE
learning are used interchangeably within this report.
The 2006 Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development
and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) report identified a lack
of this specialist instruction at the centre of the educational achievement gap
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students:
Disproportionate numbers of Indigenous students do not meet
national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy at Years 3, 5 and 7 – results are generally
about 20 percent below the national average. Of grave concern is the fact that
the proportion of Indigenous students who meet these benchmarks drops
significantly from Year 3 to Year 7. Research attributes this drop to the difference
between the acquisition of basic interpersonal communication skills in a new
language (which takes about two years) and academic language proficiency (which
takes around seven years). From preschool to Year 3, most learning is based on
acquiring interpersonal communication skills. At Year 4, the focus changes to
the acquisition of academic language proficiency. Without second language
or dialect instruction at this point, students fall behind at
increasing rates. Lack of academic achievement and loss of confidence
in these early years mean that most Indigenous students never catch up.
The EAL/D support materials developed by ACARA to complement the
Australian Curriculum in all learning areas will assist mainstream teachers in
Australian schools to understand the diverse linguistic and cultural
backgrounds, skills and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
students, and to address their linguistic and socio-cultural learning needs.
The Queensland Department of Education has been doing considerable
research on ESL learning in various communities. DET’s Northern Indigenous
Schooling Support Unit has a Language Perspectives Team that consists of
teachers and linguists. The team conducts research on second language
acquisition and vernacular languages, supports schools with building capacity
to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ESL/D learners,
implements projects, including the Bridging the Language Gap project, and
offers professional development.
The Queensland Department of Education listed in its submission the
English as a Second Language / English as a Second Dialect Procedure. It stated
‘This procedure has been developed to provide a clear definition of ESL
learners and outline the responsibilities of schools and regions. It is
inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ESL/D learners.’
The Language Perspectives team informed the Committee of the following
case studies highlighting the significant need for EAL/D teaching instruction:
n White Rock
Longitudinal Study has revealed that many Indigenous students at this urban
primary school in far north Queensland are ESL learners, despite enrolment data
indicating otherwise. Now in its 4 th year, it is showing positive correlations
between Indigenous students’ level of spoken SAE and their results in
standardised tests. Furthermore, most Indigenous ESL students are not attaining
levels of SAE sufficient for accessing classroom learning independently and are
therefore dependent on teacher knowledge and skills to teach the “language
load” of classroom concepts and content.
n Woree State High
School Study demonstrated that there are many “hidden ESL learners”, especially
with Indigenous language backgrounds in this urban high school in far north
Queensland. Students whose families and communities have experienced language
shift to creoles and related varieties (which often have no standardised
nomenclature) require language awareness in order to be able to self-declare
their language backgrounds. Many of the identified ESL learners were at
Bandscale levels in speaking and writing where they would not be able to
actively and independently participate in classroom learning through SAE
without considerable language support from teachers.
n Bundamba State
High School study showed how ESL learners at beginning and intermediate
levels (Bandscale levels 1-2 and 3-4 respectively) have literacy pathways which
are clearly differentiated from L1 SAE speakers’ in terms of vocabulary counts,
quantity, errors and features of syntactic complexity. ESL learners begin to
overlap with lower literacy SAE speakers’ pathways at consolidating levels
(Bandscale levels 5-6), where both groups of learners require focussed teaching
of complex language in order to express complex ideas powerfully. This study
also revealed many potentially “hidden ESL learners” in this metropolitan high
school, as well as many identifiable ESL students who had not attained levels
of SAE sufficient to access classroom learning without significant language
SACCS considers it a social justice issue that Indigenous Australians
are supported to develop English language fluency in rigorous English as Second
Language (ESL) programs alongside literacy/ies in first language/s.
In communities where English is a second language or dialect,
we promote educational models akin to those offered for migrant children in New
Arrivals programs. This requires a language based curriculum delivered by
teachers who have expertise in ESL teaching and learning. These programs are
essential to the success of both multi-lingual programs, and post-school
transitions for Indigenous people who work and function across multiple
A study by Daly, Rural Outcomes of Schooling Research Project Report, examined
what strategies were characteristic of the rural schools that performed at a
higher level than others in state-wide tests. The Report highlighted the need
to build positive relationships between school and community, build student
self confidence and engage Aboriginal students through the use of culture. The
teaching of Aboriginal language as a language other than English (LOTE) was a
An Aboriginal language as LOTE for all students in Year 8,
taught by an Aboriginal elder, is an effective community interaction that
seemed to have a strong influence on the learning, ..[of the] whole community.
The Committee was told that an accurate understanding and reporting of
the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language backgrounds is
crucial to any plan to improve educational outcomes for these students:
In the Northern Territory, for example, several dozen
different traditional/heritage languages are in active use by Aboriginal
people, who constitute approximately 30 percent of the territory’s total
population of 200,000 and up to 49 percent of the population in remote and very
The dominant or only language of the majority of Aboriginal
children entering Northern Territory schools is any one or more of these
languages and/or a variety of Aboriginal English and/or an Aboriginal creole.
All remote and very remote schools in the Northern Territory are thus operating
in bilingual and bicultural contexts because that is the nature of the students
in the communities they serve. In addition to this, in a number of multilingual
communities there is an expectation that, as they grow older, Aboriginal young
people will maintain, learn and/or become fluent in one or more of these
traditional/heritage languages as well as English.
The Committee strongly supports the need for schools and teachers to
identify all students who need EAL/D support when entering the education
system. This is important for teachers to be aware of Indigenous students who
may have Kriol or an Aboriginal contact language as their first language as in
the past such languages have been misunderstood to be poor forms of English. As
a result, specific EAL/D teaching methods have not been implemented for these
students resulting in poorer educational outcomes.
The issue of Both Ways learning and partnerships arises again in this
section. Indigenous families should be encouraged to meet with the school
before enrolling the student to discuss the child’s first language background
and form a partnership with the school to be aware of and support learning
The Committee believes it is critical for all Indigenous students
attending school with English as an additional language to be taught using
EAL/D methodologies. Where possible the Committee supports bilingual teaching
for Indigenous communities in the first language and supported by EAL/D teaching
Improving learning outcomes
While EAL/D recognition and resources are important the Committee
received substantial evidence about the value of continuing Indigenous language
learning in order to improve overall learning outcomes.
The Committee received a plethora of evidence supporting the benefits of
including Indigenous languages in education. The evidence and witnesses
informed the Committee that by understanding and recognising the cultural and
linguistic backgrounds of Indigenous children, education departments are in a
better position to provide appropriate support for these students. The research
has demonstrated that it is critical to implement relevant support for children
and families in the early years of education as engagement and continuous
attendance is vital in the early years in order to increase retention rates in
the latter schooling years.
The Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) stressed that ‘The
active recognition and validation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
students’ languages and cultures by teachers and educational authorities,
within educational curricula, and through the appointment of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander educators, are essential to students’ wellbeing and
success at school.’
In a submission ACTA commented that effective educational policies and
programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students must entail:
identification and acknowledgement of students actual linguistic and cultural
n the explicit valuing
of the skills, knowledge and understandings they bring from these backgrounds
to the classroom
n provision for
empathetic and ongoing consultation and negotiation with local communities and
elders, and for their collaboration, input and participation in the development
and implementation of school curricula
differentiated and expert second language pedagogies and assessment programs
designed to address the specific needs of the diverse cohort of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander students who are learning Standard Australian English as
an additional language or dialect.
In a joint submission from a number of Indigenous educators, the value
of recognising and supporting Indigenous languages was supported:
As experienced educators in Indigenous Education, we believe
that when the mother tongue is valued and recognized, school can become a place
where children explore and extend their cultural understandings, while they
begin to learn English and the knowledge regarded as important by the Australian
Another joint submission discussed the benefits of Indigenous children
learning in their mother tongue:
We must give our children in Wadeye and the Thamarrurr region
the opportunity to receive quality education. Our people are strong in culture
and many languages are spoken in the community and back in the Homelands of the
different clans. We dream, think and communicate in our daily lives through our
At OLSH Thamarrurr Catholic School we now have a ‘culture
centre’ called DA NGIMALMIN FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY CENTRE. It’s a place of significance
in the centre of the school where our old people come to teach our children our
way of life. Teaching the children about people and the relationship to each
other, traditional dance and songs, stories, land, name of animals and plants,
the universe, art and craft and the list goes on. The culture centre fits in
well with what the teachers are doing in the Early Years. We know it will form
a very strong foundation for our children’s learning and hope that by
strengthening education in the first language will make learning in the English
language easier. Children will enjoy coming to school every day to learn.
(Tobias Ngardinithi Nganbe and Gemma Alanga Nganbe, Personal communication,
August 21, 2011)
Language education for Indigenous adults was raised with the Committee. A
submission suggested that further education for Indigenous adults would be
beneficial in bridging the divide between Indigenous adults and their children
and hence could assist with ‘Two way’ learning strategies. Why Warriors Pty Ltd
and the Arnhem Human Enterprise Development (AHED) project stated:
If Indigenous children are being taught English then it would
be beneficial for Indigenous adults with limited English proficiency to attend
adult classes. Some of these classes would specialise in areas such as Science,
technology, areas that have progressed tremendously in the last 50 years.
Because most of the knowledge that children are learning in
school is new knowledge, that is, dominant culture knowledge which is new to
the local Yolngu culture, there tends to be a gap between what the child is
learning and what the parent and senior leaders of their Clan know. At times
the worldview of the parents will clash with the knowledge received in the
classroom across a range of different subjects. For example, children learning
about microscopic organisms, germs and bacteria in the classroom may be
re-educated by their family.
Learning in first language
The Committee received many submissions which supported the idea that
Indigenous students should be taught in their first language. The submissions
described what had been tried in Australia in the past and what is being taught
currently by way of bilingual education in some schools in the Northern
Territory. There was a strong emphasis on the international research that
supports the notion of better educational outcomes for children learning at
school initially in their first Indigenous language.
A report published by the World Bank in 2006 supported the need to
teach in first language, stating:
Children learn better if they understand the language spoken
in school. This is a straightforward observation borne out by study after study
(Thomas and Collier, 1997; Dutcher, 1995; Patrinos and Velez, 1996; Walter,
2003). Even the important goal of learning a second language is facilitated by
starting with a language the children already know. Cummins (2000) and others
provide convincing evidence of the principle of interdependence—that second language
learning is helped, not hindered by first language study. This leads to a
simple axiom: the first language is the language of learning. It is by far the
easiest way for children to interact with the world. And when the language of learning
and the language of instruction do not match, learning
difficulties are bound to follow.
The Research Centre for Languages and Culture (RCLC) brought to the
Committee’s attention International research evidence of best policy and
practice of languages in education for Indigenous Peoples. The RCLC submission
highlighted a study undertaken by UNESCO Why and how Africa
should invest in African languages and multilingual education. In relation
to this study RCLC commented:
An evidence- and practice-based policy advocacy brief (Ouane
and Glanz 2010) draws on the most recent evidence which indicates why and how
indigenous languages need to be used, maintained and strengthened in education.
While this research has been directed towards Africa, the research data,
theoretical underpinnings, and scenario-setting would be useful for Australian
In its submission the Australian Society for Indigenous Languages
there is over 60 years of research around the world and in
Australia to support the fact that early education in one's first language is
the key to educational success in multilingual societies. As counter-intuitive
as it might seem, this also results improved proficiency in second languages
such as Standard English.
AuSIL provided an attachment to its submission which highlighted the
following benefits of educating children initially in their own language and
transitioning them to the national language. These three points below are a
subset of a longer list and were read out to the Committee during a public
hearing in Darwin by Kendall Trudgen:
n Children LEARN
BETTER. This is supported by study after study.
n Children in rural
and/or marginalised populations STAY IN SCHOOL LONGER.
n Children in rural
and/or marginalised populations REACH HIGHER LEVELS OF EDUCATION overall.
Further support for a bilingual approach to education for Indigenous
students suggested that wherever possible, all such children would be best
served by a model of schooling that:
n values and uses their
mother tongue and the knowledge encoded in that language as the starting point
for their formal schooling
n demonstrates to the
community that their way of being and knowing is valued and that the schooling
offered will add on to what the children bring with them and not discard it or
subtract from it
n develops literacy in
the mother tongue before doing so in English
n continues Indigenous
language and cultural studies as a highly valued strand of the total education
program, leading to the development of translation, interpreting and other
highly developed language skills [supporting the objectives of the Remote Service
Delivery National Partnership]
n develops an
appropriate curriculum for the teaching of all aspects of English, Mathematics
and other mainstream studies, and
n attracts and
maintains a body of teachers from both cultures who are specialists in teaching
Indigenous children in a bilingual/bicultural setting.
In a submission from Greg Dickson, a linguist from the Australian
National University with many years experience working with Indigenous
communities in the Northern Territory, he described the meaning of bilingual
Bilingual education programs are structured programs using
two languages of instruction. One of the two languages will be the students’
mother tongue, or first language. The other language
is the ‘target’ language – usually a national or regional language of importance.
His submission briefly outlined the history of bilingual education and
the controversy that surrounds it:
[Bilingual education] is an approach that was embraced and
strongly supported by many Indigenous communities when offered to them in the
1970s and 1980s. Indigenous people and communities responded by drastically
increasing the number of qualified Indigenous teachers and transformed schools into
culturally-appropriate places of learning for their children. Bilingual
education programs featuring Indigenous language have always been somewhat
controversial. Critics of such programs seem to struggle ideologically with
notions of giving Indigenous languages such a core role in education. Such
views are linked to the general lack of value placed on Indigenous languages on a national level.
The Committee received many submissions that were critical of the
Northern Territory’s education policy that dismantled several bilingual
education programs in 2008. The following submission outlines when the Northern
Territory introduced the First Four Hours policy and the negative impacts that
were observed in some schools:
Bilingual education in the Northern Territory has had a
difficult history. In 2008, a significant move was made by the Northern
Territory Government which has essentially ended its 37- year history. In 2008,
the Northern Government announced the Compulsory Teaching in English for the
First Four Hours, heavily restricting the use of Indigenous languages in education,
in particular, seriously limiting their use as language of instruction and also limiting Indigenous language literacy
The policy has been criticised widely by politicians, educators,
Indigenous leaders, Indigenous language speakers, linguists and human rights
advocates. The introduction of the First Four Hours policy has coincided with a
decline in attendance in most former bilingual schools despite recent policies developed
by Federal and Territory governments designed to improve attendance. The First
Four Hours policy has diminished the role that Aboriginal educators play in the
education system and has not led to an obvious improvement in student outcomes.
Note that many studies, including some carried out in the Northern Territory,
show that bilingual education programs can lead
to improved student outcomes in all areas.
Statements supporting bilingual education and the use of Indigenous
languages in education from Aboriginal educators across Northern Territory were
shared with the Committee. The following quotations provided by Greg Dickson highlight
the point that bilingual education supports the national language and the
mother tongue or additional language:
What we want is both-way teaching in the school – not only
for two hours a week but everyday there should be both-way teaching… That
policy of speaking English only at the school is the wrong thing – it is not
good for our children … they will forget their language (Rembarrnga speaker
Miliwanga Sandy (Beswick Community) in Gosford 2009).
I am a qualified bilingual teacher… I speak several Yolŋu
matha languages and English fluently. I have thirty-two years teaching
experience… I have been told that I am not allowed to use the children’s
language anymore… I already know that the children won’t understand what I’m
saying, they will laugh at me, and they may even misbehave because they’ll be
bored and won’t know what the lessons are about… What a strange role model I
will be, a bilingual Yolŋu teacher, using only one of my languages! ...
The decision to make English the only important language in our schools will
only make the situation for our young people worse as they struggle to be proud
Yolŋu in a world that is making them feel that their culture is bad, unimportant
and irrelevant in the contemporary world (Yunupingu 2010: 24-25).
There is research that shows ‘a number of studies, from the Northern Territory
and internationally, provide evidence that bilingual education programs achieve
higher outcomes than non-bilingual programs in similar settings.’
Brian Devlin worked as a teacher-linguist at Yirrkala for three years
and discussed with the Committee the benefits of bilingual education for
Indigenous Australians. Dr Devlin is now an Associate Professor, Bilingual
Education and Applied Linguistics at Charles Darwin University. He commented:
I worked as teacher-linguist at Yirrkala. During that time,
the bilingual program was accredited by the Department of Education. That meant
that Yirrkala students in grades 5, 6 and 7 were found to be doing as well as
or better than students in a comparable group of schools with English-only
programs. In return, the department conferred official recognition and a
permanent allocation of resources.
From 1983, for two and a half years, I was principle of
Shepherdson College at Galiwinku on Elcho Island. During that time, the
bilingual program was evaluated by the department's accreditation team and was
found to be doing as well as or better than a group of six comparable schools
with English-only programs.
The Evaluation of Literacy approach (ELA) is finding that by the time
the children reach Grade 5 in the bilingual schools they achieve better results
in active reading skills in English.
The Eastern States Aboriginal Languages Group commented that some of the
bilingual programs in the Northern Territory were not funded and resourced adequately.
The reported failure of bi‐lingual
programs in Australia has however overlooked the method of delivery of those
programs in making recommendations for their closure. Any program which is from
the outset poorly delivered and resourced will produce poor outcomes. In the
case of bi‐lingual
teaching programs, this situation was wrongly used as a case against the
effectiveness of traditional language learning as a means of supporting the
development of English language competency.
The Committee heard from Kendall Trudgen as to what he thought could be
done to improve language learning in Indigenous communities. He made two points
in relation to the community in Galiwinku:
The first point was ‘the idea to teach in first language as
far as possible.’ The second most important aspect would be to ‘have
community-controlled schools where the community makes decisions on the
direction of their curriculum—have a national curriculum or a Territory based
curriculum with the community controlling the implementation of it, including
The Committee received convincing evidence for bilingual education. This
evidence is supported nationally and internationally by numerous studies. Several
international organisations such as the World Bank and UNESCO have published
findings over many years that support Indigenous language learning in
education. The research demonstrates that educational outcomes for students are
higher when the mother tongue or first language is incorporated into early
The Committee stresses that learning in first language does not mean
that English proficiency will be neglected. The research undertaken in this
area within Australia and internationally clearly states the dual benefits of
first language learning in schools. The research shows that first language
learning in primary education leads to improved English/dominant language competency.
After reviewing the evidence and speaking with the Northern Territory
Government representatives in Darwin, the Committee believes the Northern
Territory Government had the best of intentions in 2008 when it announced the
Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours, in order to improve
English competency and NAPLAN results. However the Committee believes this
policy was not successful in achieving its aims of improving educational
outcomes for Indigenous students in the Northern Territory. The Committee notes
that the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training has withdrawn
the Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours policy as of
July2012. The Committee discusses NAPLAN in more detail in the last section of this
The Committee expresses its support for the teaching of first language in
schools. Currently there appears to be some support for Indigenous languages in
the very early years of development and education from 0-4 years, and then in
some TAFE and university institutions. However there is only ad hoc support for
Indigenous language learning in primary and secondary schools. The Committee is
convinced that the evidence demonstrates that bilingual and multilingual students
can deliver higher educational outcomes with the right programs and support in
Incorporating Indigenous languages into the education system leads to an
improvement in both Standard Australian English and Indigenous languages and can
have many cultural, health and wellbeing advantages. The use of bilingual
education increases English proficiency and children and their communities can
grow and prosper in a bilingual or multilingual society.
Indigenous languages have the potential to reap economic, social and
cultural benefits to Indigenous communities and regions, with flow-on effects
nationally and internationally. It is clear that incorporating Indigenous first
languages into bilingual school programs supports the Commonwealth Government’s
Closing the Gap agenda.
The Committee believes that the term ‘bilingual education’ in the past
has received negative connotations due to the fact that bilingual programs have
lacked thorough community consultation and have not been sufficiently resourced
and supported by specifically trained language teachers and the bureaucracy.
Careful consideration should be given to the process of delivering bilingual
programs and most importantly real local community consultation is required to
successfully implement bilingual programs.
The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government work with the state
and territory governments to provide adequately resourced bilingual education
programs for Indigenous communities in areas where the dominant first language
is an Indigenous language (traditional or contact). These language varieties
are defined and discussed in Chapter 2.
Recommendation 14 - Bilingual education programs
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
work with state and territory governments to provide adequately resourced
bilingual school education programs for Indigenous communities from the
earliest years of learning, where the child’s first language is an Indigenous
language (traditional or contact).
Achieving English language competency
Abilities to read and write in English and to be numerate are critical
if young people are to complete their schooling successfully in Australia,
exercise choice about what they do in life beyond school and participate fully
in the economic and social development of their local communities and the
broader Australian society.
All students in Australia have the right to be taught to communicate
effectively in Standard Australian English, to understand how the English
language works, to think and learn in and through English, and to be given
access to the cultural understandings it carries.
But Standard Australian English learning should not be at the expense of
Indigenous languages and cultural learning. Neither should Indigenous languages
and cultural learning be to the detriment of English language learning. Both
should act as bridges to succeed in the other rather than creating barriers.
All Indigenous and non Indigenous contributors to the inquiry reiterated
the point that they wanted their children to be fluent in both their Indigenous
languages and English:
Indigenous community leaders and parents that we talk to
consistently want their children to be able to function fully and responsibly
in both the traditional language and culture and in Standard English and the
mainstream culture and job market. It is not an either/or situation (either
traditional language or English); it is a both/and situation (both traditional
language and English). People who think they want either/or, and that
indigenous parents do not want their children to be proficient in Standard
English are misinformed.
Case studies of schools and programs that accept, value and build on the
linguistic and cultural diversity of their students and communities are
presented in the 2008 Australian Council for Educational Research Report
Indigenous Languages Programmes in Australian Schools. These case studies
exemplify the principle that ‘learning an Indigenous language and becoming
proficient in the English language are complementary rather than mutually
Just as understanding the structure of numbers lets children apply those
concepts to finance or physics, so understanding the structure of one language
enables a child to grasp the tenets of another language.
For example, the Noongar language revitalisation program at Moorditj
Noongar Community College near Perth is embedded within all aspects of the
school curriculum, students home language/s and their English language
development needs are also fully integrated into the teaching and learning
Students at Moorditj mostly speak Aboriginal English and learn Noongar
as a second language. A two way approach is used in teaching all programmes at
the school. This means that while teaching Standard Australian English, staff
at the school also acknowledge and value the students’ first home language.
The Gumbaynggirr language program implemented at St Mary’s Primary
School at Bowraville on the mid north coast of New South Wales also produced
positive outcomes for both teacher professional learning and students English
The rigour of the programme at St Mary’s is enhanced by staff
understanding of the general principles of language teaching. Classroom
teachers commented that not only were the children learning Gumbaynggirr, but
that their English language skills had increased as they were introduced to how
languages worked – notions of syntax, structure, and grammar were being applied
to English in ways teachers had not been able to get children to apply before.
In the words of one teacher, ‘students now have some vocabulary to use in our discussions
about the English language.’
The benefits of learning an Aboriginal language can be significant for Aboriginal
students. The 2008 research pilot project, 'Aboriginal Languages Research:
Impact of Learning an Aboriginal Language on Primary School Student's Literacy
in English’, which consulted with a number of schools, Principals and teachers,
found that students developed better literacy skills in English word awareness
and decoding, if they learned an Aboriginal language. The process of learning
an Aboriginal language supported students in developing the critical early
skills of learning the connection between sounds and letters in English.
Lola Jones informed the Committee on the following benefits of learning
first language which leads to strongly English competency outcomes:
Kids can learn to code-switch and they can be proud that they
speak Broome English or Walmajarri or Yawuru. It does help, because when you
are teaching language and you are discussing verbs, and in Yawuru the verbs are
really different and this is how they operate, straightaway that is something
that kids can relate to their standard Australian English. We say, 'We are
going to learn about adjectives or adverbs,' and kids straightaway get it: 'Oh,
this is how it works in Yawuru.'
Sometimes when I have talked to classroom teachers I tell
them that it is about intonation, the stress, and people say, 'No, we don't do
that in English.' They do not understand because they only speak English. But
when you have another language to compare it to, it actually helps your
language learning skills in whichever language you are using, whether it is
standard Australian English or whether it is Kriol or Walmajarri or Yawuru.
Once you have a different language to compare it to, it makes it easier.
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is the
national testing program for all Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It
commenced in 2008 and runs annually in May each year. NAPLAN consists of five
tests across three days, assessing the following domains: reading, writing,
language conventions and numeracy.
The National Assessment Program is run at the direction of the Standing
Council on School Education and Early Childhood (previously named Ministerial
Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs
The Committee received a lot of evidence that described the negative
impact of NAPLAN testing for children who learn English as an Additional
Language. The point was made by many academics, teachers and international
research to show that students learning a language other than English do not
start to become proficient in the language until the latter years of primary
The ACTA submission highlighted four problematic areas for Indigenous
Australians being assessed by NAPLAN:
n First, these
assessments are liable to make false assumptions about learning contexts and
about age-appropriate knowledge of Standard Australian English.
n Second, because
assessment tasks are written (from a particular cultural viewpoint) in a
language that learners do not understand or understand only partially, and they
require learners to respond in that language, they do not permit learners to
demonstrate what they do know and can do.
n Third, such age-based
assessments of literacy and numeracy fail to provide data that relate to these
learners’ actual learning milestones or progress, for example, in mastering the
complexities of Standard Australian English question forms.
n Fourth, because they do
not take account of learners home language/s, the data they provide is open to
misinterpretation – for example, a failure to recognise phonemic differences in
Standard Australian English has been taken, quite incorrectly, to indicate that
learners have a speech or hearing disability.
A number of submission and witnesses pointed out that bilingual
children struggle with the year 3 NAPLAN testing in particular. However by high
school the students are often on par or surpass students who learn English only:
Again and again we have issues in the Northern Territory of
literacy, reading and writing, and numeracy outcomes. The bilingual schools
generally did not have NAPLAN scores in year 3 on par with the rest of
Australia. That was because of the nature of bilingual education and the fact
that they were being taught in their own language, rather than them being
uneducated individuals, but by grade 5 generally the trend was that they came
to par. So there are some unenviable political situations for the government in
this issue because people are looking at NAPLAN tests and making observations
based just on the NAPLAN tests.
At a public hearing in Alice Springs, Wendy Baarda from Yuendemu made
the following comments about the problems with NAPLAN for Indigenous students:
The NAPLAN tests are very unsuitable for Aboriginal kids
speaking a second language. I do not think English-speaking kids would do well
either in NAPLAN tests if they were tested in a different language. At year 3
and year 5, how can they learn what those other kids have been learning all
their lives in three years? It is impossible. The miracle is that we have one
or two really linguistically gifted children every year who do actually get
benchmark 1 in NAPLAN tests. In the last lot of testing, one of Barbara's
grandchildren, who is in year 3, made it to benchmark, probably because she
learns at home. NAPLAN tests are not suitable. They should have different tests
for ESL learners.
The other thing is, what they found with bilingual education
in one of the Top End communities where people had a choice—they could learn
bilingually or they could be in English class—is that the all-English ones did
better on English in the early years, years 3 and 5, but in years 7 and 9 the
bilingual ones were ahead. They had caught up and passed the other ones. But
now it is all-English, mainly, and what they are reading does not have much
meaning. For example, with Happy Little Dolphin there is not much in their
lives that they can relate to, whereas they understand the Walpiri books
completely. That is what literacy is about. It is about understanding. It is
not just about the mechanics of reading. I do not think they are going to get
better results in the long run—in the short term, maybe, but not for life and
not for having kids who see their learning at school as related to life outside
National Assessments undertaken at Year 3 through NAPLAN, are not
applicable to Indigenous children who have their early education in their
mother tongue. These children will not have advanced sufficiently in English to
be able to participate at that level and will only measure what they cannot do,
not what they can. [Experience in the N.T. before the disbanding of the
Bilingual program, indicated that by Year 5, participation in National
Assessments (prior to NAPLAN) was more appropriate].
The Committee spoke to the principal, Ms Philomena Downey of the
Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School (AIICS) during a Brisbane
public hearing. The AIICS commented on the push on numeracy and literacy for
their school and noted the following:
The school has long argued that results such as these do not
give a true picture of individual children, particularly in our context. To
explain: students may join our community at the beginning of any school year
and as mentioned previously, often join us with a skill base not consistent
with their age group. It is not possible to bridge gaps of up to seven years in
a few months. That is not to say however, that individual students may have
made significant gains.
Most worrying is the anecdotal evidence that suggests NAPLAN can lead to
disengagement in education:
In addition to being misleading, in painting a negative
portrait of learners, assessments that fail to take account of these issues
impact negatively on learners’ sense of worth and ongoing engagement with
The Committee asked the teachers of Yirrkala whether NAPLAN testing
should be in their own language. Ms Ganambarr, a teacher from Yirrkala school
Yes. That is a very good strategy for the children here
because English is their second language. When students learn, they are able to
unpack the big picture in their first language.
The Committee notes the difficulties that are associated with NAPLAN
testing for students who are learning English as an Additional Language. In the
context of this inquiry the Committee understands that NAPLAN testing presents
challenges for Indigenous students learning English as an additional language,
especially for the year 3 testing when English language skills are still being
introduced and practiced.
The Committee is satisfied that the studies demonstrate that Indigenous
students can obtain NAPLAN results on par/or above that of English only
learning students in the higher testing years. However the Committee remains concerned
about the negative impact of early NAPLAN testing and this may contribute to
engagement levels dropping off significantly when students transition into high
As the National Assessment Program is run at the direction of the Standing
Council on School Education and Early Childhood, the Committee believes that a
review of NAPLAN testing should be undertaken to ensure all papers are
culturally neutral so that questions can be clearly understood by all
Of great concern to the Committee is the evidence that suggests
NAPLAN testing discourages Indigenous students and can lead to disengagement.
The Committee encourages schools to undertake information sessions to provide
students and the school community with a better understanding of NAPLAN and the
purpose of NAPLAN results.
While NAPLAN aims to compile standardised data on student
learning, this data has little value when English and non English speaking
students results are not separated into different categories. It should be
remembered that NAPLAN seeks to measure knowledge and skills across a range of
competencies and language should not be a barrier to these assessments.
The Committee sees the benefits in NAPLAN tracking the progress
of EAL/D students separately from mainstream students between years 3 and 5. It
should be recognised that EAL/D learners will be usually on a different
learning pathway from first language learners when learning the target language
in the initial years of education. It must be emphasised that students learning
more than one language usually catch up and can surpass students learning
The Committee considers that ACARA should develop an alternative
assessment tool for all students identified as EAL/D learners for the Year 3
and Year 5 assessment in particular. In addition, the Committee believes this
alternative testing tool would have positive benefits for all EAL/D students’
confidence in learning.
Recommendation 15 – NAPLAN alternative assessment tool
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Education
work through the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood to develop
a National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) alternative
assessment tool for all students learning English as an Additional