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Attack on bilingual education in the Northern Territory (cont'd)
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19 January 1999
A Matter of Survival
In 1994, the Senate of the 36th Australian Parliament published its Report A Matter of Survival, the findings of an inquiry undertaken, in its own words, "because of widespread concern over language loss amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people." i The Deputy Chair of the Senate Committee, and a member of the sub-committee which conducted the inquiry was Dr Michael Wooldridge, MP, the current Health Minister. Other members included Mr Les Scott, MP, (Chair) and Mr Garrie Gibson, MP. Among the members of the full committee, which endorsed the report, was the current member for the NT, Warren Snowdon. The report in its opening pages recognised that
The importance of a language to its speakers and descendants is much more significant than the linguistic aspects alone (because) language goes to the very core of a person's identityThis was one reason why the Committee paid particular attention to school based language programs, especially bilingual education:
Schools have a very large impact on language and in the past this has been a quite destructive one. It is important that they play a constructive role in language maintenance wherever possible. A major way in which schools have been involved in language maintenance has been through bilingual education.It also noted in its findings that there were "sound educational reasons for establishing literacy in the child's first language before developing literacy in English", while also recognising that schools should " maintain a child's first language and not supplant it." The committee described as "intolerable" the fact that "while most migrant children with a first language other than English have been able to study that language up to matriculation level, Aboriginal children cannot study their language at high school." It also argued that not only was the provision of a basic education is an "essential human right", but that as a further human right:
education should be available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in a way which reinforces rather than suppresses or contradicts their unique cultural identity. This includes an understanding and respect for their home language (emphasis Bob Boughton)The Report included some specific recommendations re school-based language programs, calling on the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, in cooperation with the relevant state and territory ministers to
Dr. Bob Boughton, MSHR, Alice Springs 11 December 1998
Message from Jeff Siegel (email@example.com)
The miserable news about NT cutting bilingual programs reached us here in Hawaii last week. Helen Fraser just forwarded some correspondence about it and a copy of Peter's draft letter on behalf of ALS. It's great that our organization is taking a stand, but as Helen has pointed out, it will take more involvement and publicity to get people to even begin to understand the issues.
Earlier this year,the LSA Committee on Social and Political Concerns wrote a response to the Unz initiative (which proposed to virtually get rid of bilingual programs in California). The response contains some valuable stuff about the advantages of bilingual programs and some references. I've extracted bits (below) that may be helpful to ALS members as they (hopefully) write letters to newspapers, volunteer to talk on local radio programs, etc. (I have the text of the full resolution if anyone wants it.)
Also, as you're probably aware, there are several evaluations of Aboriginal bilingual programs which report positive effects on school achievement and acquisition of English, as well as social benefits. These are by Gale et al (1981), Murtagh (1979,1982) and Devlin (1995). There are also evaluations of immigrant bilingual programs (Clyne 1988, 1991; Foster et al 1984). (Refs below)
If anyone needs any further information, my report for AusAID on vernacular education has a 10 page appendix written by Jean Harkins which contains a review of literature and research findings on bilingual ed from around the world (nearly all positive). The reference is: Siegel, J. 1996. Vernacular education in the South Pacific (International Development Issues No.45). Canberra: Australian Agency for International Development. I can send the appendix as an email attachment if anyone wants it.
I hope for better success than LSA had against the Unz initiative, which was approved overwhelmingly by California voters in November.
References (supplied by Jeff Siegal and Bruce Sommer)
Letter from the President of the Australian Linguistic Society, Professor Peter Austin
(letterhead: Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, University of Melbourne)
8th December 1998
Hon. Peter Adamson,
I am writing to you in my capacity as President of the Australian Linguistic Society. The Australian Linguistics Society wishes to express its concern at the Northern Territory Government's proposal to dismantle the bilingual-bicultural education programmes in Aboriginal schools. A number of our members have worked in these programmes, or served them, or given support, often unpaid, to them. These programmes are a shining light in Northern Territory education, and have acted as models for programmes elsewhere in the world.
We do not understand the reason given for the dismantling, namely that this will enable better teaching of English as a Second Language (ESL). It suggests a misunderstanding of the nature of bilingual education programmes. ESL teaching is a fundamental part of bilingual programmes. We do not understand why sensible, staged, ESL teaching cannot be carried out in bilingual schools. The premise of bilingual education in the Northern Territory, that indigenous and materially disadvantaged children learn better in their first language, is backed by the findings of a wide range of international second language acquisition research. We therefore do not understand why the Government believes that Aboriginal children will acquire English better in English-only schools.
We recognise the right of indigenous communities to decide the medium of instruction for their children. However, we believe this decision rests at the level of the individual community. Some communities may wish for English-only instruction for their children. That is their right. But those communities who want to continue bilingual instruction should be able to do so.
Three side benefits of the NT bilingual education programmes deserve mentioning.
Prof Peter K. Austin
cc. Hon. Tim Baldwin, Minister for Aboriginal Development and Community Government Hon. Shane Stone, Chief Minister, Northern Territory
Support message from Alasdair MacCaluim, campaigns officer of Comann Ceilteach Oilthigh Dhun Eideann (Edinburgh University's Gaelic society)
As speakers of Scottish Gaelic, we are very concerned to hear about the current threat to bilingual education in the Northern Territories of Australia. Bilingual education has been a great success in Scotland, Wales and Brittany and the numbers of parents choosing such an education for their children has been increasing steadily. We urge the government of the Northern Territories to reverse their decision to abandon bilingual education. Campaigners for the retention of bilingual education can count on the support of Scottish Gaels.
Letter of concern from Dr David Wilkins, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Hon. Peter Adamson, MLA
Attached please find a copy of a petition which was prepared by the Australian Education Union and signed by linguists, anthropologists and psychologists affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Among other things, our institute is internationally renowned for research into first and second language acquisition, bilingualism, and the relationship between language and cognition. International expert opinion is clearly against the move you have taken. While it makes sense to build better ESL programs into existing bilingual programs, the replacement of the latter with the former goes against informed policy trends for indigenous education world-wide.
As an Australian citizen living overseas, I am saddened to see Australia, once a trendsetter in indigenous education, taking such a big step backwards. Moreover, as a linguistic researcher with 16 years of experience working with Aboriginal educational institutions in Central Australia, I find your reading of community desires with respect to the directions that should be taken in Aboriginal education to be totally at odds with my own understanding of what communities want and need. Finally, I find it strange that, while the worldwide trend is towards the increased protection and preservation of endangered languages and cultures, you are taking actions that will certainly contribute to linguistic and cultural loss.
To conclude, I request that you postpone any further action in this
matter until: (1) all affected communities have been properly consulted,
and a full public report on their stated desires has been made;
Dr. David P. Wilkins
Resolution passed by the Board of the Faculty of Education and Languages at the University of Western Sydney
The Faculty Board of the Faculty of Education and Languages at the University of Western Sydney Macarthur this morning passed the following motion unanimously:
That the Board deplores the proposal of the Northern Territory Government to phase out bilingual education in Northern Territory schools, and strongly urges the Minister for Education and Training and the Minister for Aboriginal Development of the Northern Territory to reconsider the proposal. The Board believes that the proposal contravenes good educational practice and opposes the spirit of reconciliation, and will result in Australia being held in contempt internationally.16 December 1998
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