August 25, 2011

Stirring quotes from Aboriginal educators

Today I've been working on my submission for the Federal Government's Inquiry into Language Learning in Indigenous Communities.  As part of my research for my submission, I was searching for quotes from Aboriginal educators in support of bilingual education and Indigenous language education.  When I assembled the quotes, I found it pretty much heartbreaking to see the passion that is there when at the same time Indigenous language education is being denied because of the NT Government's ridiculous Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours policy.  Here's what I found today:

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.
- Yalmay Yunupingu (2010: 24-25).

When a new principal comes to a Warlpiri school they are not to come and change the Bilingual Program. Never. Lajamanu school should always teach in both Warlpiri and English .
- Warlpiri Teachers at Lajamanu (1999: 54).

The children need to learn their own language… kids need to be able to read and write Tiwi because that is what they will speak forever.  Understanding in other subject areas is facilitated by covering that area in both Tiwi and English.
- People of Nguiu (1999: 17).

The task ahead is to convince the NT Department of Education and the Commonwealth Government that Yolŋu languages and our knowledge systems are as important to us as English and its ideas… The current system does not take into account our Yolŋu Garma curriculum or Yolŋu ‘both ways’ pedagogy and curriculum.  Our job as educators is to convince the people who control mainstream education that we wish to be included.  Until this happens assimilation is still the name of the game, and reconciliation is an empty word, an intellectual ‘terra nullius’ 
- Raymatjja Marika (1999: 119).

Areyonga School is a bilingual school, where we teach the children to first learn to read, write and do maths in Pitjantjatjara. Our kids do not understand much English when they start school. If we teach them only in English, they will not understand… Our children who are good at reading and writing in Pitjantjatjara are also the same ones who are good at reading and writing English… How can you tell us the teachers must use only English even if the children don’t understand what they are saying? We want our children to become literate in both English and Pitjantjatjara.  This is very imporant to us. Our bilingual program works…  
- Areyonga community (2008).

Strong words.  I hope the government hears them. (If they don't, I have plenty more quotes I can throw at them...)

Areyonga Community. (2008). Letter to the Honourable Minister Marion Scrymgour MLA. Retrieved August 25, 2011, from 

Gosford, B. (2009). Miliwanga Sandy – language is our culture, our life, our identity. Retrieved November 4, 2009, from 

Marika, R. (1999). Milthun Latju Wäŋa Romgu Yolŋu: Valuing Yolŋu Knowledge in the Education System. Ngoonjook: a journal of Australian Indigenous Issues. 16: 107-120.  

People of Nguiu (1999). The Closure of the Northern Territory Bilingual Education Program: An open letter from the people of Nguiu. Ngoonjook: a journal of Australian Indigenous Issues.16: 16-17.

Warlpiri Teachers at Lajamanu. (1999) History of the Lajamanu School Bilingual Program. Ngoonjook: a journal of Australian Indigenous Issues.16: 51-54. 

Yunupingu, Y. (2010). Bilingual Works. Australian Educator. 66: 24-25.