NT Minister for Indigenous Advancement Alison Anderson says traditional languages should not be taught at school, but Chief Minister Terry Mills has reasserting that the government is still firmly in favour of Bilingual Education. Aidan Wilson remains cautiously optimistic.
The Northern Territory’s new minister for Indigenous Advancement, Alison Anderson, gave her maiden speech to the newly elected parliament on Tuesday, in which she said the following:
I am not suggesting we abandon our traditional culture or language, but teaching them should not be done in schools. It should be done after school and on weekends and during the holidays. That is when most of the other cultures in Australia teach their children traditional ways.
Anderson argued that education should be equal in Australia; schools should be no different whether you’re in a remote community in the NT or in the middle of Sydney. Judging by the headlines yesterday and today, it seemed pretty clear to the various media outlets that Anderson was arguing for all schools in the Northern Territory to teach an English-only curriculum. The place for traditional languages and in many case, children’s first languages, is apparently in the home and not in the school.
This comes just weeks after the handing down of a federal parliamentary report into indigenous language learning, on which we reported at length last month. The report weighed up all of the evidence presented to the inquiry by way of submissions and interviews, and the committee found in favour of bilingual education as the most effective means of ensuring that children in remote areas learn English proficiently.
Let me reiterate that point: Bilingual education is the best way to ensure children become proficient in English.
Terry Mills knows it, as does the CLP, and it was a policy that they unequivocally held in the run up to the Territory election in August. Today, Mills made his government’s position clear, and in doing so directly contradicted Anderson, although he downplayed any differences of opinion among his cabinet.
Mr Mills says learning English is the ultimate goal but that does not mean removing Indigenous languages from the classroom.
“You have to use the language they bring into school, which is in the first two or three years.”
I hope commonsense prevails and the CLP government continues with their plans to (eventually) reinstate bilingual education. Although, based on the (hopefully not representative) comments on a piece in the NT News yesterday, such plans are likely to be met with vocal disapproval.
Fmark (see comments) has pointed me to this article in the Alice Springs News, in which Anderson has advocated ‘scaffloding’, by which she presumably refers to a form of bilingual education (the terminology is labyrinthine).
Ms Anderson told the Alice Springs News Online this morning that this [referring to Mills’ statement on first language education as quoted above] of course is the “pragmatic” way to go: “You can’t start teaching bush children in a language they can’t understand. You use the traditional language to get to English, which is what schools do now. It’s called ‘scaffolding’. I believe in bush children being fluent in English, it’s what parents want. How to get there is a pragmatic matter for the schools.
Aidan Wilson is sometimes a linguist and sometimes a cyclist, and occasionally both. He was born and raised in Sydney but now lives in Melbourne and is currently a graduate student at the University of Melbourne. He has worked on two Australian Indigenous languages over the past six years and is keenly interested in Indigenous Language Education. Views expressed here are his own and are not necessarily the views of the University of Melbourne.