Two way education becomes a one way street

In a shock move in October 2008 the former Northern Territory Minister for Education Marion Scrymgour declared that the first four hours of teaching in all Northern Territory schools would be in English.
Bilingual schools teaching in Indigenous languages would only be able to teach language and culture in the afternoons.
In response to strong protest from community leaders and the schools concerned the Minister made concessions, saying the new system would be “phased in” and 2009 would be a “transition” year.
Despite this, government workers immediately commenced visiting communities to push transition to the new system. New teachers are being contracted to teach the “new way”.  There are reports of teachers who support the changes “dobbing in” any incidences of dialogue taking place in Aboriginal language during the restricted four hours of English.
NT Education Union President Rod Smith said staff attendance and morale had already suffered.
“It’s enforcing draconian measures, and at a time when we’re trying to enforce or get kids to come to school, this sort of policy is going to work in the reverse.”
The ideological shift ignores the NT government’s own findings and international research emphasising the value of bilingual education.
A 2003 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation position paper stated:  “Research shows that learners learn best in their mother tongue as a prelude to and complement of bilingual education approaches.”
An NT government 2004-05 review entitled Indigenous languages and culture in NT schools found  “improved learning outcomes when there is a connection between the home and school cultures” and recommended further roll-out of bilingual programs.
The government is not considering the main factors responsible for the abysmal numeracy and literacy rates in the NT—the continuing overcrowding and substandard living conditions, the under-resourcing of schools and the appropriateness of the testing system itself. They are determined to mainstream and “normalise” Aboriginal people in the belief that this will fix the problems in Aboriginal communities. The keepers of the culture and those recognising the unique value of Aboriginal culture to Australia and the world should be extremely concerned.
By Marlene Hodder


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